Friday, 18 May 2012

Neither France nor Spain - c'est Basque n'est pas? May 18

We have fallen rather in love with the Basque country and most definitely this part of it. We have been here before but did not wuite make the connection then. It was neary 20 years ago and, it seems now, in another life. Certainly in another caravan, one which would have fitted inside this and kleft room for another! We took it to Sallies de Bearn as the middle week of a three week run down through France. In those Devon days we sailed to Roscoff in Brittany so our route took us through Brittany, the Vendee, Charenhte, Bordeaux. Down we went through Gers and Gascony and up the Landes. But for one week we stopped not far from wehere we are now.
We visited Lourdes, St Jean Pied de Port, crrossed the Ronsevalles pilgirm pass toPamplona and loved Bayone and faded Biarritz. All without uite cottoning on the the fact that this is Basque country. Now we know it stretches from Bayon to San Sebastien and inland to Bearn and Pau and Pamplona. Effectively it is the hugely habitable bit of hilly land which fronts the west end of the Oyrenees onto the Atlantic. Driving around its lush green valleys and hillsides and seeing the richness of the marine harvest there can be no surprise that people have lioved here for thouwands of years. The Basques come from no one knows where and have a unique and apparently technically beautiful language which has its nearest cousin in Berber! The people are thick set, dark of hair and slightly of skin. They are immensely strong and proud - a favourite sporting activity will involve the movement by hand through the air of large lumps of rock, wood or other people - they are brilliant at rugby. They are friendly in the Spanish way.
Their towns are smart and clean and they are proud of and care for their very fine old bluildings. Architecture is simple but grand, with stone features and plastered walls. The red we see all around us on wood and shutters and doors is a rich, dark burgundy which is known as Basque Red. In St Jean I thought it might have been local policy that ensured such unity of style and colour but it seems it is just the Basque way of doing thing.
The Basque country is called Euskadi - pronouned I am told OO-SKA-DEE which just means Basque lands or land of the Basques; not quite the same politically of course. Theit language had been dying in much the way Welsh was going when a new generation decided it was time to exert their influence. Some chose the violent course that has hit the headlines but others chose the political dialogue route; whichever they have made a lot of progress. But it does seems a tough order to achieve their real aim which is a Basque homeland. After all persuading one nation would be tough but they have to oersuade two - France and Spain, not the easiest to agree to give up a valuable and attractive chunk of land. Euskadi has a flag - a red ground represents the people, the cross of St Andrew in green represents justice and the standard cross of Christ in white signifies faith. If this very attractive flag is to take its pklace in whatever survives of the European Union they will have a land about the size of Wales which somewhat eually ambivalent weather - they joke that tourists take a while to get used to the Basque seasons - its sunny in winter and rains all summer!
Our nearest town is St Jean de Luz where today (May 18) was market day. The halles is very fine and open every morning; the Fridsay street market qiite good. A better one we are told is on Sunday at nearby Ciboure. We shall see.
The weather has been fantastic until today, well last evening really. We have had high 20s for four days, clear blue skies, terrific sunsets . The heat made me leave the car doors open for rather too long and this morning the battery was flat - well too low to spin 2 litres of diesel! Help came from the site people with a tractior and my own jump leads. France is way dearer than Spain but their fish stalls are still amazing - last night it was crab and scallops, tonight it will be ray (no skate left here either). The Poissonerie hall at the market is fantastic - we shall return many times if the money holds out. But what happened to all the crevettes? They all seem to come from Ecuador now - nothing Scottish or even French!
Site is very good and fairly quiet - just the nightly procession of French and Dutch motor homes, on and off in 24 hours usually. The site is worth more than that frankly. It is on the Basque Corniche - that is to say it is 20 yards off the road. You cross and are confronted by a sensational view west over the Bay of Biscay but here called the Golfe du Basque. Sunsets are de riguer. There is a lay by nearby and every evening it fills with locals, many young couples, who walk hand in hand along the clifftop. Look south and there is Spain 25 kilometres away, look north and the bay of St Jean de Luz is followed by the cliffs of Biarritz. Turn round and the foothills of the Pyrenees run away south east, La Rhune at 940 metres is a fine pyramidial peak, further over a mesa at about 1200 can be seen with three smaller hillocks surmounting it. La Rhune is reached by a rack and pinion railway - we saw the price, 14 euros each and decided to drive if we can find the road. There has to be a good one since apparently it is topped with restaurants and gift shops. Discovering that made up for deciding NOT to fork out the price of a decent lunch to ride up.
Instad we drove up into the hills and mountains, saw some sensational towns, villages, farms, valleys some in France and some in Spain - this is border contry. We and came down much pleased. We shall return here.
But the forecast for now is a bit dreary - we may benefit from some maritime variety. We are already benefitting from a maritime repise anyway. The site may be lovely and way down the hill there may a new toilet block but the one up here is like a smartened up Porthclais! Oh

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