Basque Mountain Experience Guided Walking Weeks in the Pyrenees.
Holiday Highlights

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Farmhouse

Stunning Basque farmhouse with guided walks in the Pyrenees stepping our from the farmhouse door

Cultural Events

Evening dinner parties with private culinary and cultural programme.

Insider

Meet mountain shepherds and local experts and learn about the age-old traditions and pagan beliefs still alive in the area

WW2 Escape Lines

Explore Basque culture and traditions and the local stories of smuggling and resistance

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Tradition

Family business with over 20 years of experience working with local Basque people

The Basque Borderlands of the Pyrenees Explained

Michael Portillo and Georgina Howard in Zubieta

Backstage in the Basque Pyrenees

Georgina Howard

For over two decades I have led guided walks into these enigmatic Basque landscapes for private clients and tailor-made groups.

I have been a feature writer on Basque culture for The Sunday Times and, in April 2022, I had a fun day’s filming with Michael Portillo in Zubieta, introducing him to the moeurs of Basque mountain life for his documentaryThe Pyrenees with Michael Portillo’.

My personal story in northern Navarre has allowed me to integrate in-depth into the Basque shepherding community. My neighbours have been patient with me – and amused – helping me raise my Basque daughter and sharing their personal narratives, traditions, beliefs and fears, enabling me to pepper every talk with undocumented stories and anecdotes.

Joaldunak of Ituren and Zubieta carnival
Basque music and tapas on the terrace
Basque ox and cart in Ituren
autumn landscapes of the Pyrenees

A Different Vignette of Basque Mountain Life at Every Turn

Due to the old fueros (laws) of Navarre, the medieval landscapes of the Spanish Basque Pyrenees have changed little over the centuries and are notably different from those of the French Basque Country just over the border.

Our relaxed walks into the Pyrenees follow a labyrinth of paths forged by shepherds, peddlers, pilgrims and smugglers, winding between the summer pastures higher up the mountain slopes and the many traditional villages along the rivers on the valley floor.

Crumbling barns, chestnut groves, vegetable gardens, water mills and 15th-century churches dot our route, presenting us with a different vignette of Basque mountain life at every turn.

 

Basque Smuggling Walks in the Pyrenees

Over the years I have extensively documented the history, traditions and superstitions of the farmers of Basque Navarre with particular reference to the Joaldunak - the bizarre, pagan protagonists of the Ituren-Zubieta carnivals. However, I am particularly fascinated by the local history of smuggling and resistance. During World War II, the Basque smugglers of the Pyrenees played a vital part in the Comet Line escape routes, helping downed Allied pilots to safety over the French border into Spain.

The deep complicity between Basques, their unbreakable word of honour together with their inscrutable Basque language, Euskara, became cornerstones of the resistance movement. These are just some of the themes on our walks into the Pyrenees found on our fully-guided group holidays and also dovetailed into the programme on our Self-guided Basque Mountain Experience walking weeks. These tales have also been stitched together in my recent biography and manuscript ‘Life on a Basque Mountain’.

comet line and carlist towers

FURTHER DETAILS

The Lie of the Land

And so why do I feel that these Basque borderlands of the Spanish Pyrenees are exceptional? In many parts of the Pyrenees – and in rural Spain as a whole - the villages are slowly being abandoned but this is not so here. The Basque people live here in heart, body and soul.  Here, village schools are full, and the Basque language, ancient festivals and farming traditions are thriving.

Let me take you backstage into my home community and enlighten you on the history, traditions, ethics and language of these noble Basque mountain farmers. A culture very few outsiders ever really get to know.

Making Hay in the Baztan Valley

The Length & Distance of the Walks

Our small family-run company, with more than two decades of experience in this area, has developed a network of over 200 km of paths straight from our farmhouse door which allows us immense flexibility when planning our walking weeks. These informal and companionable walking weeks mean that there is time during the day to curl up on the terrace with a good book or a cup of tea.

All walks are taken at a relaxed pace too, the aim being to cover between 12–16 km a day (some 4–5 hrs) with ascents/descents ranging from between 300–500 metres. An opportunity is never missed to stop for a cool beer in a village bar or chat with the farmers and villagers that we meet on our way.

Georgina guiding her private walking holidays in the Pyrenees
Walking above the mists in Ameztia

The Week's Itinerary

As spontaneity is vital in making the most of these dynamic, everchanging landscapes, unlike larger tour operators, we have taken the decision not to pre-determine a daily itinerary. With a very reduced number of guests joining us each week, we are in the privileged position of being able to tailor-make each walk to our guests’ specific interests. In this way can we adapt to the current walking conditions and the local cultural calendar and make the most of each opportunity as it arises.

During the week there are five guided walking days. One day is free for us to help our guests organise the day as they will, many people choosing to visit the nearby towns of San Sebastian and Pamplona. In the evenings we have a sociable, cultural and gastronomy programme.

