Wednesday morning, it was raining again but it started to clear a bit by the afternoon, so we decided to show them a bit of Biarritz on their last day in the the Pays Basque. We walked along the Grande Plage, then made our way to Rocher de la Vierge. With the sun finally out, we caught the sunset but no green flash just before dinner at Tantina de la Playa in Bidart. Victor commented that it was one of the best meals he'd ever had.
Biarrritz from the path approaching Rocher de la Vierge. Victor and Lee Ann on the bridge to Rocher de la Vierge. Thursday morning we got up early for our drive to Barcelona. From everything we had read and heard on the news, things were relatively calm there. Still, we were a bit nervous. We headed south and followed the Bidasoa river as we entered Spain. Karen and I have gone stand up paddling in its spectacular river canyon just below the French village of Biriatou.
We'd occasionally caught sight of a highway far above us, but this was the first time we'd driven along the river that serves as the border between France and Spain near the Basque coast. As we reached the south side of the Pyrenees, the terrain and weather changed. Low clouds and drizzle gave way to sunshine, and the lush green of the Basque coast became dry high plains, much like you'd see in eastern Colorado or Wyoming. We skirted Pamplona, and continued through the uniformly flat and dry plains on our way to Zaragoza, Victor's birthplace. Karen wanted to visit their former home and see how the city had changed.
Of course, it's much bigger now. The population was , when they lived there and is now nearly , The cathedral where Karen's daughter Sabrina was baptized. Entering the grand plaza in front of the spectacular cathedral downtown, we discovered a pro-Spain Unity demonstration just breaking up. In spite of major police, army, Guardia Civil, and ambulance presence, it was apparently a peaceful demonstration.
We strolled the plaza and then had an excellent lunch at Asador La Forja, not far from the Cathedral. After lunch we managed to find their former home, but not after a bit of confusion because they'd changed the house numbers on the street. The home is located in a well-developed area of walled and gated homes which now includes elegant hotels and apartments nearby.
Apparently the surrounding areas were quite rural years before. We got back on the road heading east and three hours later faced tremendous traffic jams as we entered downtown Barcelona. After checking into our hotel, not far from the conference center, we made our way down the Carrer de Blai, a pedestrian mall with dozens of excellent restaurants. We picked Boca Oreja word of mouth and had a sumptuous meal that began with my first patatas bravas roasted potatoes with a mayonnaise and pepper sauce and included the best octopus dish I've ever eaten.
Over the next few days, we visited many of the tourist sites in Barcelona - the Palau National art museum with its commanding views of the city, the botanical gardens, the Gothic quarter, the Picasso Museum - if ever you had a doubt about Picasso being a genius, just check out some of the work he did as a young teenager - and countless other places that we could reach on foot.
We also encountered some demonstrations - crowded but peaceful. Of course that would change soon after our departure from Barcelona. Looking down at Barcelona and the fountains from the Palau National. Demonstrators for 'dialogue' heading to the Parliament building. Sunset from the Palau National. Our first stop was the Sagrada Familia. They began construction on this somewhat bizarre basilica in the s and don't expect to complete it until , the hundredth anniversary of Gaudi's death. From there, we made our way to Park Guell, a fantastic park designed by Gaudi with unusual buildings, exotic structures, and great views of the city.
Unfortunately, to get into most of the buildings and the most exotic parts of the park, you need to reserve and pay several days in advance, so we just toured this magical place. Sangrada Familia. A tunnel in the Park Guell. Sangrada Familia construction. One of the entrances to the Park Guell. After strolling through the park, we dropped Victor and Lee Ann at the airport and started our six-hour drive back to Guethary.
This time we decided to cross the high Pyrenees on a 'new' road. The somewhat mundane, barren flatlands of the Spanish plains gave way to rolling hills as we approached the Pyrenees. We stopped for lunch in the tiny town of Yequeda and had a superb meal at the Hotel Fetra. View into the garden from the dining room at the Hotel Fetra.
Winding through the south side of the Pyrenees. Winding up into the Pyrenees, the south side was mostly dry and treeless. We passed through many tunnels, but I wasn't prepared for the 8 kilometer 5 mile long Somport tunnel that joins Spain to France. Exiting the tunnel, we found ourselves at feet of altitude in lush green France. The trip back to Guethary was uneventful but much more scenic than northern Spain. Beginning of the descent from the Somport Tunnel into France. Back to lush, green France! There's apparently some controversy surrounding this pass through the Pyrenees.
But on the other side, as you can see above, the road narrows. Overall, we enjoyed our trip to Barcelona. The politics are interesting if unstable. My personal belief, as a relatively uninformed foreigner, is that the independence movement was an attempt to negotiate to regain the autonomy that Catalonia experienced several years ago, to become an autonomous region within Spain, much like the Basque region is now.
