- GEORGINA HOWARD
- HOLIDAY TYPES
- DATES 2022 & 2023
- PRESS & REVIEWS
Step backstage into the mythical Basque landscapes of the Pyrenees on our exclusive Total Basque Mountain Experience walking weeks.
I have lived and worked here for over 20 years, been a freelance journalist for The Sunday Times on the Basque Culture and guide to Michael Portillo in his documentary 'The Pyrenees'. My personal passion is the history of smuggling and resistance in these mysterious Basque borderlands and the code of honor which makes everything possible. Each guided walk in the Pyrenees digs deep into the culture and traditions of the area, visiting my neighbours on their Basque mountain farms and exploring the idiosyncrasies and pagan beliefs of the villages along the valley floor.
A passion for landscapes and languages, and a large dollop of serendipity, brought me to this mountain top over two decades ago, and into the fold of the Basque farmers and shepherds of the Pyrenees. While I built up Pyrenean Experience from the attic of my renovated sheepshed, my neighbours helped me to raise my Basque daughter and, in so many ways, they helped to raise me too. We all became one big family here in my mountain hamlet of Ameztia.
The Basque Pyrenees are exceptional. Why? In many parts of the Pyrenees 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 to the history, traditions, ethics and language of these noble Basque mountain farmers. A culture very few outsiders ever really get to know.
During my culture walks in the Pyrenees we explore the Basque villages and mountain architecture, meet friends and neighbours while I entertain you with stories of the land – some of which have never been formally documented before and are the subject of my book ‘Life on a Basque Mountain’. Tales of witchcraft and paganism enter the plot. My fascination for - and study of - the local history of smuggling and resistance becomes the focus of some of these walks. During World War II, the Basque smugglers of the Pyrenees played a vital part in the COMET line resistance network helping Allied pilots to safety into Spain. The Basque language - an unbreakable code - together with their word of honour became cornerstones of the resistance movement. Let me tell you more.
* The Basques and their landscapes * Basque culture & traditions * Basque village architecture * Basque values & ethos * Paganism & witchcraft * Basque shepherds, millers & smugglers * The art & craft of smuggling & resistance * WWII COMET Line * Festivals and ceremonies * Basque gastronomy
DATES 2022: 21st - 28th June / 9th - 16th August / 12th - 19th September / 26th - 3rd October & 6th - 13th October & 17th - 24th October
PRICE 2022: 1500 Euros
Smugglers and shepherds have forged a labyrinth of paths through the Basque borderlands of the Spanish Pyrenees. Each morning - to the sound of sheep's bells and the cries of vultures - we step out from the door over mountain streams and onto the grassy ridgetops that lead away from the house. This is gentle, enchanting walking terrain.
These walks into the Pyrenees wind their way over hill and dale, curling past crumbling barns, chestnut groves, vegetable gardens, water mills and washing stones, on towards the medieval villages along the valley floor. A different picture postcard of Basque mountain life greets us at every turn.
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.
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.
Whenever possible we try to tie in our walking weeks with the numerous festivals and traditions in the area. The pagan origins of Ituren carnival is the subject of many anthropological studies and lie at the very core of our village identity. The protagonists of these carnivals (and of several other village festivals during the year) 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 (my neighbours and friends) in these festivals. Midsummer bonfires, autumn 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). Due to the vagaries of village life, fiesta dates do sometimes change, new festivals appear and the ever-changing social calendar is a constant source of surprise!
After each 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.
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:
Guests taking either our self-guided and 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 and there is no single supplement.
Read more about our farmhouse accommodation.
Tuesday 21st - 28th June 2022
The nights are long and we can dine out on the terrace watching the sun set on the valley below our house. On the 23rd June, the eve of San Juan, the Basque mountain villages erupt with pagan fire festivals and dance offering us an opportunity of joining in.
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.
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!
Monday 26th September - 3rd October & Thursday 6th - 13th October & 17th - 24th October 2022
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.
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.