The Basque Country (Euskadi) is actually made up of seven provinces on either side of the Pyrenees, hence the Basque motto (Zazpiak Bat) which means: Seven equals One! In Spain, these are Guipuscoa (San Sebastian), Alava (Vitoria-Gasteiz), Vizcaya (Bilbao) and Navarre (Pamplona). This is the Hegoalde (southern region in Basque). To the north, Iparalde is made up of Labourd (Bayonne), Lower Navarre (Saint Jean Pied de Port) and Soule (Mauléon). In these seven provinces, Euskara is spoken and the green, red and white Ikurina flag is flown.
Biarritz, Hendaye, St-Jean-de-Luz, Bayonne or Bidart... Choose your holiday destination from among a hundred or so campsites in the Basque Country.
The sea has always played an important role in the Basque Country. The Basques are travellers but also whale and cod fishermen on the banks of Newfoundland. Moreover, a large part of the population of Saint Pierre and Miquelon is of Basque origin. Today, the beaches are the delight of all tourists... and surfers. Some spots are famous all over the world, like "Belharra", the mythical ten-metre wave off Urrugne.
If you are in the mood for fine sand, the choice is vast, from the Négresse beach in Biarritz to Hendaye, via the Cavaliers beach in Anglet, Bidart or Saint Jean de Luz. As the ocean is often... virile, if you have small children, spend a day on the beach of Socoa protected by the fort's dike.
To say that the Basque Country is green is an understatement. If you take the trouble to go inland, you will be amazed by the hilly landscapes dotted with small white and red houses with fields dotted with sheep, valleys butting up against the mountains. Lovers of beautiful hikes will be spoilt for choice when it comes to wearing out their brand new hiking boots, the route to Santiago de Compostela, the Iraty forest, the Rhune (which can also be climbed by train), the Aldudes valley, the Ispeguy pass etc. At the bottom of the latter, one of the most emblematic companies in Iparalde, Pierre Oteiza, has settled. He has turned a small family salting business into a prosperous company. He has saved the Basque pig breed and has created, at the gates of his factory, a discovery trail dedicated to this esteemed ungulate which has the particularity of living in the open air. At the top of this path, Peio (Pierre in Basque) has carved a terrace overlooking the valley and on the fence that protects from the void, a copper plate on which is written "Listen to the silence". Here again... only green!
... White and red!
White and red like the traditional houses (Etxe) that you can discover while walking in the countryside or visiting the most beautiful village in France, Ainhoa. Red is also one of the most typical products, namely the Espelette chilli pepper, which can be eaten in many different ways, stuffed with cod, powdered to replace pepper, jellied to eat cheese or foie gras...
... But not only!
But the richness of the Basque Country lies in its love of festivities, whether it be the Bayonne Festivals, San Firmin in Pamplona or all the festivities organised by the smallest village. It is also hidden behind the fabulous Basque choirs or some singers who have known how to magnify the language. The Basque soul is still hidden in the know-how of its craftsmen: that of Goicoetchea, a dynasty of potters settled for three generations in Osses on the road to Saint Jean Pied de Port, Jean Vier, creator of Basque linen for more than thirty years, Puyodebat and Cazenave, two exceptional chocolate makers settled in Bayonne, Pierre Oteiza or Laurent Pétricoréna (among other pork butchers) who have given their letters of nobility to Basque pork butchers.
If you have to see only one craftsman during your visit to this fabulous corner of France, stop at Larressore, a tiny village located between Saint Pée sur Nivelle and Saint Jean de Luz. At the end of a small square, next to the pediment, there is a family that has been making one of the most representative objects of Basque culture, the Makila (stick in Basque), for eight generations, the Ainciart Bergara family. The quality of the makhilas that come out of this small workshop is such that the Ainciart Bergara workshop has been listed since the end of 2011 in the inventory of Rare Crafts under the Unesco Convention for the Safeguarding of the World's Intangible Cultural Heritage. Excuse the pun. This magnificent object is made to measure, exclusively in medlar wood, which is carved to perfection. The facings are made of brass, nickel silver (an alloy of copper, nickel and zinc with a silvery appearance), silver or gold. The pommel is made of silver or gold.
A Bergara makhila has to be earned. Once you are allowed to enter the workshop (not systematic), you will be asked your weight and height. Then, you will be asked for your motto (for example Makhila eskuan nabila munduan : the makhila in hand, I go through the world) which will be engraved by hand under the pommel to seek a harmony of line while respecting the balance which will facilitate walking. You will then define the nature of the facings which will be entirely made to measure according to the size of the wood. Then, you will have to be patient and wait... about a year to come and get your Makhila which will be unique. Count between 270 and 650 €, even more for a model with gold facing.
After this little trip to this little corner of France north of the Pyrenees, you may want to know more. Don't hesitate, make the effort to discover this culture, this heritage and this people who can be "rough" like the Basque language but warm like the songs of a man's choir. Ikus Arte (goodbye) and see you soon!