Lying between the Atlantic and the high Pyrenees, the Basque Country is renowned for its excellent local food, superb wine and beautiful countryside.
The mixture of upland country and rich valley lands lead to a thriving agriculture based on sheep and pigs. Quality rather than quantity is the way here, with matured Brebis, a creamy sheep's milk cheese, and Bayonne ham, air-cured and richly flavoured, being the area's signature products. The local vineyards produce strongly but delicately flavoured wines under the Irouleguy appelation.
Just over the border in Spain, 5 miles from Saint Jean Pied de Port, the Spanish Basque country offers similar products, with Serrano ham, Navarra and Rioja wines, and a variety of cows milk and sheeps milk cheeses.
From early spring through until late autumn, there are many colourful fêtes throughout the area. A fête typically spans several days. During the day, peñas, local bands formed around a social club, play as they walk through the streets, an eclectic mix of brass, jazz, folk and blues. They pause at bars and restaurants, and an impromptu dance will usually begin. Either from midday or in the early evening, the local villagers or townspeople will gather for a communal meal.
At the larger fêtes, such as Bayonne or San Fermin in Pamplona, everyone wears red and white, and a wonderful ambience is created. At the smaller fêtes, there is often a focus on local speciality produce, which may include a role being played by the societies founded in the Middle Ages to set the standards of that local produce. These societies still exist, and often still practice in a very traditional way. Behind the pomp and ceremony, however, they fulfill a vital function: they make sure that the local foods being made under their name, such as Bayonne Ham, are being made the same way that they have always been made, in the same place, and to the same standards.
Good restaurants and bars abound, and the countryside offers many interesting drives into the foothills of the Pyrenees, both on the French and Spanish sides of the border. Vineyards, chais (the local wine chateaus), cheese makers and many other traditional food producers can be visited.
For the more active, there are many wonderful walks and cycle rides, from short rambles to full days out. The countryside is very varied, from open lands to forest, from lowlands to mountains. Errecaldia is ideally placed, even if you stay here without a car, with many good walks and rides from our front door. A little further away are centres for rafting, horse riding, four wheel drive trips, fishing and other outdoor pursuits.
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The Cols: road cycling