Day 1: Rendezvous in the medieval, walled town of Hondarribia right on the border of France and Spain. After a traditional Spanish lunch, we head out for a short walk to the lighthouse on Cabo Higuer. Hondarribia is one of the most picturesque places to stay along the coast with its brightly painted houses, balconies overflowing with flowers and the working fishing fleet bobbing in the harbor. Our hotel for the next two nights is a very special place to stay - Parador El Emperador is a converted castle built in the 12th century and home to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. These days it is a luxurious hotel overlooking the bay.
Day 2: After breakfast we take one of Europe's long distance footpaths into the serene Valley of Oyarzun. Our trail starts in the picturesque village of Ascain and follows small roads and paths through farms and forest, past typical Basque farmhouses to Col St Ignace where we pick up the historic cog railway. We take the 75 year old train to the top of the Rune at 900m, where we enjoy panoramic views of the Pyrenees and coastline. We take the panoramic trail all the way downhill, stopping for lunch along the way.
Day 3: We travel today to the Basque village of Sare, officially recognized as one of the most beautiful villages in France. It’s famous for its prehistoric caves and the museum dedicated to that regional specialty 'Gateau Basque' a special cake filled with black cherry jam. We pick up our 'blue pony trail', which passes the Grottes de Sare and takes us along one of the old smuggler's routes into Spain. It is called the blue pony route as there are many wild horses or pottocks along the way. Where we cross the border into Spain we stop for lunch at a venta.
Ventas are the places where contraband was exchanged when smuggling was at its height. These days most of them are bars and restaurants although you can still buy duty-free alcohol and cigarettes here. After lunch our trail takes us through the woods to Urdax, a charming village situated right on the Camino di Santiago on the Spanish side of the border. This region is called Xareta or the woodland and consists of four villages two on either side of the border. The town is named for the canals and bridges which criss cross the town. Urdazubi means water and bridges in Basque.
Day 4: We start the day with a guided visit to the ancient but still functioning water mill and the cloister of the Abbey of San Salvador, which was an important site for pilgrims and a favorite spot of Queen Isabella. Our trail takes us through the woods to Zugarramurdi which owes its origin to the Urdax monastery, as the original inhabitants worked the land for the monks; it later became famous for smuggling, before settling into farming and crafts.
Many of the houses are at least 400 years old and were inhabited by so-called witches for which the village is famous. They supposedly held their bloodthirsty ceremonies in the nearby caves, 40 were accused of witchcraft by the Spanish inquisition in 1610 and 12 were burned at the stake. A pagan festival is held by the locals in the caves on the summer solstice. After lunch we visit the caves before returning to our hotel.
Day 5: Today we start with a transfer to Bidarry where we walk on one of Europe's most famous long distance paths, the GR10, which connects the Atlantic and the Mediterranean coast. Our climb takes us up to 3000ft onto a ridge which is the border between France and Spain. Up here your companions are pottocks, wild horse, sheep and vultures whose wingspan can measure up to 1.30 meters. We take lunch al fresco before descending to St Etienne de Baigorry which is named for the rose-colored granite and soil which gives the River Nive a rosy hue when it is in spate. You will also see the rose granite used for building farms and houses in the valley.
Day 6: Today we trace the pilgrim's path, like millions of pilgrims before us to St Jean Pied de Port. The town was so called as it was the doorway to the Pyrenees. We will pass through the historic Saint Jacques Gate to enter the town. From here pilgrims left the village by way of the Spanish Gate and then passed into Spain over the Pyrenees. Along the way we stop for a picnic lunch accompanied a by the local Iruoleguy wines.
Winemaking was introduced to the area by the monks of Roncevalles, who sculpted terraces out of the mountainside to produce sacramental wine. Since then winemaking has been a significant industry in the area. St Jean is famous for its livestock markets and its sheep cheese or Brebis as it is known in these parts. This is the best place to find a beret, which although adopted by the French are originally Basque. In the late afternoon we transfer back to St Etienne in time for dinner.
Day 7: We start the day with a transfer to Auriziberri, which is over the dramatic Ibaneta Pass in Spain. From here we walk through the woods to Burguete, one of Hemmingway's old haunts, on the Spanish side of the border. After lunch we walk to Roncevalles, a medieval monastery which is one of the most important pilgrim sites along the Santiago de Compostela.We also visit the memorial to Roland, Duke of the Marches of Brittany. He was one of Charlemagne's compatriots, who was ambushed and perished here at the hand of the Basques in 778. His story is told in the Song of Roland and we hear more about it when we take a guided tour of the Cathedral. We return to St Etienne for our farewell dinner.
Day 8: Transfer to Hondarribia.
The cost includes:
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Europe France Spain Outdoor: Land Rambler Walking Tours