A Fabulous Tour of the French Basque Country
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A Fabulous Tour of the French Basque Country

For centuries the Basques lived from pastoral farming, fishing and making the famous rope-soled sandals known as espadrilles. Since the 19th century, however, tourists have been coming to this part of France, attracted by its healthy, bracing climate, its fine beaches, picturesque fishing ports and the fascinating wealth of ancient Basque Traditions. No one knows where the Basques came from, nor where their language originated, although some Basque words have slight similarities with Japanese and with the form of Hebrew spoken in ancient Sumer.

Between the Béarn and the Atlantic is the homeland of Europe's most mysterious people, the Basques. They have a reputation for being ready for anything and often live up to it. Many of them are farmers or shepherds, indissolubly wedded to their cool green mountains. You will come across them by chance in the village streets of Basse Navarre, their berets worn jauntily sideways over one ear.  

They are silent men, used to the solitude of the mountains, with only their animals for company. Even in the picturesque markets, where they buy and sell livestock, they seem to get by with as few words as possible. Do not underestimate them ! The Basques are used to the ways of the world; few things can ruffle their imperturbability. No one knows where the Basques came from, nor where their language originated, although some Basque words have slight similarities with Japanese and with the form of Hebrew spoken in ancient Sumer. 

The Basques have always been adventurous and proficient sailors. Hundred years ago, they hunted whales, and they were almost certainly the first people from the "Old World" to discover Newfoundland. Many of them have emigrated to South America, but the Basque Homeland in Europe remains the seven provinces, four Spanish and three French (Basse Navarre, Labourd and Soule) crowded together in that corner of the Pyrenees where France, Spain and the Atlantic meet. 

For centuries the Basques lived from pastoral farming, fishing and making the famous rope-soled sandals known as espadrilles. Since the  19th century, however, tourists have been coming to this part of France, attracted by its healthy, bracing climate, its fine beaches, picturesque fishing ports and the fascinating wealth of ancient Basque Traditions. Biarritz, beautifully situated on the Gulf of Gascony, was launched during the Second Empire by Empress Eugénie and was France's smartest and most famous seaside resort until the Second World War. It is still one of the most luxurious. Almost as famous is Hendaye with its vast beach, bracing sea air and dazzling sunshine. Like Biarritz it was once a fishing port. Saint-Jean-de-Luz with its long beach looking out onto a quiet bay is both a seaside resort and a picturesque fishing port, mainly concentrating on tunny fishing.

To get a complete picture of the Basque Country, however, you must not confine your visit to famous places like Biarritz, Hendaye and Saint-Jean-de-Luz. Ciboure, across the Nivelle River from Saint-Jean-de-Luz, is a real must, along with the nearby Socoa and Guéthary, which offers a superb view of the Rhune mountain. You will not miss Bidart, know as "the Basque village by the sea", nor inland towns such as Cambo-les-Bains and Iraty. Iraty lies at the foot of the citadel which guarded the Roncevaux Pass, where in 778, the Basques embushed Charlemagne's troops and killed his nephew Roland - the incident which originated the famous Song of Roland. 

Biarrtitz: the old port, photo here: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/cd/Biarritz_Port_vieux.jpg

Hendaye, photo here:   http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2d/Hendaye_Port_Rhune.jpg

Ciboure, the port and typical Basque houses, photo here: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7f/Ciboure_Eglise.jpg

The Rhune mountain and Ciboure, photo here:  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/89/Ciboure_Rhune.jpg

Guéthary, typical Basque house, photo here :http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/92/Gu%C3%A9thary_Mairie_Fronton.jpg

Picturesque landscape of Basse navarre, photo here: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d7/BasseNavarre.JPG

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Comments (1)

Another great travelogue dear Francois.

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