- GEORGINA HOWARD
- HOLIDAY TYPES
- DATES 2022
- PRESS & REVIEWS
Step backstage into the mythical Basque landscapes of the Pyrenees on our exclusive Total Basque Mountain Experience walking weeks.
While all our guided walks in the Pyrenees visit Basque mountain farms and villages and include a behind-the-scenes insight into the culture and traditions of the area, different walking weeks have separate focuses.
The culture walking weeks dig deep into the history of smuggling and resistance amongst the Basque mountain people while the nature walking weeks focus on the fauna, flora and natural habitats of the Basque Pyrenees.
During specific weeks in the spring and autumn – when the most dynamic changes occur within the natural calendar – John Crawshaw, arboriculturist and environmentalist, joins me on my walks to give another dimension to our nature walks in the Pyrenees, delving deep into the wildlife and habitats of this diverse area.
This area offers us a privileged sighting of the Griffon vultures and, as well as the opportunity to observe their feeding patterns, we can view them in the wild, where they breed among the limestone cliffs and waterfalls of the Itxusi nature reserve. The ancient woodlands in the area are fascinating and, apart from providing hints and tips to help you identify trees in all seasons, we also delve deeper into their habitat value for other flora, birds and mammals.
After dinner, with the aid of bat detectors, we also hope to establish the species of bats around the farmhouse and nearby woods and learn about their bemusing behaviour patterns. Fungi are also a world unto themselves. As we explore the symbiotic relationship between fungi and other species we learn how the trees use fungi to communicate and survive, and why the relationship is a two-way street.
During our walks through ancient woodlands, river valleys and mountain meadows we examine the spiritual, cultural and gastronomic dimensions of this diverse environment. In so doing, we also come to understand the umbilical link between the Basques and their land.
* The Basques and their landscapes * Basque traditions * Tree identification, reproduction & communication * Local habitats & topography *After-dark walks through the woods * Vultures & birds of prey * Birds, mammals & reptiles *bats *Spring flowers/Autumn fungi & foraging * Basque gastronomy
Autumn 2021: 8th - 15th November 2021 / Spring 2022: 29th April - 6th May 2022 / Autumn 2022: 6th - 13th October & 27th October - 3rd November 2022
PRICES 2022: 1500 Euros
I have lived here among the Basque farmers and shepherds of the Pyrenees for over two decades and, while they have helped me raise my Basque daughter, I feel that they have also raised me. Few walks in the rest of the Pyrenees get to the heart of local culture because so many mountain villages are slowly being abandoned, but this is not so in the Basque Pyrenees which are so loved by the Basque people. Here, village schools are full, and the Basque language, ancient festivals and farming traditions are thriving.
During my culture focus walking weeks, I 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 2022 / 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 events; wine seminars, cooking demonstrations and music concerts about the nature and culture of the area.
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.
Many guided walks draw up for lunch at a local family restaurant/tapas bar or watermill and, of course, our favourite restaurant in the village of Donamaria (which actually refused a Michelin star!). Others may end with a picnic at a beauty spot high in the hills.
Each walk on our guided walking holidays comes with a different 'off-the-beaten' track gastronomy experience - and each culinary experience offers us a different insight into the local culture and traditions of the Pyrenees.
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 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.
Autumn Focus 2021: Monday 8th - 15th November 2021
Spring Focus 2022: Friday 29th April - 6th May 2022
Autumn Focus 2022: Monday 17th - 24th October & Thursday 27th October - 3rd November 2022
Whether we are enjoying the spring meadows or autumn colours, these nature-focused walking weeks give us the unique opportunity to observe the Griffon vultures close to hand. Bats, fungi, ancient chestnut woods, waterfalls and great seasonal gastronomy enter the plot.
Prices are per person and include ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING and there are NO SINGLE SUPPLEMENTS. Price includes full-board accommodation with en-suite bathrooms at our family farmhouse. (We have just 5 / 6 rooms meaning these are very personal and exclusive holidays). All food, all wine, all restaurant meals. A unique 5 1/2 day walking/cultural/gastronomy programme. We also provide a free pick-up travel service at specific times.
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.