Le Béarn et Le Pays Basque…Better Late than Never (J’Espère!)

I am very late in writing this post. Computer issues (blank screen on my new laptop = 4 weeks working from a borrowed laptop, argh!). Work, lots of work…whew, I hope that all this work pays off in donations to CEPR. Family visits, summer, anyway, no time til now to write and reflect on our June vacation to the Basque country. Which is maybe a good thing, as things have settled down and shifted and the most important moments, the stand out highlights, have had time to float to the top of my memory.

So here they are, my random reflections in no particular order…it’s long (lots of pictures though!) I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have had reliving it:

We flew into Bilbao, Spain and spent the first night in San Sebastian. San Sebastian was a nice surprise. A revelation, I like some place that is NOT in France :).  We found San Sebastian to be a lovely town, big enough to be interesting and full of good restaurants and bars and beautiful, and small enough to take it all in.

san sebastian street

harbor

plaza

beach

evening in San Se

old town street

The only downside was the language, I am spoiled by Jim’s fluent and my not-so-fluent-yet-somewhat-passing French.  We know the polite Spanish basics but found our lack of fluency frustrating when trying to navigate the tapas scene…because what a scene it is. We finally figured out how to belly up to the Tapas bars. So delicious, and cheap compared to pricier France. 

jambon !!!

We loved the tapas so much that we came back to spend another (nicer weather-wise) day.

La Cepa, yum

the best anchovies ever

beautiful tapas

Jim

We also went to Hondaribbia, a smaller town across the bay from Hendaye, France. (This is Hendaye):

market in Hendaye

We took the ferry, which took about 10-15 minutes, max.

5.1

And then we were in Spain again:

Hondarribia

Spain/France/Spain/France…or as they say around these parts, Basque Country…

"Tourist Remember: You are neither in Spain nor in France.  You

Gora Euskadi Askatuta !

It was a great little fishing village with great little fish…

7

lunch in Hondirribia

fresh!

The take away? Jim wants to come back to this part of the world, and he gonna start learnin some Español

After our first night in Spain we headed to Monein, a small town in the Béarn region of France, at the foothills of the Pyrenees.

IMG_0658

We went there in search of Jurançon. What is a Jurançon, you ask? Well, just about some of the most delicious, unique white wine on the planet. And really hard to find here in the US.

me and the Jurancon

We spent our days driving through the vineyards,

vineyards and mountains

2

lost in the fields

visiting little touristed but charming villages like Abos

abos

and Navarrenx

Navarranx

bridge to navarranx

navarranx

and Orloron Sainte-Marie. It was chilly and damp, but it didn’t dampen our spirits one bit…

Orloron

a river runs through it

We stayed in a wonderful bed and breakfast in Monein called Entre Vignobles et Vergers  (between vineyards and orchards). The proprietor had had an unfortunate accident and was in the hospital, so he left one of his tenants in charge, the intrepid Daniele, who didn’t speak a word of English and who took a liking to us, the “nice” Americans as we came to be known thanks to Daniele, who was born in Marseille and still had a wicked accent. Daniele took very good care of us, making us a wonderful breakfast with homemade jam every day and greeting us at cocktail hour with a bottle of  Jurançon in hand. She reminded me of my Aunt Val (except that Aunt Val would have been drinking a natty bo)

Daniele et moi

And thanks to Daniele we know everything about all of the casinos in France, including one in Pau, the largest town in the region and a very nice one at that.

Pau casino!

Beautiful and friendly…and good food. We ate at a wonderful restaurant called Les Papilles Insolites, where we had a fabulous lunch

pulpe

and were introduced to another great wine of the neighboring region, Madiran.

madiran

Oh so much wine, so little time.

which way to the wine

So besides the wine…let me see, what else?  Oh yeah, we spent a memorable evening at the Fête de la Musique in the town of Jurançon, where we went looking for a village feast and found, well, bad food and a 6 euro (and not bad!) bottle of wine,

yum!

and a memorable evening listening to a quite good French rockabilly band…

good band

followed by a Red Hot Chili Peppers cover band…

6

well, you had to have been there to fully appreciate it.  Special!

We bid a fond farewell to Daniele and Jurançon (with a case in the car) and drove back into the Basque country. We stayed in a village called Ciboure, on the Atlantic coast, next to a somewhat bigger town called Saint Jean de Luz. And wouldn’t you know it, they too were having a fête, the Fête De La St Jean. Oh don’t you hate when that happens?

We spent a fun time partying Basque style.fete IMG_0666

band in basque

After all that Fête-ing we took it easy. The weather finally turned and it was glorious. We walked and sat on the beach and walked along the coast into Ciboure and then to Saint Jean de Luz.

Soccoa

soccoa beach

Ciboure

St Jean de Luz

st jean de luz

We ate bounty from the sea.

yum

soupe de poissons

We drove into the Basque countryside, looking for another impossible to find wine, Irouléguy, wonderful inexpensive reds and whites.

I think we found it

We drove into Les Aldudes, heaven on earth.

so beautiful

We bought a bottle and some of the most heavenly cheese, a sheep’s cheese called Ossau-Iraty…oh my, in this part of the world they eat it with cherry confiture…more heaven.

yum!

We feasted.

cheers

Merci les moutons !!! xo

moutons

One evening found ourselves in the middle of a small village called Hasparren, for the cours des vaches. Or, in English, a sort of crazy spectacle that involves drunk people being chased around a ring by cows with horns. An acquired taste, I think…

vaches

On the other hand, we also spent an evening in a little more glitzy Biarritz,

Biarritz

dining on yet more bounty from the sea. This whole trip made me mourn the lack of fresh fish here, in BALTIMORE.,,in caps because we live by the sea and I don’t understand why we can’t have THIS:

fish!!

1a

And, now, I’m left with memories of yummy food and wine and nice friendly people, including a group of singers at a neighboring table in a restaurant in Ciboure, who spontaneously broke out into a lovely Basque folk song. After, I told them “Je veux être Basque !” And, it’s true.

I remember the beautiful scenery

sea scene

1a (2)

and driving around and getting lost, and having a picnic with the wild horses

Jim and the wild horse

And driving through the mountains, listening to Manu Chao…

Merci, le Béarn et le pays Basque. Je t’aime, toujours.  On reviendra

Addendum: Forgot to mention that we got a bonus night in Brussels, courtesy of Brussels Air, who informed us when we arrived in Brussels from Bilboa that our scheduled flight to Dulles had already left…ok, when in Brussels you must drink beer, so we headed off to our favorite part of town

(an old picture from when we were there in 2010)

(an old picture from when we were there in 2010)

for some seafood and some Belgian brew…merci Brussels Air !

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4 thoughts on “Le Béarn et Le Pays Basque…Better Late than Never (J’Espère!)

  1. I loved looking at your photos. Now I badly want to go there. I already forwarded your link to 2 friends, asking them if they want to go. I may be asking for your itinerary.
    Terri Stafford

  2. Dawn, even my 81 yr old father, who loves the French countryside, got enjoyment from your presentation. He’s encouraging me to go.

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