Espelette:Itxassou:Ossés:St.Jean-Pied-de-Port : France July 2018
It’s still pretty grey when we leave St Pée-sur- Nivelle but we decide a little tour of the Basque French villages are in order.
First stop Espelette. This is the place where the red chilli peppers are grown. They even have a D.O.C registered for the area. Once the peppers are picked they hang them on strings and put on the outside of the houses to dry which is lovely to see. The village has an annual fête in October when the piment is dried and ground.
We arrived and looked for parking , it was not easy. And when we did spot a parking area we got as far as the first town only to see a barrier with a height restriction. ….oh Flip! We had cars behind us and nowhere to go. I jumped out and waved them all back and then Chris was forced to reverse all the way back. Let me tell you he was sweating by the time we had escaped. We eventually parked on a hill, on the pavement and facing the wrong direction but we planned to be quick. A lovely village very touristy and as Chris says the stores are a 5 trick pony. You can buy pimento, ( powdered, pickled, mustard, mixed with salt) or cherry jam, duck or Foie pate, cheese or basque striped tablecloth fabric. ( oh and chocolate, so 6 tricks actually) And every store sells the same. Pretty but a little repetitive. We did love the pics drawn on the shop windows advertising the Tour de France. Its a very typical Basque village and definitely worth a visit.
Another beautiful village on this route. After we had explored and bought some cheese we were off. Next village was Itxassou. This village speciality is cherries!
Of course, it’s not the season now but they do make lots of cherry jams for you to buy in the pretty village shops. Again we tried to stop but believe me the parking situation is not easy but we eventually parked in a spot and hoped it wasn’t illegal. We had seen on our way in a few restaurants and what looked like reasonable menu du jour. The restaurant we chose was modern and quite busy but they found us space. Of course, we sat down and ordered a drink and then the waitress informed us ‘sorry menu du jour’ is fini! Oh well. We decided we would stay anyway and the food was worth it.
Chris had an entrecôte with shallot sauce and I had a local speciality called axoa de veau( a local speciality of ground milk fed veal, mixed with onions and the red piment of course) We finished off with a coffee for me and ‘cafe gourmand’ for Chris. This is a selection of small portions of the house desserts served with coffee on one platter. It looked delicious. We took a little walk down the country lanes to aid digestion and then we were back on the road. We also stopped in at the church which was a great decision as it was a typical Basque church which has wooden galleries on the interior and is very different looking to most churches. the wood was beautifully carved and an extra bonus was meeting some music students in the church who were setting up for a recital that evening. Their voices sounded so beautiful in the old wooden church. The church is called Church of Saint-Fructueux.
We think of stopping at the next village Ossés which has a well-known farm with duck as it’s speciality but decide we don’t feel like finding parking so we move on – but then surprise surprise we see a collection of buildings of artisan producers and one of them is the one we were thinking of called Arnabar. So we went inside, gave in and bought some pates.
The shop along was an unexpected delight. It was a family run ceramic factory called Goicoechea. The showroom was beautiful but then it also had fantastic videos and presentations of how they make there own clay as well as the various methods of producing the vessels. Quite a wide variety of pots, vases and vessels as well as some Rather beautiful sculptural pieces. I was fascinated as they had windows into the factory and you could see all the people working. I loved that they didn’t hide anything but made it all open for the public to see how they made everything, and this of course for me is especially great!
And then to top it off, there was an espadrille factory. One of those ones that make the espadrilles the old-fashioned way. Again they had a little showroom as well as an open area where you could see all the machinery where they made the espadrilles. What variety and my lovely husband bought me a really nice pair.
Our destination was St Jean Pied de Port. This is an important village right at the beginning of the Roncevalles pass into Spain. It’s also where the pilgrims walking the Camino tend to stop before they make there way over the pass. All the paths of the Camino from the rest of France meet here and the beautiful walled town is very geared to pilgrims and tourist alike. Our choice was the municipal campsite and although everything was a little soggy it was good enough. Quite cheap and right at the edge of the town.
We did our usual passeggiata of the town and stopped for a drink. The town is a little overrun with tourist shops and it was even hard to find a boulangerie for a stick of bread. We were not very hungry after they lovely Lunch so it’s bread and cheese for us… yummy!
Tomorrow it’s back to Spain…