“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.


In Georgina's Words

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

Zubieta in the Basque Pyrenees

Typical farmhouse in Zubieta
Zubieta is a traditional Basque village in the Pyrenees, its contrasts and contradictions, values of equality, honour and 'hard graft' are typical of Basque mountain life.
The Pyrenees with Michael Portillo
'The Pyrenees with Michael Portillo', a portrait of filming behind-the-scenes in Zubieta, a traditional Basque village in Navarre. Here, we work with Michael and learn about his family background and skills as a linguist and presenter.
Comet Line children meet in France
Children of the Comet Line resistance network, which operated during World War Two, meet for the first time. 75 years after their work ended. Maialen Larretche, now 90 years old, from Urrugne (France) and Paco Iriarte, now 86 years old, from Oiartzun (Spain) reminisce in their native Basque language.
pyrenean experience sunset over the valley on our guided walking holidays in the Pyrenees
A detailed description of Jim Allison's escape from Nazi occupied Europe with the help of the Pyrenean escape route known as the Comet Line. First-hand details from the final survivors of the Comet resistance network.

Secrets of the Pyrenees

Map of the French and Spanish Pyrenees
Ten things you probably don’t know about the Pyrenees. Secrets of the Pyrenees that the normal tourist does not know and inside tips to make the most of your travels.
Hiking in the Pyrenees: the Baztan and Bidasoa Valleys
Hiking in the Pyrenees If you are thinking of hiking in the Pyrenees, be aware of the wonderful diversity of landscapes found from one valley to the next. There is no one-shot – one-size-fits-all ‘Pyrenean Experience’. Every valley offers its own unique flora and fauna, history, culture and gastronomy. The Pyrenees from east to west.
Colour definitions - is it green, blue or grey?
How colour definitions vary between cultures: Turquoise is a bit of a worry in our family. For me, at one point it is decidedly more ‘bluish’ and for my Basque daughter, that same blue / green shade is decidedly more ‘greenish’. Our colour definitions are different and where one colour bleeds into the next colour
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 and the Joaldunak, the pagan protagonists from the festivals we visit on Total Basque Mountain Culture Walking Holidays, appear again with fire and flame. Here, during the winter months, the flint-grey skies
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 escape route, which we cover on our Guided Walking Tours, was a famous resistance network which operated between 1941 and 1944 during the Second World War. Its aim was to help grounded allied pilots and officers to safety over the Bidasoa river into Spain. This escape route has been pieced together with the
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 in the cave of San Juan Xar
Basajaun, which literally means ‘Lord of the Forest’, is one of the main characters in Basque Mythology and just one of several characters we introduce on our Total Basque Mountain Culture Walking Holidays. He is depicted as a large, hairy human-like creature who makes his home in caves deep in the forests of the Pyrenees,
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 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 and I revel in the opportunity of
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
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 of
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    
  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. It is paramount to the family seat, even perhaps a family ‘stable’ and is always the first theme I address on our Total Basque Mountain Culture Walking Weeks. When the final roof
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