“I highly recommend the experience to others who are wanting a walking holiday / retreat in an area that is memorable, beautiful and different, with a host who is all the same and more.” Niven. Johannesburg. International Coach. 2015

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In Georgina's Words

Topics related to our Basque Country self-guided and guided walking holidays based at our our farm near the Baztan Valley in the Spanish Pyrenees.

Josetxo's chemists in Ituren
The chemists in Ituren I was a little concerned when Josetxo (who runs the chemists in Ituren) said he would leave the pills I had ordered hanging on the outside handle of the chemist door in case I dropped by after he headed off for his evening run. Going to the chemists sometimes needs a
The Basque language seems inscrutable! When you first look at Basque language it appears an unfathomable language full of X’s, Z’s and K’s – all those letters that you don’t want to be left with after a game of Scrabble! It is so totally different from any other language and where, in Europe, a drop of

The Cure of San Juan Xar

Basajaun in the cave of San Juan Xar
“And it harm ye none, do what thou wilt” Healing and superstition have played an important role in the lives of the Basque people – and the witch hunts of the Spanish inquisition in the 17th century are perhaps the most dramatic example. Many women in these misty Basque mountain villages, with their strange attire
Basque, Spanish and English songs at our Christmas party at our Ituren village school
Sad to leave our Basque Village School! Above Carlos’s bar in Ituren plaza is our Basque village school. This small primary school has currently some 63 children ranging from 3 – 11 years old and all subjects are taught in Basque. The children come from the villages of Ituren, (and its three satellite hamlets of
Olentzero on Christmas Eve in Ituren
Olentzero – an inseparable part of Basque Christmas Traditions As you would expect even Basque Christmas traditions dig deep into their pagan past.  Here, during the winter months, the flint-grey skies linger over the Baztan Valley while the ember-red autumn leaves burn out slowly and silently on the forest floor. Even the mighty autumn winds,
Spanish lessons and laughter over Joxemi´s paella
Too often Spanish courses in Spain are associated with formal classes at established universities and Spanish language institutions. However, many adult students of Spanish work as well as study, and have limited holiday time to do both. This means that they often seek to combine a Spanish course in Spain with a holiday in the country
The 'witches' of Zugarramurdi
Who were the Witches of Zugarramurdi? Zugarramurdi is a tiny bucolic Basque village nestling in the foothills of the western Pyrenees. Innocuously the name Zugarramurdi means ‘hill of elm trees’, although today it is far better known for its caves and witches than for its hills and elms.  However, this is the site of the most brutal witch

The Comet Line

The Comet Line used Xan Mihura's farm Jauregiko Borda as the first stop over the border on the Baztan Route.
The Comet line, a famous resistance network which operated between 1941 and 1944 during the Second World War, helped grounded allied pilots and officers to safety over the Bidasoa river into Spain. It has been extensively documented: pieced together with the help of diaries written by the soldiers and the help of the families of the Basque
Basque tradition
The Stone-age Roots of the Basque Language. Many linguists agree that the Basque language is the oldest in Europe and that its origins clearly date back to the Neolithic period. However, certain sources seem to indicate that their roots go even further back in time. An example that seems to support this hypothesis is the interesting
Basajaun
Basajaun, which literally means ‘Lord of the Forest’, is one of the main characters in Basque Mythology. He is depicted as a large, hairy human-like creature who makes his home in caves deep in the forests of the Pyrenees, the mountain range which runs across the northern Spanish/French border. It appears that the myth of
Me, Marion and Iñaki with out neighbours in Ituren
I know, I know, I have written about the Ituren carnivals many times before (see links below) but the reaction is so raw, so overwhelming  each single time we participate that I feel compelled to put it down. They are not my people, I am from a ‘middle-class’ Birmingham suburb with Accessorise and John Lewis down

