Friday 21st May

Today we drove inland to the town of St. Jean Pied de Port.  It was a really nice drive through the countryside and took us about 1 hour.  We parked in the town centre and went into the Tourist Office to collect some information.  They gave us a town walk which outlined 14 places of interest to visit, with a map to follow and an explaination of the history behind each place.  At the top of the town is a huge citadel designed by Vauban and from here it is possible to walk around the interior battlements and down to the banks of the River Nive, but by this time we were too hungry for that and headed back into town.  There were so many nice restaurants in the town that it was difficult to decide where to eat.  We managed to find one close to the river but we didn’t eat all the bread as we then went to feed the many fish swimming in the Nive – sadly no fishing rods with us or we may have had trout for tea.

Friday 4th June

As we woke up to beautiful sunshine and clear blue skies, we thought we would try a trip on the Rhune train.  We got to the station at Sare at approximately 11 a.m. to find the car park already full but we managed to park in the overspill area on the opposite side of the road.  We bought our tickets, 14 euros each (8 euros for children – prices go up in high season) and it wasn’t many minutes before the train arrived.  The journey up the mountain took 35 minutes as the train goes very slowly, so slowly in fact that at one stage we were overtaken by a jogger!  As we approached the summit, the temperature dropped considerably and all the sensible people put on jumpers and jackets.  From the top, the views are spectacular and you can see for miles along the coastline.  We were able to pick out the towns of Biarritz, St. Jean de Luz, Hendaye and across the border into Spain, Irun and San Sebastian airport.  There is plenty of wildlife to see as well, including the pottok ponies who roam wild on the mountain and the vultures soaring on high looking for food.  We had coffee from the cafe at the top and then caught the last train back into Sare before everything stopped for lunch.

From Sare, we drove back into Ascain and then on to Col D’Ibardin – one of the many border towns along the Pyrenees where the French go to do their shopping at Spanish prices.  Here everything is that little bit cheaper, especially tobacco and petrol.  We had a really nice lunch at the benta berry restaurant, which is on the first floor above a perfume shop and supermarket and also has some splendid views over the countryside.  The food was excellent and only cost 12.95E for a 3 course table d’hote menu.  (Tel. 0034 948 630 708 – reservations recommended in July and August)

Saturday 12th June

The local community had organised a fete for this evening called ‘Landais and Tapas’ and the car park in front of the town hall was filled with bench seating and tables, surrounded with stalls and a large stage in one corner.  Each stall represented a local restaurant or community organisation and offered a traditional speciality to eat.  A meal at any of the stalls only cost 3E with beer at 2E and wine at 1.50E so it was possible to eat and drink like a lord for very little cost.  There was a vast array of dishes on offer – sausage baguettes, grilled fish with couscous, paella, confit of duck with chips to name a few, and the inevitable crepes or gateau basque for dessert.  We supported the local tennis club and had a plate of huge griddled prawns served with bread and chorizo.  The local brass band were playing for the early part of the evening, followed by a rock group later on.  It was a great evening out and we were told that the festivities were still going strong at 2 a.m. – way past our bed time!

Saturday 19th June

Not a particularly bright day today so we thought we would head south and see if we could find the sun.  We drove out through Bayonne and then followed the coast road around St. Jean de Luz, Ciboure, Socoa and on to Hendaye where we stopped for a walk along the sea front.  Hendaye has miles of beautiful beach but not much in the way of shops.  There was a nice looking restaurant on the front with panoramic views of the sea which was doing a roaring trade in moules and frites, but we decided we would prefer tapas, so we drove on to the port area and parked.  From here we caught the little water taxi across to Hondarribia in Spain (cost 1E60, runs every 15 minutes) and walked into the main square which was full of restaurants and bars.  After we had a pleasant, if somewhat expensive, meal we walked around the town and up to the church.  Opposite the church is a very ugly building which looks like a prison.  It was once a medieval fortress but now houses a state run 4 star hotel.  Inside it is absolutely beautiful, elegantly decorated with suits of armour, weapons and antique furniture.  It was a great day out but we never did find the sun.

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