From what I can see, Catalonia could never have stood on its own economically. They could never have become part of the EU and since most of their revenues come from Spain, losing that income with a separation could be fatal to the region. Unfortunately, it was a tough game of cat and mouse and as I write this, it's not looking good for Catalonia.
Carles Puigdemont is under arrest in Belgium and Spain has charged him and his associates with treason. There is a lot of support for Catalonia's independence or perhaps autonomy here in the Pays Basque with demonstrations today. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail before something disastrous happens. We're about to head back to France and I realize that I neglected to do a post on our stop in southern Brittany from our last trip.
That was our destination for the trip. But since it was more than a seven-hour drive from our place in the Pays Basque, we decided to spend a couple of days in Damgan, a small village on the southern coast of Brittany not far from the medieval town of Vannes. With my fascination for Celtic prehistory, I was hoping to see the Ile-aux-moines and the nearby Cairn at Gavrinis. We stayed at the Hotel de la Plage which sits just across a quiet one-way street from the beach.
Each room has spectacular ocean views of the coast to the south. We dined with Sylvianne at the amazing Latitude 47 restaurant in the hotel, so named because the hotel is located at that latitude as are two other places the owner had lived, Quebec City in Canada, and Budapest in Hungary.
Aerial view of the back bay of Damgan borrowed from the Damgan tourism site. The next morning we drove around the medieval city of Vannes to catch the boat to the Ile-aux-moines the monks' island in the Gulf of Morbihan. The bay itself is spectacular featuring hundreds of islands, many with prehistorical sites. Arriving on the island after the 5-minute boat ride, we rented bikes and started touring. The island is small, only about 4 miles long and a mile and a half wide, easily covered in a day on a bike. Our trip into prehistory began with a stop on the way out of the village at a famous cromlech.
If you recall from my previous posts, a cromlech is a circle of stones like the more famous Stonehenge. They appear to have had some religious, probably funereal significance to the ancient Celts, but no one knows for sure. While almost all the cromlechs found in Europe are circular, those in Brittany are not. This one was very large and oblong with a central stone called a menhir named Le Moine the monk as its focal point.
We arrived at Le Moine to find several people lying at its base trying to receive the energy from the stone. This may sound a bit strange, but when you visit Brittany, especially the more remote parts of the granite-lined coast, you really do get an almost spiritual sense of 'groundedness' and permanence. But back to the Ile-aux-moines. The Gulf of Morbihan. The large irregular cromlech. One of several dolmens on the island.
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Le Moine. After visiting the small museum, we continued south towards the far end of the island where we visited one of the larger dolmens - an ancient burial tomb. We spent the day exploring the remote beaches on the island, often leaving our bikes to hike beautiful single-track trails around the island. Apparently there is an underground river on this tiny island. Returning to Damgan, we showered and met Sylvianne who took us on a walking tour of the village of Damgan. The next morning we went to the medieval walled city of Vannes. Setting up for a book fair in the gardens surrounding the city.
Apartments for sale in the walls of the fortified city. Vannes was founded during the Roman conquest in about 56 BC. It became a fortified Christian city around the 3rd century. Its imposing cathedral and walls dominate the Gulf of Morbihan and what was once a moat around the city is now filled with ornate gardens. We walked the walls of the city, visited the cathedral and several art galleries, then made our way to the boat launch for the minute ride to visit the Cairn de Gavrinis.
Cairn de Gavrinis. Carvings in the Cairn image borrowed from the tourism site. Similar to the Cairn de Barnenez described in my previous Spectacular Northern Brittany post , the Cairn de Gavrinis is about a years more recent. It's estimated that it was built around BC, still well before the pyramids of Egypt. What makes this Cairn unique are the intricate carvings which line its interior. The trip to the island is a bit expensive, and in peak seasons, you need to make reservations, but it's worth it.
The next day, we made our way to our ultimate destination in the north of Brittany. If we've learned anything about Brittany, it's that there is huge variation in the climate, terrain, and even the culture. We were reluctant to leave Brittany with its spectacular coastline and its peaceful grounded atmosphere, but Karen had never seen the Loire Valley, so we headed east, leaving the rolling hills of Brittany for the flatlands surrounding the Loire.
Surprisingly, Le Mans has 8 disc golf courses - the highest concentration of disc golf courses in France. The temperature was in the low 80s around 28 degrees C with a light breeze. We found the very wooded course well marked, challenging, and beautiful. Highly recommended for any disc golfers passing through the area. Great signage on the course. Karen's drive on a meter hole. We pulled into the narrow, gated courtyard, parked, and checked in with the very welcoming staff. At first glance, we were quite pleased with our room in the former carriage house of an old estate with its double french doors looking out onto a small garden at the side of the courtyard.
The bathroom was a bit strange - about 4 feet wide and perhaps 15 feet long - very narrow and hard to move around in but the room itself seemed charming. After reading reviews of the hotel's restaurant, we had made reservations for a table on their patio next to the garden. The food was excellent, the service impeccable, and the location next to the gardens ideal. Our only surprise was that every table around us was occupied by Americans.
We're used to spending time in France but we hadn't ever encountered so many Americans in one place. During our entire visit to Brittany, we hadn't heard a word of English. In the Basque region, we occasionally hear British English and rarely encounter Americans, so it was a big surprise to be completely surrounded by English speakers. As we would discover during our off-season stay here in the Loire Valley, most of the people we would encounter were American tourists.
In a very loud voice, this investment adviser was trying to convince his clients to turn the rest of their portfolio over to him to manage. Fortunately, the obviously wealthy client wasn't having any of it. Unfortunately, the over-the-top high pressure sales pitch went on for nearly two hours. But I diverge. After dinner, we strolled on the banks of the Loire taking in the peaceful river and the looming Chateau d'Amboise more on that in a bit.
Returning to the hotel after the late sunset, we strolled the beautiful gardens of the property and then went back to the room just as they were closing the front gates. Karen above the Loire at sunset. As we discovered during the rest of our stay, our room was not situated in the best place. The double French doors didn't insulate us from the outside noise of people gathering or passing through the courtyard to their rooms. If the gates were open, road noise was substantial and being on the ground floor, we were subject to the pounding of the elephants occupying the room above us.
Overall, in spite of the friendly, helpful staff, and great restaurant, the room was a negative for us. For our first morning we had visions of doing some stand up paddling on the Loire, sort of following up on the paddling we'd done near Plougrescant in Brittany. As we learned after an extensive search of places to put in, the current is much too fast for stand up paddling unless you have someone to pick you up downstream.
We would have been better off renting kayaks for the day. There are numerous small outfits that will pick you up wherever and whenever you want at very reasonable rates. We enjoyed a light breakfast at a bakery not far from the hotel, then made our way to Clos de Luce - the former home of da Vinci. While the house and its history are interesting including da Vinci's relationship with King Francis I - perhaps familiar to fans of The Tudors , It's the basement and the adjacent building that captivated our scientific and historical interests.
In both places you can see da Vinci's drawings, the history of the deployment of his inventions many of which were not actually built for hundreds of years , and many modern constructions of his more interesting inventions. Clos de Luce is definitely worth the price of admission. After a couple of hours there, we were hungry and walked back towards the center of the old town along the walls of the Chateau d'Amboise which dominates the entire village.
We spotted an interesting sign pointing down a side street and had an excellent lunch at a restaurant called Le Parvis. Almost all of its dishes were prepared in a wood-fired oven. That afternoon we took a ride to Chenonceau, one of the most famous Chateaux in the Loire Valley. New since my last visit in is a hall where the history of the chateau is recounted on story boards in multiple languages. We spent a lot of time here learning about the intrigues in the courts of Francis I and others and how the chateau was a pawn in sensitive political negotiations.
It also appears to have been the home to the roots of the feminist movement in France started by Louise-Marie Dupin de Chenonceau ! The great halls, tapestries, and bedrooms were fascinating, but I think Karen was most intrigued by the kitchens and, of course Louise-Marie Dupin.
Chenonceau from across the Cher river. Karen in the center of the labyrinth. One of the spectacular gardens. A view of one of the kitchens. The next day, with record temperatures forecast degrees - 40 C , we decided to visit the Chateau d'Amboise as soon as they opened, then to stop at Loches on our way back to Guethary. The Chateau d'Amboise was Francois I's castle. Over the centuries it has undergone many changes, most of which are depicted both inside and outside the castle. As I've mentioned, it really does dominate Amboise and looking downward, you can see the many homes and shops built during the 15th century.
Looking up from the village, you can't help but be a bit intimidated by the castle's presence. I'm sure that was a calculated effect. Chateau d'Amboise from the Loire. The face of the Chateau above the Loire. Gardens on the Chateau grounds. The Chateau Chapel where da Vinci's remains reside they hope. After visiting the Chateau, we checked out of the hotel and made the 45 minute drive to Loches. I had been there in and remember being quite impressed. This time was a bit different as the site is much more developed with a souvenir shop and more historical signage, much of it focused on disabusing us of the notion that the torture chambers were used extensively.
Nonetheless, the chateau and in particular, the dungeon were worth the visit. Built in the 9th century, little remains of the main fortress. The block-shaped building in the picture is largely an empty structure inside. You can see where the floors used to be and signs document what each of the many levels was used for. Still, the best part is the underground dungeons. Across the path is the entrance. You begin to descend a spiral stone staircase and after a minute or two, you encounter the first of the cells where prisoners where kept and tortured. After continuing downward past more and darker cells, you eventually enter a subterranean cavern from which you will ultimately exit.
Apparently, the area is riddled with these caverns and for centuries, they were quarried. We left Loches and the Loire Valley heading south towards the Pays Basque as the temperatures started to soar. Will we go back to visit the Loire Valley? Probably not. We learned about the history of the area, saw the chateaux, and enjoyed our visit, but largely because it's a major tourist destination, it's not what we think of as the most inviting region of France.
While we do cycle, we didn't cycle the Loire Valley. Returning home to our little village in the Pays Basque, we were pleased to find that the ocean breezes had cooled that area. After a quick shower, we made our way to Tantina de la Playa where we were warmly greeted by the always very cool staff and had an excellent dinner to wrap up our trip. But France is much more. And while we haven't fully explored the entire country, we have found some hidden gems.
Sometime back I did a post entitled Dare Brittany! Finistere, Morlaix, Perros Guirec. In it, I described the relatively short visit we did to Brittany as part of our drive up the west coast of France. We had heard that our previous hikes along the Sentier des Douaniers Customs Agents Trail , part of the GR with its immense pink granite formations and hidden granite structures which allowed the customs agents to surreptitiously watch for smugglers, would pale in comparison to parts of the trail to the east.
We were a bit skeptical, but excited to see this more remote coastline. To break up the 7-hour drive from our place in the Pays Basque to the north coast of Brittany, we stopped in southern Brittany along the Gulf of Morbihan where we visited Vannes and the Ile aux Moines - one of several hundred islands in the picturesque gulf. More on that in an upcoming post. This part of Brittany is called the Cote d'Armor. On our way to the manor, we had to pass through the town of Treguier.
And while it was only 15 minutes to our destination, the impressive cathedral merited a stop. Parts of the Cathedral were built in AD, but most of what you see today was built beginning in In addition to striking stained glass, and gravity defying architecture, the cathedral is home to the remains of Saint Yves - the patron saint of lawyers.
Every year on May 19th, lawyers from around the world come to Treguier to pay hommage to St. Yves and to carry his skull from the cathedral to nearby Minihy, where St. Ives had built an asylum. Cathedral at Teguier. Narrow passage Teguier. Arriving at the manor, we were struck by the beauty of the spot. We checked in, settled into our well-appointed room that was almost as large as our apartment, and decided to do a quick hike along the GR from the manor to the north then back through the village of Plougrescant. The mostly single-track trail ran along the banks of the Baie d'Enfer the Bay of Hell , so named because of the strong currents leading from the estuary to the south into the English Channel to the north.
In spite of the drizzly day, the scenery did not disappoint. Manoir de Kergrec'h. GR 34 near the manor. Returning to Plougrescant. We walked back into the village where we had a surprisingly good dinner in a small, unassuming restaurant called La Maison Bleue. It has a small menu, but most everything is organic and the preparation and presentation were worthy of a high-end restaurant.
The next morning we started our hike into Treguier, intent on having lunch there and returning by late afternoon. The weather was spectacular: sunny, low 70s, and a light breeze. The GR south from the manor continues as mostly single track along the water for a couple of miles. Then, as you reach the village called La Roche Jaune, it moves onto streets. A kilometer or so later, the GR offers a choice - turn down towards the estuary, or take the high tide route.
Since the tide was low, we decided on the estuary. This adds a few kilometers to the hike, and it's a much more challenging trail, but we thought the scenery would be better than on the roads into Treguier. Unfortunately, we were just wearing running shoes, so we weren't prepared for the mud. The views were mostly worth it, though often, the going was very slow as we tried to rock-hop our way. Our guess is that the path that was supposed to be about 15 minutes longer added well over an hour to our hike.
Exiting the estuary, which is formed by the merging of three rivers - Le Jaudy, Le Dossen, and Le Guindy, you're back on country roads which run through artichoke fields dotted with wild red poppies. Although we were on roads, it was a pleasant hike through the countryside and we made it to Treguier before the restaurants closed for lunch. After lunch we took the easy way back, avoiding the estuary, which was quickly becoming submerged with the rising tide. GR 34 towards Tregier: Descending into the Estuary. A nicer part of the estuary. Treguier - still an hour away from a rugged part of the estuary.
The red poppies of Brittany. One of the fascinating things about Brittany is its wealth of prehistoric cromlechs circles of stone like Stonehenge , menhirs large standing stones , dolmens ancient burial chambers , and cairns. One of the most famous of the latter is the Cairn de Barnenez. Dating from over years ago, long before the pyramids, it is also one of the largest prehistoric structures ever found. It's located just north of Morlaix in the Finistere end of the world part of Brittany, about an hour away from the manor.
After a leisurely morning, we made our way to the Cafe du Port in Plouzouc'h, just north of Morlaix near the mouth of the estuary there. There is a part of the GR 34 that leads to the Cairn of Barnenez from the port - a distance of just under 4 miles each way. We had a superb lunch which included fresh mussels that had just come into season and then started out on the trail which again, is mostly single-track. It is somewhat overgrown in places, but offers spectacular views of the estuary and the islands just beyond as it climbs the cliffs bordering the estuary.
The Cairn was worth the visit and the small museum was informative, describing the construction of the Cairn, the peoples of the time, and their lifestyles. We stopped at the Cafe du Port and watched the tide come in as we re-hydrated. Karen sipped a local dark buckwheat-based beer while I downed a huge bottle of sparkling water.
On the way back to the manor, we stopped for bread, cheese and wine, and enjoyed a light dinner and Scrabble on the manor's patio. Beginning of the trail from Plouzouc'h. Just before the climb up the east face of the estuary. The Cairn de Barnenez complete with Dolmen and burial passages. The other side of the Cairn. Low tide across from the Cafe du Port in Plouzouc'h. Rising tide after the hike to the Cairn. Our final day in Plougrescant started off with standup paddling in the small bay of Gouermel, a few miles from the manor.
We had been advised to avoid the Baie d'Enfer in favor of the much calmer waters away from the estuary. In spite of the somewhat gloomy weather which had arrived unexpectedly overnight, but which cleared about noon, we had a great time paddling among the small islands and rugged rock outcroppings of this small bay. Before heading back to the manor, we decided to do a bit more of the GR 34 - the part north of Plougrescant. And this part is without a doubt all that was claimed.
It's one of the most spectacular stretches of coastline we've ever seen. Karen headed out to see the islands. The famous house between two rocks on the GR One of the homes along the GR Spectacular coastline along the GR They were excellent. All the food at Chez Constance is local and organic. It's definitely worth a stop if you're in the area. We mentioned to Pierre that we would be stopping near Le Mans to play disc golf, and then had to explain what disc golf was. He and Sabrina threw a few discs on the spacious grounds of the manor and were completely intrigued.
It turns out that Pierre has been looking for some activity to add to the manor property. Several friends had suggested a golf course, but Pierre felt the upkeep and environmental impact was too great. It looks like he may be installing a disc golf course instead. In parting, he suggested we pass through Paimpol, a town to the east, and take a quick look at the port that leads to the Ile de Brehat where he'd owned his previous hotel.
And one more time before leaving, we were blown away by the beauty of this stretch of coastline. Looking towards the Ile de Brehat east of Plougrescant. The France Insoumise party was campaigning everywhere. As we learned, the people of Brittany are very environmentally-oriented.
Hence, Brittany serves as home to this eco-socialist party. They have limited industrial development and have have preserved what may be the most beautiful areas in France. Gaztelugatze from the trail down We'd had a couple of days of light rain in the Pays Basque region of France, but the forecast was for fair weather with temperatures rising into the upper 70s.
A perfect day for a bit of exploring on the Spanish Basque coast. We had originally planned to do the seven or eight mile hike near Itxaspe to see the spectacular Flysch wildly twisted rock formations in the cliffs along with caves, deserted beaches, and possibly some interesting surf spots. Unfortunately, after mentioning this plan to some friends over lunch, we were informed that the cast and crew of Game of Thrones had taken over this stretch of coastline for the next week. They had also recruited hundreds of extras for the shoots - but you had to be big, tall, hairy and ugly. Clearly I didn't fit the bill.
Our next choice was San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, a medieval Hermitage built in the ninth century by the Knights Templar on a tiny island just off the Basque coast. It is connected to the mainland by what our friend Elaine calls 'the great wall of China'. We awoke to light rain, but trusting the weather forecast a crazy thing to do in the Pays Basque , we picked up Elaine and her significant-other, Jean-Luc, and headed into Spain. Half an hour into our drive, the skies cleared. It was going to be a fine day. To get to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, we took the A-8 towards Bilbao - about 90 minutes away, then headed north to the coast passing through the beach resort town of Bakio.
We drove past the entrance to the parking area, thinking there might be another trail down from further up the road, and quickly discovered that the road was closed because the cliffs had fallen in. We had originally thought that after this hike, we might continue up the road to Bermeo, one of the largest Basque ports, but that wasn't going to be possible.
Also, any alternative trails were long gone with the slides. We parked in the mostly deserted parking lot and made our way to the trail noticing that in spite of the fine weather in late October, the nearby restaurants were closed. Fortunately, we'd brought a picnic lunch which we planned to eat once we reached the Hermitage. The sign on the trail indicated it was only about 1. I found this hard to believe because we were at least vertical feet above the ocean, and we had to then climb an additional feet up to the Hermitage. We started down and discovered that the trail was wide but quite steep.
