Here I am, back again for the continuation of my trip through the beautiful Basque country. Who would have believed that at the very end of October it could have been so warm…23c and wall-to-wall sunshine. Of course I was thrilled to have such wonderful weather especially with the scenery on hand.
During the Second World War, this part of the mountain border between France and Spain soon acquired a reputation as the exit to freedom for many individuals fleeing the Occupation. The Basque shepherds, who had first-hand knowledge of the rock outcrops, risked their lives by defying the German patrols to smuggle people out. During the daytime, the fugitives would lie low in surrounding barns. They were given safe passage over to Spain at night… all thanks to these behind-the-scene helpers.
Today the Basque shepherds seem content to ‘block’ the roads as they move their flock to new pastures, not that I was complaining. I mean, what better scenery than this?
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a good photo of the Griffon vultures that were circling overhead, but they were certainly plentiful.
As with a large part of this region, the Chemin St Jaques is ever present. The pilgrim route Camino de Santiago has a starting point (“the French Way”) in the small town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. Nestled at the foothills of the Pyrénées and just a few kilometers from the Spanish border, this pretty town with influences from it’s mediaeval past was buzzing with pilgrims and tourists. The hilly streets are mild compared to what lies ahead as they wend their way to Spain.
The 15th century church of the Assomption-de-la-Vierge also known as Our Lady at the End of the Bridge
Pilgrims of a very different type gather in their numbers in the small but very popular village of Espelette. Known nationally for its unique and subtle red peppers that hang on the facades of the houses to dry at harvest time, this village is never short of devotees of this important ingredient. In Espelette and around the region, you’ll find plenty of products made with this red pepper: from jelly to salt, salsa, jam, and even oil, honey and chocolate. I was really lucky to be there on the eve of the two day pepper feastival…had I been later I’d never have been able to park.
Perhaps a chilli flavoured beer?
Or a chilli coffee?
At least chilli goes with meat!
Strolling through the pedestrianised streets was a real joy, savouring the delights of the local cuisine (free tastings), the ‘buzz’ of the impending festival and the beautiful local houses. This area has so much more to show me and a future visit will be on the cards.