If you could only visit one village in the interior of the French Basque Country, it would have to be Espelette. Its picture-perfect streets are lined with traditional Basque houses.
Espelette village is located in the foothills of the Pyrenees south-east of Biarritz below Mondarrain mountain. The village is within the Basque province of Labourd and is famous for its chili peppers and has an ‘appellation controlée’ vouching authenticity.
After the harvest the houses are strung with strings of the ‘piments’ to dry. Most of the houses are in Traditional Basque style, with white houses and red or occasionally green shutters. These villages in the Basque region are unique in France.
The origins of the Espelette Pepper date back to 1650 when a Basque sailor that had been traveling with Christopher Columbus brought some chili peppers to the Basque Country. These peppers were first used medicinally and then later for conserving meat and ham.
With time, they have become a cornerstone in Basque cuisine. The ‘Espelette Pepper,’ is also grown in 10 villages of the region, among them Ainhoa and Espelette. The European Union has granted a protected designation to the Espelette region which means only peppers from this particular area can have the name Piment d ’Espelette.
At one end of the main street the 16th century castle is now the village town hall and Tourist Office and holds exhibitions including:
• an exhibition related to chili peppers
• another dedicated to Agnes Sauret, who lived in Espelette and was the first lady to win the ‘Most beautiful woman in France’ award (around 1920),
• another for Armand David, an intrepid explorer from Espelette who travelled the world in the first half of the 19th century.
The village itself is the main attraction to visitors. Be sure to visit the Church of Saint-Etienne. The church has a typical Basque church interior with three levels of wooden galleries going round the walls and a decorative 18th century altarpiece. The style of church interiors in the region is unique.
Shops, boutiques and artisans in Espelette offer souvenirs and home-made chocolates (chili flavor). Other villages nearby that have similar Basque architecture are Sare and Ainhoa which are both listed among the most beautiful villages in France.
The countryside is perfect for exploring, walking or cycling – or taking the small train that climbs the La Rhune Mountain offering magnificent panoramic views of the countryside, coast, and ocean. Whilst in the region you might be lucky enough to come across the semi-wild horses called ‘pottok’.
Sare; ranked among the ‘most beautiful villages in France’. It is surrounded by mountains and located 14 km from the sea. Visit the church, the pediment, the neighbourhoods with the beautiful plough dine houses, its medieval way, and its famous oratories, and the exhibition on the Basque ball.
Ainhoa; Among the ‘most beautiful villages in France’. This bastide/village in the Basque Country, on the El Camino to Santiago de Compostela: located on the edge of the province of Labourd and Navarre, a few kilometres from Espelette and Sare, the village has the white and red facades of its typical houses along its unique street.
In the 13th century Remonstrated monks created a vicarage on the road to Compostela. This would be the village of Ainhoa, a low-bastide village with houses perfectly aligned on either side of a wide avenue. The village experienced many avatars under English suzerainty disputed between England and Navarre in the 13th and 14th century and land between the two kingdoms. In 1451, under Charles VII, Ainhoa became a French commune.
The revolutionary turmoil of 1789 deeply affected the religious life of the Basque Country. The church of Ainhoa, was closed to worship, and turned into a fodder store. The parishioners, remained faithful to their faith, and clandestinely went to the abbey of Urdax over the border in Spain.
After the Revolution, war reappeared on the banks of the Nivelle River at the end of the Spanish campaign (1813-1814). Since then, the village of Ainhoa has moved away from the battles that have been fought on other fronts, during many wars.
Today the village the village has 680 inhabitants living in the village and in eight Neighbourhoods, the most important of which is the border district of Dancharia.
La Bastide Clairence 700 years of history Founded in 1312 under the name Bastida de Clarenza, the village has retained its original urban layout and its architectural peculiarities of bastide La Bastide Clairence is part of the network of the Most Beautiful Villages of France… a walk through the streets and you’ll quickly understand why!
• Coach picks you up and drops you off at Biarritz hotel.
• Biarritz to Espelette travel time approx 0h40.
• Tour guide joins your coach in Biarritz.
• Free-time in Espelette and villages, before you return to Biarritz.
• Hear the history of events that shaped the history of Espelette.
• Visit Espelette village. St Etienne Church, the Chocolaterie, Piment Exhibition
• Get tips on the best things to see and do in Espelette during your stay.
• Enjoy some of the best views of Espelette and surrounding countryside.
• Transport from Biarritz to Espelette and villages and return.
• Guided tour of Espelette and its history
• Pick-up/drop-off at Biarritz hotel
• The services of a professional guide
What’s Not Included?
• Food and drinks
• Tips (optional)
• All other extras
• as schedule and subject to availability (excluding exceptional dates)
• Duration: All day en route and in Espelette
• Departure point: Biarritz
• Language: tour conducted in the English language
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