The People of the Baztan Valley

Xan Milhura and his family escorted allied pilots over the border into the Baztan Valley
The origins of the Basque people has been a subject of great debate, and of great political interest. Here is a study on the people of the Baztan Valley, a traditional Basque valley in the northern Pyrenean valleys of Navarre which throws some light on the subject. The People of the Baztan Valley In 2010 a team
people walking
The Telephone Call Our self-guided walks in the Pyrenees were pitchforked into action after a phone call from a Houston lawyer around Christmas 2012. Steve was heading to the Basque Country with a group of lawyer friends and wanted me to design 6 days of self-guided walks in the Pyrenees to lead them over the
Cottage in the Pyrenees, Navarre, Iaulin Borda,
Thirteen years ago our beautiful Basque Country farmhouse B & B in Ituren was nothing but a tiny mountain barn with a rustic outdoor toilet and a tiny brass tortoise on an outside tap! Once a haunt of sheep and wild ferrets (and a couple of grotesque toads that centered themselves up maliciously each night
The Invisible Gardian by Dolores Redondo
Review by Steve Cracknell When I read Georgina’s article, I thought: this is a book I have to buy. I haven’t read any detective novels since George Simenon died but I have lived in the Baztan valley where the novel is set, and I can use it to improve my Spanish. So I wasn’t particularly
Venturing further than the Michelin restaurants San Sebastian so proudly presents to the world, more intrepid travellers find that the white-washed mountain villages of the Basque Country have some wonderful culinary secrets of their own. Apart from the cider festivals and mushroom fiestas, sheep’s cheese competitions and roast lamb banquets in village squares … you
Baztan Valley Walks and Traditions
Several stretches of the Camino de Santiago lead walkers over the passes of the Pyrenees into the old kingdom of Navarre. The most popular and commercialised crossing point is the Camino Francés which leads pilgrims from St. Jean Pied-de-Port over the mountain pass of Ibañeta (1066 m) into Roncesvalles and on to Santiago de Compostela.
Basque ox and cart
Views of the Baztan Valley The Baztan Valley in Navarre is an area of extreme beauty and mediaeval Basque landscapes which, due to geographical, social and political factors, still keeps many of its secrets to itself. There are almost eight thousand people living in the Baztan Valley, spread between its fifteen pretty, white-washed villages. Elizondo
Approaching Elizondo in the Baztan Valley
The Baztan Valley and its many mysteries. We thrive on mysteries in the Baztan valley. Our history, our wealth, our survival – in fact our very identity – has always depended on our intimate knowledge of our land. This has been our closely – kept secret since the beginning of time. However, now that The
The Baztan valley - making hay while the sun shines
As I dashed out of my neighbour’s farm Amatxi (the grandmother) waved to me from the door ‘Que trabajes mucho!’ she said; a translation from the Basque ‘lan haunditz egin’ meaning ‘I hope you have lots of work!’. She wasn’t being funny, nor making subtle remarks about my lazy ways, (I don’t think), she was
Cider drinking at the mushroom fiestas in Elgorriaga
For some reason cider has become the theme of the week … and not a drop has yet passed my lips . .. I swear! My partner, the village lawyer, always seems to get interesting cases when the Basque cider houses open (usually between January and April) although I have to admit, the  ‘wild-boar-in-the-boot-of-the-car’ case during last
Live in Spanish
Talking about languages; we seem to have problems enough with our own! How many of us have tried in vain to get past the automated telephone systems that protect companies from their clients! (For those of us living abroad with foreign accents trying to get through the automated switch boards of large telephone companies (NO
Spanish conversations with Spanish people
I am always amazed at the number of Spanish language schools in Spain that boast about their highly sophisticated language labs full of the latest technology! Surely, (I have always thought) it is far better to learn languages with real people? Surely, the elderly señora with time to talk on the plaza, or a friendly shepherd bringing
Spanish courses in Spain with a difference
Open University Spanish language students enjoy our Spanish language courses and house-parties in the Pyrenees in Spain, and have done for over a decade; braving the 10 hairpin bends to our Pyrenean farmhouse to join us for a chat! Our total immersion Spanish language courses have always offered an ideal summer complement to years of distance learning where Spanish tuition is based primarily
Once again thank you to Francois Grosjean, Ph.d. Emeritus professor of Psycholinguistics at Neuchâtel University, Switzerland, for his latest blog on bilingualism and personality change. Without falling into boggy ground over the definition of personality (something so difficult to define and yet something we are so acutely aware of ) the question ‘do our personalities change when

Basque Smugglers and Tomatoes

Smugglers of the Baztan Valley
Koilkil, our retired smuggling friend, continues to surprise us with his tales of smuggling cows and horses over the Spanish/French borders of the Basque Pyrenees. He rarely speaks with animosity about the Guardia Civil during Franco’s regime … sometimes I even note a tone of sympathy! The youths sent up to patrol the borders were usually from the south
Views from the school run to Ituren
The best way to start off this invitation is with a picture of Ituren on the school run down the mountain earlier this week .. and if this photo came with a sound track, you would also hear the haunting cries of the cranes as they cross the valley fleeing the winter from the north.  True to Amatxi’s
Xabier, Ituren Joaldunak.
  It is the day that only the villagers know about, (and me) and last year I got it terribly wrong! This is the private day of the Joaldunak – the mythical, pagan, carnival personality of our village of Ituren. This is the day they make their personal pilgrimage to our mountain farms in honour
Some more wonderful memories of Edorta as he sings ‘Razón de vivir’ by Victor Heredia to another Spanish group on the terrace of our home in last autumn. No international house-party here in Ituren would be the same without him. Eskerrik asko Edorta!
Learning Spanish with Edorta in the Pyrenees
  Edorta came to our house in Ituren last night to sing Spanish and Basque songs to our guests. Here is one  of  our favourites by Silvio Rodriguez. Romanza de la Luna. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovroy8IWq8E    
The Basque grandparents on the neighbouring farm
  Here is a picture of Amatxi and Atautxi, as I have always known them; the ‘grandparents’ who adopted me when I arrived in Ameztia 10 years ago and helped me to bring up Marion when she made an appearance 3 years’ later.   Amatxi  who taught Marion how to sow, how to make bread, how to
Atautxi with my daughter (his adopted grand daughter) Marion. 2008
Wallflowers and Stephen Fry! When I was contacted by RTVE, National Spanish TV, to do a documentary on my life for their programme, Destino España, the natural wallflower in me was nowhere to be found! (See the video on the menu bar). Illusions of grandeur had been sown a year ago when I had a

Life in the Baztan Valley

Baztan walks, culture and mythology are interwoven in the Baztan Valley
Here is a national Spanish TV documentary by RTVE about my and Marion’s life here in the Baztan Valley in the Spanish Basque Pyrenees. In this short documentary you will meet some of the friends and neighbours who have enriched our lives: Felipe, the miller from Amaiur, and Isidro, Amatxi and Atautxi from our neighbouring farm of Zubialdea in Ituren. Zubialdea is our second home
Basque friends at a cideria with Basque champion woodcutter 'Olasagasti'
Any article entitled ´Working with the Spanish’ will get into stormy waters if it attempts blanket coverage of the Iberian Peninsula and this is no truer than for the proud Basque people who inhabit the rugged coasts of the North. Just like the English ‘go on holiday to Europe’ so the Basques ‘go on holiday
Spanish lessons, laughter and lunch at our favourite Michelin recommended restaurant
Twenty years ago, when Jan, the Polish sandwich boy, visited my PR office in Canary Wharf neither he nor I had any idea of how our brief exchanges would sow the seeds for the Spanish language courses I run in the Pyrenees today. It all started as he handed me a ham and pickle sandwich
I dug this paragraph out from my writings years ago when Marion was just 1 year old and it reminds me of many of those tiny cultural differences that I suppose I now take for granted. We wake up reeking of the raw onion on the dressing table …..Amatxi’s solution for Marion’s cough. It works but we
Learning Spanish on the hoof
On my travels I meet a stream of intrepid Brits in everything except learning foreign languages. They trek the Himalayas in thunder storms and raft the Zambezi with the crocodiles and yet,  no matter how extrovert and gregarious they are by nature, one obstacle seems always to obstruct their path – the language barrier.  Lame
My neighbour's house, Zubialdea
Over the past decades I have come to realise just how important a role the Basque farmhouse (etxea) plays in the Basque culture. When the final roof tile is put into place, a sprig of bay leaves is tucked into the eaves above the front door and the house is given its name. It is
Trying some of Sagrario's sheep's cheese
My dear neighbour and friend, Sagrario, lives on the Basque farm next door and is 47 years old. She is more or less of my generation – or so you would think until you heard the stories of her childhood. Only then do I realise the true extent of the cultural abyss between us. Sagrario
Marion at school in local peasant dress
On Friday, I sent an e-mail to François Grosjean, Emeritus Professor of Psycholinguistics, from the University of Neuchatel, about my 6-year-old daughter, Marion, and her tri-lingualism. Within hours François had emailed me a very personal reply of which I was extremely appreciative and had me mulling over the characteristics and quirks of her tri-lingual nature
Spanish classes in disguise
Spanish language courses in Spain – which one do you recommend? Where should we go? Where is the best place to study Spanish in Spain? I hear the question again and again and I am usually quite baffled by the insistence on a formal Spanish course and the intent search for a formal Spanish school

