The Basque Country (Euskal Herria in the Basque Language, País Vasco in Spanish and Pays Basque in French) is made up of seven historical provinces (Vizkaia, Alava, Guipuzcoa, Navarra, Labourd, Basse Navarre and Soule) stretching on both sides of the border. These hilly and coastal lands have been farmed, havens for shepherds and exploited for their mineral wealth for centuries and centuries by the Basque peoples who share a common language - Euskera. Euskera is a pre-Indoeuropean language and believed to date to the time when Cro-Magnons walked the earth some 40,000 years ago. A distinct folklore, games (jai alai), cuisine, dance, relationship to the land and homestead have been cultivated in this fertile region and we'll learn about this evolution as we walk their paths and ways.
On our tour we will explore the roots of Basque history and get a sense of what the Basques possess that has allowed them to be known as Europe's oldest civilization. We'll sample their world famous cuisine, visit their coastal fishing villages from which innumerable voyagers launched off into the unknown in search of discovery or to land an enormous whale, walk along their old smuggler's trails as we cross the border connecting France and Spain on two ancient Basque passes all the while being exhilarated by their most beautiful natural resources - the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve on the coast, the densely forested Sierra de Aralar, and the jagged Aikao Harria range, a familiar sight on the San Sebastian skyline. We'll not only stay in some of the Basque country's most beautiful coastal and mountain villages, we'll also enjoy the vibrant cities of Bilbao (visiting the Guggenheim Museum), San Sebastian (a city perfectly interfaced with its coastal and hilly setting), and Pamplona (we'll learn why is was Hemingway's favorite getaway).
Level: Medium. Walking Days: 7. Total Distance: 55.2 miles / 89 km With optional: 62.2 miles / 100.4 km.
Weather: The Basque Country's driest months are from July to September but be prepared for the unexpected rain shower. Summer temperatures oscillate between 15-30ºC / 60-85ºF. Special opportunity to attend the International Film Festival in San Sebastian.
Day 1: Bilbao
The tour begins in our charming hotel located near the Río Nervión in the heart of Bilbao's historical district. After a brief introduction and presentation of the week's program we'll take a walking tour of Bilbao, a city founded 700 years ago. We'll walk the winding streets passing the gothic Cathedral of Santiago, the lively La Ribera town market where the vendors sell fresh fish and produce as well as the city's first bridge, the Puente de San Antón. We'll then walk along the Nervion River to the Guggenheim Museum. En route we cross over the modern Zubi Zuri bridge designed by the world-famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. At the Guggenheim we give you free time to explore architect Frank Gehry's fascinating building and its collections which have given a completely new face to Bilbao's waterfront.
For those who prefer not to spend the afternoon at the museum, we'll offer an optional visit to ascend the city's emblematic Monte Artxanda aboard the funicular railway built in 1915. From here we'll have spectacular panoramic views of the city. Before we dine in a characteristic 'mesón vasco' (Basque restaurant) in the Siete Calles district (named logically for the seven streets that neatly divide the area), we'll make a stop in the arcaded Plaza Nueva, a typical open Spanish square ringed with balconied houses, and join the locals for some delicious 'pintxos' (finger-foods) washed down with 'txakolin' (small glasses of local white wine). Walking distance: 4 miles / 6.5 km. Includes: (D).
Day 2: Bilbao - Gernika - Elantxobe - Cabo Ogoño - San Pedro De Atxarre - Kanala - Mundaka – Lekeitio
En route to the coast we'll pass through Gernika, bombed in 1937 in a brutal German experiment to test armaments on a civil population. The town was immortalized by Pablo Picasso in his provocative black and white painting of the same name. We then continue to the small fishing village of Elantxobe (which gave us our word for the anchovy - one of its traditional catches) that maintains an active fleet of colorful boats. Taking off from the port, we'll ascend the nearby Cabo Ogoño, a limestone mass which impresses with its 280 m vertical drops to the sea. Through thick forest and bucolic countryside, we'll continue to the Ermita (chapel) de San Pedro de Atxarre (310 m) and enjoy a sudden and magnificent view of the 12 km of sandy shore that line the Gernika estuary where the Oka River meets the sea.
This horseshoe-shaped area, including the beach and surrounding pastures and mountains, form part of the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve named as such in 1984 by UNESCO for its wealth of flora and fauna. Descending on foot to Kanala, if conditions permit we'll cross the estuary by boat to the fishing village of Mundaka for a stroll and free time to enjoy an afternoon drink at the small colorful port. We'll shuttle to our seaside hotel, which doubles as a spa, in the enchanting urb of Lekeitio. The day ends with dinner sampling local specialties from the Bay of Biscay such as cod (bacalao), hake (merluza), sea bass (lubina) and squid (chipirones) (8 miles/13km). Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 3: Lekeitio - Urkiola Nature Park - Onati – Arantzazu
We shuttle to the center of Euskadi to the Urkiola Nature Park located in the mountains around Durango. Nicknamed the little Switzerland, the park boasts a stunning limestone range of majestic, craggy peaks whose crowning glory is Anboto (1330 m / 4362ft), the mythic dwelling place of the Basque country's most important pre-Christian deity, Mari, aka the Dama de Anboto. Today we'll cross this enchanting range inspired by the legends and its magnetic beauty. Shuttle to and visit of Onati a town known for its surprising collection of Renaissance works of art including its university and church. From there we continue to our hotel in Arantzazu (2398ft / 731m) most well-known for its avant-garde sanctuary incorporating such renowned artists as Eduardo Chillida. This highly picturesque village and favorite Basque getaway is set within a deep and narrow, wooded valley at the foot of one of the Basque Country's highest peaks, Aizkorri (5012ft/1528m). Tonight's fare will emphasize the inland farmers' hearty vegetable, poultry and meat dishes as well as delicious smoked sheep's milk cheeses. (8.4 miles/13.6km). Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 4: Arantzazu - Aizkorri - Aranzazu - San Sebastian
Heading off on foot from the hotel we ascend to the base of emblematic Aizkorri enjoying first a dense and inviting beech forest and then magnificent views of the steep range. We'll discuss the importance of shepherding to the mountain communities and the presence of the semi-wild horses that graze on the grasslands. We loop back to Arantzazu and then continue to the coast - our destination the beautiful city of San Sebastian arguably Spain's most attractive and romantic cities. Among its charms are their settings: three spectacular beaches, its expansive bay leading out to the ocean, the hilly contours framing the city, the wooded Monte Urgull crowned with the ruins of a castle and its very appealing early 20th century architecture funded by turn-of-the-century nobles who came here in droves to enjoy the temperate climate. We'll wander the streets, climb up Monte Urgull for spectacular views of the area, enjoy its maritime walkway, look for the more than 100 types of lamp posts decorating the city and then wind up in the historical quarter. Here we'll find the Basque cuisine at its best ! Enjoy dinner on your own tonight in this culinary mecca! (9 miles / 14.5 km). Includes: (B), (L).
