|On the French/Spanish border Pays Basque|
A four-hour drive from home and we caught our first glimpse of the Pyrénées in the distance. Light shadows of mountain peaks teasing us, there one minute, gone the next, then majestically reappearing and revealing a little more of themselves. The Pays Basque was beckoning us; Adrian with his inner mountain spirit was keen to stretch his legs, feel the burn, and crest col after col (mountain passes) and I was dreaming of reacquainting myself with the rich, buttery, moist and chewy Gateau Basque.
Instead of looking at (yet another) week of no work for Adrian as a sign of the possible recession the UK seems to be heading for, we made the most of it and proved we don’t just live in France, we are LIVING in France. In four days we cycled 189km, climbed three mountain cols, each one a little higher than the last, dipped from France to Spain and back again a few times (EU freedom of movement bonus) and followed the Atlantic coast from Bidart to Hendaye, taking in cosmopolitan St Jean de Luz. We were powered by stunning scenery; green rolling hills dotted with white Basquais houses, wild horses, sheep and flowering verges, as well as lots of delicious Gateau Basque cakes.
There is something about the Basque that captured our hearts five years ago, the hills are soft, not rough jagged peaks, but they are not exactly gentle either. Cycling here is a constant climb, curve, descend, climb again, pattern, but after a while it’s easy to get into a routine. There is locally produced wine to enjoy with sheep’s milk cheeses, and the warming effects of the Piment d’Espelette chili can be found in many local dishes. With a language of its own and boasting one of the oldest civilisations in Europe, it is a unique area of France (and Spain) and also home to St Jean Pied de Port, pilgrim gateway to the Pyrénées and our home for four nights.
I have a fascination for all things to do with the pilgrim camino to Santiago de Compostela. Maybe it’s from living on the Chemin de St Jacques that passes through Tours, Poitiers and Melle, on its way to St Jean Pied de Port, or because of my namesake, Ste Jacqueline, an Italian who walked as a pilgrim to Santiago de Compostela many times in her life, but whatever it is, the pull is there. Immersing myself in St Jean Pied de Port for four days gave me the opportunity to watch the comings and goings of the pilgrims as we drank our morning coffee in the sun, spot the pilgrims from the holiday tourists (like ourselves) over dinner, and as a reward for conquering a short (but steep) section on my bike, buy myself a Camino shell trinket in the hope I can one day return.
Not everyone is on a pilgrimage, but we are all on a journey and putting my body through the sometimes-grueling climbs of the Pyrénéan cols certainly left no room in my head for worrying about where our future will take us. The fatigue was fought off by the sense of achievement, the encouragement from seasoned local cyclists warmed me when the cold wind hit at altitude and the time Adrian and I spent sharing our adventures created special memories to cherish.
This week the blog is going Basquaise and I will be sharing some of our days on the bikes in the Pays Basque, as well as some reviews of books set in the Basque and on the Camino.
Here are a few previous posts about the Pays Basque you might like: