“The views from the windows are absolutely stunning, even on an early misty morning you are above the clouds ….we saw the vultures below us and sat amongst the most stunning scenery I have ever had the pleasure to see, take in and enjoy.” Jayne. Birmingham. Company Director.

Self-Guided Walking Holidays

Clandistine Paths of the Pyrenees
The paths of the Basque Pyrenees echo with the footsteps of pilgrims, smugglers, witches, allied pilots and political refugees. But NOT with the sound of tourists. Previous political tensions (and the reserved nature of the Basque people) have kept the area off the beaten track, and preserved a living mountain culture with ancient traditions and human integrity.

Self-Guided Walks in the Pyrenees (from an insiders point of view!)

Join us at our Basque farmhouse for a full-board / fully-supported / fully-documented walking 'house party' and enjoy a beautiful car-free week exploring the 200 km network of 'circular' mountain walks that lead straight from the farmhouse door. Depending on how you feel each morning, chose one of more than 10 walks (and mountain villages) to explore that day. Walks from 1 hr - 7hrs with a range of levels. Perfect for independent walkers. Back at the farmhouse our evening dinner parties offer guests a further dimension to these mediaeval landscapes when we share our inside knowledge of the Basque culture, its festivals, traditions and secret mountain restaurants … (and sometimes other secrets too!).

Putting my hand in the fire (and there are fires to put hands in!) I promise guests some of the most charming and uncharted walks in Western Europe. Spanish lessons, cycling, city visits etc. can all be easily combined with our Self-Guided Walking Holidays. See Other Local Activities (below).

The Walks

We have meticulously documented almost 200km of circular walks which start and finish at the farmhouse door. Lego-like they can be combined to make over 15 different circular walks allowing guests to tailor-make their own walking experience - adding on loops or taking short cuts depending on how they feel before heading back to the farmhouse for our house party dinners every evening. In general, this is not harsh or dangerous terrain and the area is full of friendly farms and welcoming village bars.

The Walks in Detail

On a lazy day guests can choose gentle - moderate 1 - 3 hr circular walks from the house. These walks follow gentle country paths around the hamlet and along grassy ridgetops without descending to the valley floor. These walks may involve a 100m – 300m altitude gain.

The majority of the walks are of moderate difficulty and link one or several of the 10 villages that orbit our hamlet of Ameztia in Ituren. The walks can take between 2.30hrs – 5hrs and involve a 300m – 500m altitude gain. The villages of Ituren, Zubieta, Elgorriaga, Donestebe, Donamaria and Saldias all have at least one country inn serving great Basque food, and our favourite restaurant in Donamaria even turned down a Michelin star!

For more advanced walkers the higher peaks of Mendaur to the north and Muñazorrotz to the south (both over 1000 m) can be reached by a 5 – 7hr mountain walk with a 600 – 900m altitude gain. From here level, grassy, rounded ridgetops, with the occasional granite outcrop, extend ad infinitum and offer safe and exhilarating walks with views of the Atlantic and the Central Pyrenees.

Each walk comes with its own privately produced maps and detailed walking and culture notes and is available on-line on our private Wikiloc page which provides guests with on-line maps and GPS co-ordinates.

Check here to see maps and full details of a sample couple of circular Baztan Valley Walks.

The Landscapes of the Baztan and Bidasoa Valleys

Years ago I bought a small mountain barn, and the ruins of a farmhouse, in a tiny mountain hamlet of Ituren near the Baztan valley in northern Navarre. I soon realised that its geographical setting made it the perfect walking base and apart from our Guided Walking, Basque Culture & Gastronomy Holidays, I set about documenting a network of self-guided circular walks in the Pyrenees too. Our farmhouse is situated in a traditional farming hamlet in the hills, circled by river valleys and tiny white-washed Basque villages. We are then further ringed by higher mountain ridges to the north and south. Having escaped glaciation, the intricate pattern of river valleys in the western Pyrenees constantly surprises the walker with its ever-changing landscapes. Within minutes of the farm another fold of the land reveals a different patchwork of green fields and dry stone walls, of mediaeval bridges and smugglers paths, of watermills and crumbling homesteads with their hand-made bracken stacks and flocks of sheep. This is beautiful Sound of Music / Lorna Doone (excuse any mixed analogies) walking terrain!

The Basque Food of the Pyrenees

The reputation of the world-famed Basque gastronomy is not only confined to the bigger cities. Eating is at the absolute heart of Basque identity and no more so than here in the farming hamlets of the Basque Pyrenees where locals have been labouring on the land since dawn and have huge appetites! In most villages there is a different Basque inn offering cold beers, local wines and ciders and a hearty, home-cooked Menu del Dia. The food in this area is usually locally grown and restaurants offer cuts of meat from animals reared on neighbouring farms and often pick their courgettes, tomatoes, green beans and chard directly from the gardens out the back. Do not forget that this is the land of wild mushrooms and roast chestnuts, home-made sheep’s cheeses and quince jams, of cider and sloeberry liquors.

Some villages still have working water mills where millers grind corn and wheat and make the traditional Basque peasant dish of corn talos (accompanied by sizzling spicy sausages, local cheese and cider). During Franco's time when food was scarce, corn talos used to be the staple food of the area.

Nevertheless, any self-respecting finale to a walk through our area must include a meal at our favourite, Michelin-recommended restaurant by the river at the bottom of our hill. (A restaurant that actually turned down a Michelin star.)

Food and Accommodation at the Farmhouse

Guests doing the self-guided walks in the Pyrenees during our house-parties weeks will find the house stocked with food. We provide continental breakfasts in the morning, a sandwich service at lunchtime and there are tasty hotpots on the stove in the evening. The house is always full of bread, cheeses, fruits, salad and wine and so no one ever need go hungry! On the same token we hope our guests are happy with our house-party ethos and rules.

(For our fully-guided walking weeks see our Walking and Basque Culture and Gastronomy weeks).

Cycling

The area is blessed with all sorts of cycling tracks for all levels. It is a paradise for mountain biking with over 500 km of documented mountain bike routes in the area. There are also hundreds of kilometres of quiet, smooth surfaced mountain roads  leading from village to village (thanks to former EU grants!). One of my closest friends, Francisco Javier Meoqui, is the former European veteran cycling champion and is more than happy to introduce cyclists to his training ground. For fair weather cyclists, from our near-by town of Santesteban /Donestebe, there is a wonderful 40 km green cyling lane which follows the banks of the historic Bidasoa river to the coast in Hendaye, along a reconditioned railway line. It is pretty, shaded and totally FLAT (and flat is not a common adjective in this neck of the woods)!

This track forms part of the EuroVelo 1 route stretching from Norway to Portugal.  A large cycle shop in Santesteban, provides bicycles, helmets and maps.

Spanish Lessons at the Farmhouse

For those interested in gaining the basics of the Spanish language, during our Self-Guided Walking Holidays we offer our guests a 10 hour package of formal Spanish lessons and informal conversation at beginners/elementary level with a professional Spanish teacher. These lessons may be shared with other interested guests at the farm and are supplemented with informal Spanish conversation during your stay. These 10 hrs of Spanish lessons cost an additional 200 Euros per booking.

Intermediate and Advanced Level Spanish students interested in a full immersion Spanish course please look at the celebrated Total Immersion Spanish & Walking holidays we have run for the past two decades.

Places to Visit

Many of our guests do not have their own transport and so the week is designed so that our guests can enjoy a wide range of activities without being dependent on their own car. This is slow travel at its best! For those wanting a complete change of scenery there are buses three times a day from our nearby village of Doneztebe/Santesteban to historic Pamplona and the pintxo bars and beaches of sophisticated San Sebastian. The bus also stops at the medieval fishing village of Hondarribia on the coast, which we highly recommend!

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