Basque Country, Pyrénées, Atlantic Coast:
this area is... gorgeous, among other things. The Goddess and her companion were charmed.
We made it a point to see Pau and Oloron-Sainte-Marie, and while staying in the area
accomplished our most lofty goal of visiting as many Madiran wineries as we could find.
From the wild Basque horses, called Pottkas, grazing peacefully in the misty Pyrénées to the shockingly unique Basque language (overrun with Xs and strange consonant combinations, I might mention) and culture (they're big into Pelota and good food), everything about the Basque region has an air of mystery and magic. We liked the Basque people, though their hospitality was tempered by a marked introversion, an apparent insularity perhaps born of their status as Not French, Not Spanish, but "Other." We all know how such a people can be made to suffer from their own separateness, and the Basques are no exception. Near the Atlantic coast we climbed La Rhune, the first peak of the mountain chain, OK not on foot but via "Le Petit Train de la Rhune," which chugs up the steep slope at about 5 miles per hour - no doubt faster than we could. We did do some actual hiking in the Gorge de Kakaouetta, up in the misty Pyrénées and deep in Basque country.
When we finally arrived at the coast "Atlantique," we were unpleasantly surprised to find our destination, Saint-Jean-de-Luz, booked solid as far as affordable accommodations. However, we soon learned that neighboring Ciboure was more accommodating, affordable and tranquil. It was also within walking distance of Saint-Jean-de-Luz. Bravo! Since while staying in Ciboure we were so near the border with Spain, we couldn't resist popping over into Hondarribia for tapas one evening. We found the loud, bustling, festive atmosphere quite in contrast to that on the French side, which, while not dull, was mellower by far. It was a nice change, but in the end we were glad we would be sleeping in quiet Ciboure.
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All images copyright Cynthia Mitchel 2003