Basque Backcountry

We headed south from Bidart making our way inland to the backcountry, about 30 minutes from the coast, the terrain visibly changing as we moved east.  Basque country, spanning across both Spain and France, with a tangible cultural divide from the rest of France, seems to be a country within a country.  The Basque, a very strong and proud community, have inhabited this area for thousands of years, maintaining their own language, Euskara, and many of their own traditions including a very distinctive architectural style unmistakably Basque. 

Arriving to open space of rolling green hills scattered with herds of sheep and cows, small cloistered villages hidden in the landscape and traditional Basque homes, painted white with red shutters dotting the countryside with pops of color.  This is farm country, beautiful, naked and simple, reminiscent of my green mountain state, Vermont.  Brimming with typical Basque homes, which to me in a minute way are remindful of Swiss chalets, surrounded by the rolling landscape and quietness, I wonder if this is similar to wandering through the hillsides of Austria or Switzerland, only on a much smaller scale.  I hope to one day discover on my own. 

Driving a bit aimlessly, slowly navigating the bending roads while enjoying the scenery and the calmness, we made our way through Ascain and Sare.  Villages that seem stuck in time, so peaceful making them feel a world away, small, sleepy and picturesque probably with a higher population of sheep than people.  Our final expedition before heading back to the coast, we stopped in Espelette, famous for their piment d’espelette, a mildly spicy pepper locally cultivated here, which can be purchased fresh, dried, ground, pureed, pickled or even in jam.  The entire town is draped in peppers, matured to various stages of plump or wrinkled, depending on the stage of drying, all resting in the sun against the traditional Basque facades.

After a full day of driving and experiencing this unique area of France with its discernibly distinct culture, we drove back to Bidart, returning to the damp, salty air, to spend the evening with our friends.  Our car full of piment d'espelette for my family and chocolate d'espelette for us, nicely tuckered from our day of exploring, we were happy to have escaped reality a bit further and to have visited Basque country...