Carnivals of Ituren & Zubieta 2011

Bears in the plaza during the Ituren carnivals
Ituren Carnival: 31st January 2011 After a mug of hot broth, (caldo), traditionally made from boiled pork and chickens feet, we climbed the steps to the attic rooms above the town hall and plunged into a frenzy of bells and ropes, of sheep’s skins and brightly-coloured swaddling ribbons. No, don’t be misled by the pretty pinks
The lamia on a coat of arms on a house in Oriegi
The Lamiak, easily compared to Greco-Roman nymphs, are creatures of Basque mythology who figure greatly in local toponyms, and are often found represented in the coats of arms of the large farmhouses of the area. According to legend, the Lamia is a mermaid-like creature with either bird-like feet or a fish’s tail who dwells in mountain springs
Walking with Basque Culture and Gastronomy
I just popped in on Amatxi yesterday and she was bent double over the kitchen table taking in the waist on her grandson’s lace petticoats. Carnival time is coming .. by far the most exciting and loved moment of the year for our village of Ituren.  There is a general buzz everywhere, groups of youths congregating in farm sheds and clinks

Gure Bazterrak

Spanish guitar ballads over dinner with Edorta
I have just found a video on You Tube that Vic put up a couple of years back – so thanks Vic. It shows Edorta, a friend of ours and professional cantautor singing what has become over the years something of a signature tune for us all on our Spanish language & Walking holidays and basque Cultural
Marion at Sumbillanea. Views of our house to the left and above it of Sotillenea, where Sagario was born
A fascinating subject I have long wished to tackle in greater depth is that of Marion’s tri-lingualism. My daughter is 6-years-old and is tri-lingual in Basque, English and Spanish. Before the umbilical cord had been cut at the birthing table in a maternity ward in Pamplona in May 2004 her father had spoken to her in
The personal touch
1.  Make a bee line for Spanish resorts full of other British people. Here, you will often find impatient English-speaking shopkeepers and waiters who find nothing amusing in waiting half-an-hour for you to mumble your order in broken Spanish, when a two-minute conversation in English would suffice. 2. Head for the large metropolises full of busy
Relaxing in the afternoon on farmhouse terrace
 My beautiful friend from Manchester (with the equally mancunian name of Zosia) has lived in the city of San Sebastian for the past 25 years. As an English teacher she always complains about the X-pats in Donosti (the Basque name for this most beautiful sea-side city) who, after years married to Spaniards/Basques, and totally integrated
John, Paul, Sonja and David after a dip in the river near Arizkun
In defence of the Spanish language and walking holidays we run in the Pyrenees I remember an article on how living  near green spaces can be shown to improve mental health. Thanks Paul for routing it out for me!  Add these findings to those of a  previous article on my blog on how exercise is shown to aid mental agility and memory and it therefore makes

Basque Rural Sports

Village school sports day
Another guest post from Veronica of La Recette du Jour. Being in a country where you don’t speak the language well enough to understand everything that’s going on gets you into some odd situations where you can discover all sorts of interesting things you would never have guessed the existence of otherwise. Yesterday was one
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