The coastline to the east and to the west remember, the Spanish coastline here faces north is spectacular with small islands, imposing cliffs and numerous 'natural bridges'. The 'wall' is even more impressive.
Le rendez-vous manqué de Marie-Antoinette by Harold Cobert
Between the mainland and the island, at high tide, water passes through large arches in the bridge. Surprisingly, there are steps down the side that lead to these arches if you want a more impressive view. Fortunately for us, the tide was high and there were a few workers cleaning the rough stones on the steps down. With the heavy surf crashing below, we weren't tempted. Instead, we began the climb up the steps to the Hermitage.
Coastline looking east. Coastline with 'bridge' looking west. It's a challenging climb up the steps and ramps, but there are handrails and numerous flat places to stop and take pictures or to catch your breath. Arriving at the top, you round the main building and you see the huge wooden doors to the Hermitage, along with a rope that leads up to the bell tower.
Legend has it that once you've made the trek, you should ring the bell three times and make a wish. Although there aren't many people who live nearby on the mainland across from the island, I have to believe that the neighbors get pretty tired of the ringing bell, especially during the summer tourist season. We toured the top of the island looking for a good place to picnic and finally settled on a sun-sheltered structure on the side of the church.
Unfortunately, the church doors were locked, so we were forced to peek through the crack in the doors to see the interior. Gaztelugatxe comes from two Basque words - gaztelu which means castle or fortress, and gatxe which means tremendously difficult. Historians aren't clear exactly when the Hermitage was built. However, there are nearby graves dating from the 9th century and historical records showing its existence in the 10th century.
It was apparently built by the Knights Templar and became a monastery during first part of the 11th century. Interestingly, this small island and its Hermitage were the site of several strategic battles. Its access was challenging so the site was easily defensible and over the course of its history, several notable figures made successful 'last' stands here. Seeing its strategic importance, Sir Francis Drake successfully attacked and conquered the site in Since then, the site has changed hands numerous times.
The history is interesting. The short though challenging walk down the cliffs, up to the Hermitage, then down from the Hermitage and back up the cliffs can be exhausting. Still, the views are worth the effort. If you're in the area, it's definitely worth the short detour from Bilbao to see San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. Watch for it! Plaque on the side of the Hermitage - built for John the Baptist.
Pays Basque: Sare, Zugarramurdi witches! Who knew that megaliths, menhirs, dolmen, and cromlechs lay just a few minutes away from our place in the Pays Basque? Those were certainly impressive as were the associated museums that explained how they came to be. But yesterday, we came upon local prehistoric structures during a hike in the Pyrenees just across the Spanish Border.
Our friends Elaine and Jean-Luc invited us to visit Sare, a small Basque village at the foot of the Pyrenees where they claimed we could find the best gateau Basque in the region. We had agreed that i f the weather was bad, we'd visit the famous caves of Sare and those in the witches' village. Rain was forecast for late that night into the next day. We decided to pass on the caves for this trip.
Karen and I encountered heavy Sunday morning traffic getting to Ciboure where we were to meet up with Elaine and Jean-Luc, so it was a bit later than expected when we left their place to begin our explorations. After a 15 minute drive, we were in Sare. Parking on a side street, we followed the signs towards the GR Not far into our walk, we realized that there was a mountain bike competition going on as riders descended the trail at breakneck speeds towards the finish line on the fronton in the village.
We spoke to some of the trail monitors who told us that only about half the field had passed them so far. So instead of continuing up the trail, we made our way back to the village where we realized we were hungry. We visited all of the open restaurants but couldn't resist the tempting dishes we saw being served on the terrace of the Hotel Arraya. The village of Sare. Interesting Architecture in Sare. View from the trail leaving Sare. Afterwards, we stopped at the gateau Basque stand next to the hotel.
We bought our gateau Basque, hopped in the car, and made the short drive up to Zugarramurdi, the witches' village. We could have conceivably made the 7 km hike, but after such a nice lunch Based on occult events beginning in , purported witches from the village were tried and burned at the stake. There was a region-wide inquisition of over 7, accused women, children, and even certain priests who wore medallions with images of saints. During the summer solstice, which is considered the witches' day, huge fires are lit in caves not far from the village.
These are visible from the surrounding countryside in both Spain and France. In August each year, the deaths of those burned at the stake are remembered with a feast of roasted lamb in the caves. The lamb is roasted on stakes. Elaine, Jean-Luc, and Coco. Auberge with witches' broom. After exploring the village, we stopped at a cafe across the small plaza from the Church of the Assumption for coffee sparkling water for me , and our gateau Basque which was as good as promised.