Due to traditional political differences between Navarre and the Basque Country, these peaceful borderlands of the Basque Pyrenees still lie off most tourist trails.
Welcome to the 'Bermuda Triangle' of the Basque Country!

foal in the Basque Pyrenees
kitten hitching lift on rucksack
Goats near the vulture breeding grounds of Itxusi

Ancient Basque Festivals

Whenever possible - although this is a rough science - we try to tie in our walking weeks with the numerous festivals and traditions in the area. The pagan origins of Ituren - Zubieta carnival is the subject of many anthropological studies and lie at the very core of our village identity. The protagonists of these carnivals are the Joaldunak (bell-wearers). The solemn rituals of the Joaldunak, (Guardian report 2018), with their whips, bells and lace petticoats are some of the oldest in Europe.

The Joaldunak can be witnessed on several occasions during the year and - when possible - we join the locals in these festivals. Midsummer bonfiresautumn festivals, mushroom hunts and apple-blessing ceremonies all have similar pagan origins and we seize every opportunity to join in, sampling the local Basque foods, cheeses, ciders and wines, and listening to the Basque music and Bertsolaris (rhyming bards). Please note that due to the vagaries of village life and these uncertain times, these festival dates do sometimes change without warning. The ever-changing social calendar is a constant source of surprise!

Zubieta and Ituren carnivals and the Joaldunak holidays in spain
Walking the Pyrenees escape lines with friends and relatives of the Basque resistance
Walking along the mountain paths of my Basque hamlet in the Spanish Pyrenees
Walking group in the Basque Pyrenees above the mist
Aperitifs in the garden at Donamaria restaurant

Local Gastronomy & Basque Secrets

After a day of walks in the Pyrenees our guests are invited to join us at our relaxed dinner parties 'en famille' around the kitchen table. On several evenings we organise an exclusive programme of cultural and culinary events, local wines, cheeses, music and drama enter the plot.

And as the evening unwinds we reveal secrets of these Basque medieval landscapes (and, at times, other secrets too!).

Putting my hand in the fire (and there are fires to put hands into!) I promise guests some of the most charming and uncharted walks in Western Europe.

table set for dinner at pyrenean experrience

Home-from-Home at the Farmhouse

Guests are invited to help themselves to coffee, tea, beer, wine and biscuits etc.  The house is always full of bread, cheeses, fruit, salad and wine, so no one need ever go hungry! We provide:

  • Full continental breakfasts
  • Lunchtime meals and hand-picked local inns and restaurants.
  • Tapas and picnics.
  • Full three-course evening meals with wine and an evening cultural and culinary programme.
  • Read more about our house party ethos.
Guesthouse gardens in the Pyrenees

Farmhouse Accommodation in the Pyrenees

Guests taking either our self-guided or guided walks in the Pyrenees options are accommodated in one of our 5 en-suite double rooms and each room has amazing views over the Pyrenees and the valleys below our house.  Here, you can enjoy breakfast on our sunny south-facing terraces or an aperitif after the walk in our landscaped gardens. We run an open-house and guests have full access to our well-stocked kitchen, library, living and dining spaces as well as a free self-service bar of tea, coffee, wine and beers. There is WIFI, central heating and a log fire.

The bedrooms are suitable for both couples or solo travellers.

Read more about our farmhouse accommodation.

Views from our farmhouse on our creative retreat in the Pyrenees
Pyrenean Experience bedroom with garden terrace in the Baztan Valley
Pyrenean Experience B & B in Ituren views of our terrace

The Total Basque Mountain Experience Guided Walking Weeks: Dates 2022

Price 2022: 1500 Euros

Prices are per person and include full-board accommodation with en-suite bathrooms at our family farmhouse. (We have just 5 guest rooms meaning these are very personal and exclusive holidays). All food, all wine, all restaurant meals. A unique 5-day walking/cultural/gastronomy programme. We also provide a free pick-up travel service from our nearby village at specific times.

Dates 2023

Guided weeks are henceforth tailor-made privately for small groups (max 8 people). However, certain guided walks are encompassed in our Basque Mountain Experience Self-Guided Walking Weeks which offer an enlightened blend of both guided and independent walking options.

Culture Focus: Walking, Basque Festivals & Wild Swimming

Tuesday 9th - 16th August 2022

This week coincides with the main Basque summer fiestas and offers an incredible opportunity to witness the ancient Basque festivals, Basque sports competitions and pagan traditions. The many woods, river valleys and lakes in the area offer shady walks and wild swimming opportunities.

Culture Focus: Walking & Ancient Basque Traditions

Monday 12th - 19th September 2022

This week virtually always coincides with the ancient Basque festival in my village of the Joaldunak - a festival dating back to pre-christian times, studied by anthropologists worldwide. Wine-tasting and Michelin-recommended restaurants enter the plot!

Culture Focus: Walking & Autumn Colours 2022

Monday 26th September - 3rd October & Thursday 6th - 13th October

In autumn the deciduous trees of oak, chestnut, walnut, ash and beech transform into a kaleidoscope of golds, reds and tangerines. Add the lively village calendar of harvest and mushroom festivals, and the opening of the cider houses, and this is a spectacular time to explore the Basque Pyrenees.

Further information

The Total Basque Mountain Experience Walking Holidays 2023

In 2023 our walking weeks celebrate the very best of our independent self-guided and guided walking weeks, fusing the two walking experiences with our inimitable open-house ethos and private culinary and cultural programme.

Blog

Articles on the culture, languages, traditions and values of the Basque Pyrenees as well as stories taken from over two decades of our own, personal Pyrenean Experience.

Press Releases

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