Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, Espelette, and Ainhoa

Trip Start Apr 10, 2012
Trip End Jul 13, 2012

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Flag of France  , Aquitaine,
Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Today we left Spain and returned to France. We were aiming for stopping for the night in St Jean de Luz, but are doing a detour inland first.
The border crossing between Spain and France was interesting. Like all EU border crossings, you would hardly know you are crossing to anther country, but Spain has a last ditch attempt to sell wine etc before we leave the country. The street at the border is lined with shops selling alcoholic beverages, sausage, cheese etc, plus a range of cheap clothing. Spanish wine is certainly cheap. An Engish couple we had a drink with one night said they were loading the camper with wine to take home.

Then into the Pyrenees.  We were still in the Basque area, though now in the French version. So everywhere white houses with ox-blood red trim.   
St  Jean Pied de Port has always been the last stop for pilgrims on the Santiago de Compostela walk before they enter Spain, as the town is at the foot of the pass across the mountains, and also where all the French routes of the Camino converge. We saw a lots of walkers on the route along the north coast of Spain, but this is the first time we have seen them at a stopping place (or at the start of the walk as many do here). There are many private refuges here where the walkers can stay for the night, and the town also caters for them with stores with walking clothing etc.
There was a line up at the Pilgrim's Office. Here the walkers can collect their walkers passport, get stamps if they are already on their way, or get lists of auberge's etc. Many of the houses have the a scallop shell symbol over the door. All interesting to see. i a

But that is not all the town has. The pretty main street in the old town, the Rue de Espagne crosses the Nive River with the Vieux Pont. Here white houses with balconies hang over the water. We walked up (always up!) this street to the Citadelle. This fort built in the 1600s give great views of the town and the surrounding areas.
So then down the mountains a bit to Espelette, renowned for its le pimente, the dark red peppers essential to Basque cuisine. Apparently in the autumn the houses are covered with rows of the  peppers threaded on string and hung to dry. In Spring they are not so abundant, but they do have some out for tourists like us. They sell the peppers added to chocolate and aperitifs as well as in sauces and on sausages.

Last stop was Ainhoa. This has been called one of the beautiful villages of France. It once again has the white with red trim houses (though a few with green trim), and is exceptionally tidy and neat. I am  sure it would win in our tidy towns competition but by now I am a bit over these houses all looking the same.
So to our camp for the night in St Jean de Luz. Lovely spot. We have a view of the water, and a good breeze. Perfect!
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