One from the vaults: Postcards from Pays Basque II

This post follows on from last Friday’s and continues our first vacation in the Basque Country back in 2010. I’m feeling particularly nostalgic as this year’s San Sebastian Classic race is being held tomorrow and we’re not there, again!

My beloved and I have been spending a few days in the Basque countryside. He was in charge of this leg of our vacation and he outdid himself. We’re staying in a delightful, small, family run hotel, south-east of San Sebastian which has an excellent restaurant and is well placed for cycling around the many hills. My beloved has also been responsible for planning our cycling itinerary and with unerring efficiency has managed to locate the steepest ascent of each of the hills. While  they’re not particularly long, many have average inclines of over 10%. I just get in the zone and keep cycling while my beloved delights in reading off the percentage inclines from his Garmin. Frankly, when your cadence drops below 40 and your speed below 5km/hr, you don’t need a computer to know it’s really steep.

We’ve seen surprisingly few cyclists, though we were overtaken by a couple of guys from the Euskaltel team today. They sped past far too fast to work out their identities. Cycling also appears to be a sport of young men. We’ve seen few retirees and no women. I guess it’s on account of the steepness of the hills. To be honest we’ve probably seen more mountain bikers than roadies.

I would urge any cyclists reading this to come and visit the region. The scenery is spectacular and the roads are in excellent condition. More importantly, drivers (cars, lorries, white vans but not buses) are very respectful and considerate towards cyclists: no tooting of horns or exasperated revving of engines or overtaking too close. You will however need to lather yourself with repellant if, like me, you’re the insect world’s favourite snack food. A rural location with livestock equals plenty of hungry mosquitos and horseflies.

While the climate is more temperate than in Nice, it’s really warmed up in the last couple of days. I even persuaded my beloved to chill out on the beach in St Jean-de-Luz for a few hours yesterday afternoon. However, I have not relinquished total control, I’ve still retained power over where we eat. While my husband’s ability to spot a good restaurant has improved in recent years, he’s still light years away from me. I, of course, have been groomed from an early age by my father and can be relied upon, like a truffle hound, to sniff out the best restaurant. We have had some spectacular meals. Not difficult in a region with more toques than just about anywhere else in Europe. Aside from those restaurants, at lunchtime, the menu of the day varies from 9-20 Euros a head, including wine, water and coffee. In the evening, we have been enjoying Pintxos (Tapas) washed down with a local beverage called Txakoli: a young, petillant, white wine.

One of our challenges has been making sense of the Basque language. In San Sebastian, or to give it its Basque name Donostia, there’s always the Spanish equivalent but, in the countryside the signs are all in Basque and that’s what everyone speaks. We can get by in Spanish and, thanks to the other languages we speak, rarely find ourselves flummoxed in Europe.  Hungary and Finland being the two exceptions to date, to which we must now add the Basque country. I have been speculating on whether the Basque version of Scrabble assigns values of only 1 to every X, Z and K. I must go into a toy shop and check this out.

However, allow me to better illustrate the issue. Here’s a piece in Basque, with its Spanish equivalent below:-

Bizi ezazu meatze galeria batean sortzen duen zirrara, 2000 urtetan zehar mendia zulatua izan den ingurune batean.

Descubre la sensacion que produce endentrarse en una galeria minera en un entorno en el que se ha horadado la montana durante 2000 annos.

For those of you who don’t speak any Spanish, here it is again but in English:

Discover the feeling underground in a mine where the mountain has been worked for over 2000 years.

See what I mean?

14 Comments on “One from the vaults: Postcards from Pays Basque II

    • The Basque Country is located in the south-west France and Northern Spain, lying between rivers Aturri to the north and the Ebro to the south.


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