Day 5: San Sebastian - Uliamendi - Pasaia Donibane - Jaizkibel - Hondarribia - Bera – Sare
From San Sebastian we'll take a magnificent coastal trail which quickly leaves the city behind and transports you back in time to the days when the hillside, Uliamendi, was used by local whalers to spot the great sea beasts approaching the coast. The undulating trail enters enchanted forests, soars along the cliffs and then leaves us at the foot of a picturesque lighthouse which protects the entrance to one of the Basque Country's most beautiful natural ports, Pasaia Donibane. Oozing historical charm with its galleried waterfront homes you'll enjoy exploring this attractive village where Victor Hugo lived and wrote Alps and Pyrenees in 1843. After lunch we'll ride along the Jaizkibel ridge to the picturesque frontier town of Hondarribia. The brightly colored houses spilling over with geraniums will delight you as we walk through the town enjoying views of nearby coastal France. We then head to Sare, considered one of France's 130 most beautiful villages, via the charming town of Bera. The highly scenic road takes us over the border and into the French Basque Country. Tonight enjoy delicious fare of farm-raised duck, local river trout, hearty peasant soup and delectable Basque pastry ! (7 miles / 11.2 km). Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 6: Sare - Zugarramurdi - St. Jean – Burguete
Today we make an exciting journey into the past passing three sets of caves (we enter two fo the three). Over the course of thousands of years, the caves have been whittled out of the limestone massif that forms this stretch of the Western Pyrenees. From our hotel in Sare we'll walk through rolling farmland along ancient smugglers' paths that were used most recently to help Jews flee from Nazi occupied France. Our first stop is at the Sare caves which were occupied some 45,000 years ago by human ancestors. Sheep and semi-wild horses, pottoks, graze in these hills as the wooded trail heads over the border to the Spanish caves at Zugarramurdi where a witch hunt in the 1620s left the local populations of Urdazubi and Zugarramurdi with only one-fifth of its residents. The supposed witches were said to meet in the caves for their covens (akelarres). The last caves in Urdazubi overflow with natural sculpture - stalactites and stalagmites formed by the process of karstification - water acting upon limestone.
After our walk we'll shuttle to St Jean Pied de Port. En route we'll stop in the lovely French Basque villages of Ainhoa and Espelette where red peppers dry in the sun and drape the facades of the houses. Bustling St Jean has been greeting pilgrims making their way to Spain along the Camino de Santiago (Road of St James) for a thousand years. We'll stop and visit its charming cobbled streets, gated doorways and get excellent views from its medieval fortress, the citadel. Shuttling uphill and over the border we reach Burguete, most well-known for being Hemingway's favorite trout-fishing getaway as described in his classic, The Sun Also Rises. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 7: Burguete - Roncesvalles – Pamplona
Following the footsteps of thousands before us we'll set off from Roncesvalles along the famous medieval pilgrimage pathway, the Camino de Santiago. Over the centuries hundreds and thousands of pilgrims have undertaken the long overland journey to Santiago de Compostela passing through this entrancing local which also claims fame for being the site of the great French epic, The Song of Roland. The tragic events that led to the death of Charlemagne's greatest knight, Roland, took place here. After a brief stop in Roncesvalles, we'll continue through forest and farmland to the rustic villages of Burguete and then Espinal both known for their neat red and green trimmed white-washed caserios. Before our farewell dinner we'll visit the city on foot taking in the famous streets along which the bulls make their daily run to the bullring during the San Fermin festival in July and visit the Cathedral (noted for its eclectic mixture of styles) (9.5 miles/15.2 km). Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Notes: Prices above are per person based on 6 people traveling. This tour is available for as little as 2 people, inquire for exact prices. When you book your vacation, an agreement is made between you, our company, and others who provide services. Upon request we can provide you with our general terms and conditions governing the provision of these holidays. A non-refundable upfront initial deposit of € 200 Euros is due within 7 days of the initial booking request. Final payment is due 45 days before the tour departure. Within 45 day full payment is due upon booking request. All prices, itinerary etc. listed are subject to change without notice. No unused portion of the vacation can be refunded. Cancellation penalties apply & change fees after booking is confirmed, refer to our general terms. Please inquire for pre or post tour add-ons/ hotel stays.
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