In the southwest of France, in the department of Pyrénées-Atlantiques, lies the French Basque Country. The Pyrenees separate the French and Spanish parts of the Basque Country. The population speaks not only the official French language, but also Basque. So, the place names are always in both languages. In the area you will find a lot of beautiful nature. There are rugged mountains, perhaps known for heroic stages from the Tour de France, beautiful gorges and beautiful hiking areas. In addition, the area is ideal for peace seekers, it is much less touristy than in many other regions. Finally, you will also find several typical areas.
Our highlights of the French Basque Country
We travelled around in this region for over a week with our camper van. What impressed us was the peacefulness we found everywhere. The small campsites were, although it was peak season, definitely not full. The nearby villages often had no more than 1,000 inhabitants.
Gorges d’Holzarte is a gorge in the Haute Soule. Here you will find some beautiful mountain peaks, such as Pic d’Orhy. We went on a beautiful hike of almost a whole day. The hike is not too hard in itself. On the way, you pass the Passerelle d’Holzarte, a huge, wobbling suspension bridge of about 150 metres. The bridge is mainly used to move cattle to higher areas in springtime. The view of the bridge is spectacular. You look at a huge gorge deep below you. In times of rain, the climb to the suspension bridge through the slippery boulders can be a bit difficult in some places. However, at the least-easy points, steel cables are used to hold up the bridge.
Gorges de Kakuetta
Gorges de Kakuetta is a gorge located near the village of Sainte-Engrâce. The gorge is about two-kilometres long. In some places the gorge is very deep and narrow, the distance between the rock walls is only about three metres. There are several caves in the rocks where you can go. In this area you will find many mosses and ferns. The hike through the whole gorge takes about three hours. In some places it takes a while to climb, but never gets difficult. In wet weather it is difficult to hike, the planks and boulders are very slippery. For access to the gorge you have to buy a ticket. We noticed again that we hardly saw any other tourists at this spectacular gorge.
The train d’Artouste to Lac d’Artouste
At Laruns you can go on a beautiful trip via cable car, a small train and a hike to a small mountain lake with crystal clear water: Lac d’Artouste. If you take the cable car up, chances are there is also a mountain biker with his bike in the elevator. From the mountain station, many daredevils plunge down at full speed. It is a spectacular sight to watch them make the descent.
With a small train over a narrow-gauge railway at an altitude of about 2000 metres, you are about an hour on your way to the finish point. The open train offers you a great view over the mountain tops, rock walls and valleys. At various points, you really go flying along the mountains. After arrival you can make a not-too-difficult hike to the mountain lake. The water is beautiful in colour, but icy cold. After this you hike back to the station, using the same way back by train and cable car.
In the Pyrenees the weather can often change very quickly. When we went back by train, a thick fog appeared. It first gave a very mystical atmosphere. Later, when the fog really obstructed the view, it became very fresh. So, make sure you have something warm with you if you want to do this trip.
Nice villages in the French Basque country
Although we went for nature in the Basque Country, we also enjoyed the peace and quiet and conviviality that we found in the various villages. Besides the traditional Basque flag that proudly flies in every place, there is a good chance that you will get acquainted with a typical Basque sport, called Pelota. By hand or wooden bat, a ball is hit against a wall. It looks a bit like squash. The Basques like to play it and in every village a Pelota space is to be found.
We stayed mainly in Tardets Sorholus. A very cute and small village. A little further away is a larger town called Oloron Sainte-Marie, famous for its beautiful cathedral. On the Atlantic coast Biarritz and Bayonne are famous, large cities that are very special.