We took the narrow road up the hill a short distance to the place where Elaine and Jean-Luc had hiked before. They suggested we try a different trail, one on the right west side of the road. There was a large sign in Spanish, Basque and French that described several trails. Looking at the time, the thickening clouds, and recognizing that we had probably had too much food, we decided on a 5 km loop.
We didn't even think about what the red, 'pi'-like symbol was at the top, but were surprised to find that there would be megaliths along the trail. We pushed on, assuming we had to get to the saddle on the top of the ridge. Along the way, we passed groups of Potoks, the small horses that live in the Pyrenees. Once we reached the middle of the saddle, we couldn't easily determine whether to turn right or left. I went left, Jean-Luc went right and about yards from the saddle, Jean-Luc found a trail marker so we went that way. If you go, when you reach the saddle, turn right west.
Thereafter, the trail markers were easy to find. Karen, Steve, Elaine, and Jean-Luc about to start our hike. Looking down on Zugarramundi from the trail. Potoks on the way up. Jean-Luc, Elaine, and Karen nearing the top of the saddle. Nearing the peak west of the saddle. View of La Rhune from the peak west of the saddle. Climbing towards the west peak of the saddle, we had not only spectacular views of the French coastline and La Rhune, but of Spain to the south and the Pyrenees to the east. We began our descent into a beautiful valley. Near the bottom of the hill, we saw our first marker for cromlechs.
Before I continue, let me give you a few definitions. A menhir or megalith is an upright stone. Most are flat. Notable ones are several feet high, but sometimes they can be quite small.
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A dolmen is a structure build of megaliths. They usually have at least two upright stones with a flat capstone on top. Most were used as burial tombs. Some of the ones we saw in Brittany were huge. It seemed like a feat of engineering to raise the capstones, but in fact, the process was quite simple.
After the side stones were placed, they filled the space between and around with dirt. Finally, they dug out the earthen mound leaving a stone structure - no pulley needed to raise a stone weighing many tons several feet to place it on top. Finally, a cromlech is a circle of menhirs or megaliths. Stonehenge is probably the most well-know cromlech. It appears no one knows exactly what cromlechs were used for. At least that's the case outside the Basque region. Theories abound. But in the Basque region, archaeologists have concluded that these are burial site markers, often with a dolmen in the center.
Most of these structures were built between and B. Continuing on our hike, we saw the marker for the cromlechs, but the cromlechs themselves weren't easy to spot. Unlike Brittany where these monuments are well-maintained, those before us were buried in the ferns and tall grasses. Plus, after 5, years of neglect in lightly traveled areas, most of the structures have fallen down or been eroded by the elements and severe storms of the Pyrenees.
Somehow though, finding these structures out in the middle of nowhere seemed more authentic. A collapsed dolmen. Cromlech hidden by vegetation. Cromlech layout. Leaving the cromlechs, we continued south along the trail through meadows, crossing streams, and entering the forest after the trail turned east to begin our loop back. We passed a few bergeries and with the thickening clouds, began to wonder if we'd make it back before the rain started.
As we passed the 5 km point as indicated by Karen's Garmin, we still seemed to be quite far from our starting point. But the trail was well-marked and there really weren't any alternatives unless you were a mountain goat, so we pressed on. We crossed a boulder-filled creek next to a small waterfall and soon found ourselves on the edge of a the ridge that would lead us back to the car. As we passed one final bergerie, the first few drops began to fall, but the car was in sight. We got into the car, closed the doors, and the sky opened up.
Somehow even with the morning delays, the long lunch, and some trail misdirection, we'd timed it perfectly. The hike was a bit over 6 km not 5 km as promised by the sign , and it had taken us 2 hours including pictures and exploration of the cromlechs. According to the sign, there are 7 km and 10 km monument hikes nearby. We'll be going back and will allocate more time to explore.
Translation Complete. Now the Hard Work Begins. The translation of The Shadow of God is finally done - at least we're done with the first pass. For those of you who may not have followed our progress on this effort, you might want to have a look at Translating My Novels and Another Translation Challenge: Shaggy Dog Stories. Overall, it has taken about a year to get through our process. Of course Peyo had other translation projects to work on so he wasn't on this full time. Plus, our process allowed for a fair amount of down time.
Essentially, it went as follows:. I would read the 50 pages carefully, making comments on anything that needed attention: typos, misunderstanding of certain colloquial expressions, issues with tone and imagery. Peyo and I would meet in person or via Skype and would review and discuss each change. Among the open issues we had were what to do with the Shaggy Dog Stories, final formatting of dialogue, and language. For the Shaggy Dog Stories, we finally decided to translate them into French, then to add a footnote to explain the play on words in English. I think this reads well.
It may seem like a minor issue, but in French, quotation marks are followed by a space. Question marks, exclamation points, colons, and semi-colons are preceded by a space. Or they'd split oddly across lines. I finally figured out how to force Word to use non-breaking spaces with these characters and the document cleaned up nicely.
