We hiked along trails that until recently were smuggling routes on the French and Spanish border. The trails provided ample shade as they crept through dense beech forests, and then all of a sudden would lead us onto exposed high mountain pastures.
The herds of sheep grazing these pastures seemed content and happy to be together. I thought it strange how whenever I am walking with them in the village they run all over the place, some fast, and some content to amble, but rarely together. They reminded me of our hiking group – fun to be with, happy together, but almost impossible to herd!
Views from there were vast – encompassing steep sided mountains, with bare ridges and densely forested folds. We could even see the sea one day.
The morning we departed happened to be market day in St Jean de Pied de Port – the last town in France on the St James’ Way – the ancient pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostella. We passed by to have a look.
The stalls were all arranged under one large market building. Men in black berets lounged by their battered Citroëns passing the time of day. The most any of them would buy would be a cup of coffee or a glass of pastis at the bar!
However there was plenty of local produce – rich red Espelette peppers, and stalls of sauces and oils made from these peppers; local cheeses; mountains of tins of fois gras and other patés; rustic looking wholemeal loaves; and the famous gâteau Basque, a delicious thin pastry filled with a local fruit preserve. Locals passed from stall to stall examining the wares, and the atmosphere was very lively.[slideshow id=8] Click on the image to see the slides
Most of us left with some local “goodie”. I couldn’t resist a gâteau Basque which we had for lunch, that seemed to vanish as it was relished so much.