The mountains by St Jean Pied de Port!!!

Ok so gave you some public transports of my belle France in previous posts and even some information on road driving , but I need to show you more of the driving in the high mountains of the Pays Basque or the Basque country of France! (there is another one in Spain…) It was due and here it is folks ; hope you enjoy it as we did/do. And see my other posts on Saint Jean Pied de Port!

Saint Jean Pied de Port is located south of Lower Navarre, second of the three provinces of the French Basque Country, also called Iparralde. You will be literally in the heart of the Basque Country, between the province of Labourd (towards the ocean) and the province of Soule (Mauléon-Licharre).

Saint jean pied de port

The highlands of Iraty, known for their famous sheep cheese (which is the house favorite!), the canyons of Soule and the karst plateau of Pierre Saint-Martin. The name comes from the fact that Saint John (St Jean)  brings back to Saint John the Baptist, patron Saint of the town. That’s the easy part, which you find all at once. The second is more difficult: pied de port or foot at the port,it refers to the geographical location of the town. The town is at the foot of the passes that lead to Spain, and in the Pyrenees the pass is also designated by the word port. Listen carefully as you wander the streets of the town, and you will often hear “Garazi”. Another village? In Basque, Saint Jean Pied de Port is called  “Donibane Garazi”. There you go folks !

The small town was founded in the 12C. This corner, today of France, was at the time part of the illustrious Kingdom of Navarre (split with Spain Navarra). It is with King Sancho the Fort that the town will begin its tremendous development. At all times, Saint Jean Pied de Port has attracted hundreds of pilgrims en route to Saint James of Compostela (Santiago de Compostela) , the two being separated by some 800 km! The St James vocation of the town did not deny it, and since the Middle Ages, the cobblestones of the old city have seen millions of pilgrims.

Donibane Garazi or St Jean Pied de Port is also known for its architectural heritage. As soon as you pass the ramparts that surround it, the old town makes you jump back in time. The street of the citadel and the Rue d’Espagne (street of Spain), both paved, offer curious visitors splendid examples of houses or “etxe” in Basque, of which the oldest, rue de la Citadelle, dates from 1510. above almost all the houses, you can see beautiful carved lintels, surmounting the doors of the houses, some cut in the pink sandstone of Arradoy. These two streets are dominated by the Notre-Dame-du-Bout-du-Pont Church, which is the second Gothic building in the French Basque Country after the Bayonne cathedral. Another giant of stones watches over the village since the 17C, it is its citadel. Vauban had it erected on Mendiguren Hill at an altitude of 70 meters in 1685. After having sheltered for centuries military garrisons, which watched over any incursion of the Spanish neighbors, it now welcomes young people’s minds. For generations, since it is the public college of the town!.

At the start, St Jean de Pied de Port and its citadel lined with 17-18C houses, you then pass Caro and its pelota Basque then Estérençuby located in the hollow of a gorge, dominated by the peak of (Col) Iramendy. From Phagalcette to Iraty Pass for this long stage where you climb several passes between forests and meadows to reach the Iraty plateau. flank of ridges up to Ugatzé pass(col) . Along the way, you will discover several cajolers, places of work and life of the shepherds. Variant in bad weather: descent through the Larrau Valley.

Saint jean pied de port

st jean pied de port

Saint jean pied de port

Iraty ski station in summer

Haute Soule is a country famous for its canyons. Your trail runs along the gorges of Holzarte and the canyon of Kakouetta down the valley of Sainte-Engrace (entry fee for Easter to All-Saints’ Day). Finally, enjoy a last stop in the small Church of Sainte-Engrâce to admire amazing sculptures. From Sainte-Engrace to Arette, the Saint Martin stone, dotted with ravines, gorges and parades to take you to the pass of Pierre-Saint-Martin where you enjoy a vast panorama on the peak of Anie. Pass by the famous chasm, the Mecca of speleology. From Arette La Pierre-Saint-Martin, you cross Arres de Camplong, a large limestone plateau with shredded soil. On the way, you dive your eyes in the valley of Aspe and its mountains, then the valley of Oloron and its surrounding peaks, Soumcouy, Anie and Coutendé. Admire the chain of peaks of the Orgues de Camplong from Lescun, one of the most beautiful panoramas of the Pyrenees. I believe this trails can be done on foot as well lol!!!

Saint jean pied de port

More of our trip by car was from the foot of the Ports or Col de Cize and along the great path of crossing the Pyrenees by Roncesvalles, Saint Jean Pied de Port embraces a radiant destiny from the point of view of the citadel, you can admire the valleys of the Pays de Cize, the vineyards of the Irouléguy AOC and the mountains that surround this historical mecca of the Basque country. The Porte Saint Jacques, sees more pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela every year and are about to cross the Pyrenees. Come down the citadel street to get there. You can admire the carved facades and lintels of the Basque houses. On the way, visit the so-called Bishops’ prison and discover the enigma of this building. Make a stop at the Church Notre Dame du Bout du Pont, the foundations of the 13C.

Saint jean pied de port

 

In a nearby smaller town we passed by surrounded by white water and mountains lined with protohistoric remains, Saint-Jean-Le-Vieux occupies a strategic position at the entrance to the plain of Cize. The Romans settled there as early as 15 BC to install a road station designated by an ancient document under the name Imus Pyrenaeus (foot of the Pyrenees). You go zig zagging on various peaks, passes etc such as Haltza Pass ,Haritzcurutche Pass, Burdincurutcheta Pass, Burdinkurutxeta Pass culminates at an altitude of 1,135 meters. The Col Heguichouria, and the  Bagargui Pass. Further peaks and passes are the Bagargui Pass located in the Iraty Forest. It rises to 1,327 meters. It is accessed by Estérençuby  29.5 km, by the Larrau coast (exit of the village, take the direction of Iraty) to 8.8 km or from the Burdincurutcheta pass  between Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port  and the cottages of Iraty (Soule) .Col d’Orgambidesca or Orgambidesca pass is one of the most important sites of observation of the migration of the pigeons, this migratory bird which hunters love and that defends and observes the ornithologists. All gorgeous!!!

Saint jean pied de port

 

An awesome trip I am planning to do again. Some webpages to help you plan your trip here are

Tourist office of St Jean Pied de Port on mountain passes on foot

Tourist office St Jean Pied de Port on mountain towns

The best is to get your GPS , Michelin map , a car and go the high mountain road warrior ways. Just to tell you my wife was on her seat belt hanging on the steep climb even with the car in second and first gear is awesome, very steep but the views ohhh the views are heaven looking down on earth. Of course, I only took pictures on the easy part lol!! Hope you enjoy the post as I did telling you about it. The basque country around Saint Jean Pied de Port!

And remember, happy travels, good health, and many cheers to all!!!

 

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4 Comments to “The mountains by St Jean Pied de Port!!!”

  1. My kind of place for sure: great History and stunning landscape. Thanks for sharing this. When the Brexit fiasco is sorted, we will return to explore more of la Belle Framce! 👍❤

    Liked by 1 person

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