I forwarded the reassembled book to a French friend and she tore through it, finding countless typos and making a number of suggestions.
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Peyo reviewed and incorporated these and today, I sent copies out to a well-known French author and to two friends who claim to be Monsieur and Madame Tout-le-Monde. They wanted to be among the first to read the book. I've asked them to be brutally honest. Specifically, I want to know:. What do they think of the story of course? Did the dialogue match up with the characters and their personalities?
With luck I'll have their comments back in a few weeks. While waiting, I'm searching for someone who can redo the front and back cover to replace the English. Then Peyo and I will make one more pass before seeking a French publisher. We also need to create a French web page for The Shadow of God now L'Ombre de Dieu on this site or perhaps even create a French version of the entire site. Clearly there's still a lot to do. Wish us luck! Dare Brittany! Pouldreuzic and Perros Guirec Dare Brittany! That's the motto that the tourist boards are promoting in Brittany, France. And from our experiences there, we understand where they're coming from.
Brittany is unique. It's more rugged. The people are tougher. Even the bread is heartier. Like the Basques from our favorite region of France, the Bretons had a longstanding separatist movement and still maintain their own language. Many of the road signs are in two languages. While Quiberon is in Brittany and fascinated us with its varied coastline and nearby prehistory, I don't think we were quite prepared for Finistere.
It was much more stark than we had imagined - almost bleak. However, with our great introduction to Brittany in Quiberon, we had high hopes for this more remote area. Even the names of the towns seemed intriguing. We drove through craggy rolling hills, crossing rivers, and rounding the larger city of Quimper. Suddenly the roads narrowed - all routes seemed to be single-laned. There were fields but they all seemed to be fallow - nothing was planted - and it was the end of May! We saw very few houses, just lots of open countryside. Nothing really changed as we neared the coast and approached our hotel.
However, the architecture of the homes was quite different.
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As we later learned, the homes were built for multiple families and their animals - to shelter them from the harsh winters. Then, there it was - a completely incongruous building with neon lights - the Breiz Armor. We decided to cancel our dinner reservations and to search the nearby towns for a more 'authentic' place to eat. Continuing on the small country roads, we found some charming villages and ultimately a good restaurant.
On our way back just after sunset, out in the middle of nowhere, we passed what looked like an ancient chapel. It was getting dark and our pictures didn't turn out well, so the one at left was borrowed from the Wikepedia site. Sunset from Penmarc'h. Tortured coastline from GR Finistere Menhirs. In the morning we got up and did a hike along the GR At over kilometers, this is one of the longest Grande Randonnees in Europe. It was a cool drizzly morning and we made our way along the tortured rocky coastline to the north.
To the south there were miles of sand dunes. Along the trail, there are signs about the area. Many explain the harsh life of the Finistere Bretons, most of whom made their livings harvesting kelp, then submitting it to an arduous process to extract iodine for sale. It was a meager living at best. They also talked of shipwrecks - not from centuries ago, but from the 20th century. While this group of Bretons knew the ocean, the rocky coast, radical tide changes, and severe weather cost many their lives. The town is built in a canyon carved out by a small river.
On the north end is a harbor which is inland from the coast. We'll definitely return to do more exploration of Morlaix. Arriving at our hotel in Perros Guirec, we were blown away. We went for a walk to do some exploring and found the people very friendly - even more reminiscent of the Basque region where everyone you pass says hello.
We had an excellent meal in the hotel's restaurant and explored a bit more of the town afterwards. Starting our hike along the GR Pink Granite Formations. Looking back at Perros Guirec. The next day we did a hike towards the west on the GR This section of the Grande Randonnee features spectacular pink granite rock formations. The trail itself follows the ancient Sentier des Douaniers - trail of the customs agents. Along the trail there are small structures built of pink granite that are camouflaged among the rocks so that the custom agents could spy on smugglers.
After several miles, we turned back passing through the village of Ploumanac'h, and then catching up to the GR 34 again. There was some small crowded surf in the afternoon but I decided to pass. That evening we had another fantastic dinner, this time at La Suite overlooking the beach in western Perros. For breakfast the next morning, we stopped at a artisanal bakery where we found some of the best bread we've eaten in France - and that's saying a lot!
We're big bread fans and the French with their bakes a day supply some of the best, freshest bread in the world. But I do love heavy breads like the black breads found in Germany and eastern Europe, so I really enjoyed the hearty fresh bread of Brittany. We felt at home there much as we do in the Basque Region. Between the history actually pre-history , the spectacular landscapes, the rugged ocean, the GR 34, and the interesting people, there's much to explore and experience. Without a doubt, we'll be going back. I've also mentioned La Rhune, a higher peak to which many of the Basques attribute supernatural occurrences.
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