August 4th 2014

A perfect marriage of the Gallic and the Spanish, that's the Pays Basque. And in lively, cosmopolitan St Jean de Luz it was exactly that which put this ancient fishing and whaling town on the map 350 years ago. After nail-biting months of a deal being brokered, France and Spain held their breath as the Sun King Louis XIV wed Maria Theresa, the Infanta of Spain, in 1660. See the blocked doorway of the fine Basque church of St John the Baptist, slammed shut after the newly-weds left - never to be opened again. Walk around St Jean de Luz and get a real flavour of this small corner of France. A royal heritage, maritime trade - and a profitable line in piracy - as well as enturies of fiery Basque culture make it irresistible. The Atlantic ocean beach just off the main street is vast and stunning - and the mountains behind suggest the mystique of this ancient land straddling two major countries of Europe, with an identity all its own. The origins of the Basques remain shrouded in mystery but the songs, festivals, local sport, distinctive regional cuisine and folklore reveal the unique history and culture of fiercely proud people who speak the oldest living language in Europe. Situated in the south west of France and north west of Spain, at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains, the Basque country ranges across a superb and dramatic natural environment. From the elegant and smart surfers' paradise of Biarritz, just along the coast from St Jean de Luz, to the traditional villages dotted through the hilly Basque countryside, hiking in the Pays Basque guarantees something different every hour. Fortified by the local favourite sweet treat - crazy-colored almond macaroons - stroll through a walled Spanish city, follow a pilgrimage trail, eat a seafood lunch in an old fishing harbour and even take in a salty thalassotherapy spa experience! And that's just one day's hike! Step on to a boat in France and after a short ride, step off in Spain. You can live like a medieval lord for a night in the marvellous Parador El Emperador, a 10th century bastion, home in the 16th century to Spain's founding emperor, Carlos V. Of course the Pays Basque is the chocolate capital of France and you can't leave without a visit to a 'maƮtre chocolatier', who can usually be persuaded to part with a few delectable samples. Find out more about our Pays Basque Walk here.

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