Basque Country and the Peculiarity of Lourdes

We woke up to a quintessentially French Basque Country breakfast in our charming inn at Luz Saint Sauveur.

French Basque Country Breakfast

Over French bread, American coffee, and croissant, we chatted with the inn manager (and town mayor). He explained the history of the town, the chaos that ensues during Le Tour de France, and the fact that the town is currently suffering in the off-season due to the European recession (the inn, for example, has been losing money over the past few years, especially since the Spanish from Basque Country aren’t visiting as much as before).

French Basque Country Breakfast in Luz Saint Sauveur

French Basque Country Breakfast in Luz Saint Sauveur

French Croissant

French Croissant

Gavarnie Falls in French Basque Country

He also convinced us that before going in to Lourdes, we should drive in to the mountains to see the tallest waterfall in French Basque Country, Gavarnie Falls. The falls are situated in the Cirque de Gavarnie, near the village Gavarnie in the Hautes-Pyrénées. We’re pretty sure the mayor oversold it because it seemed to be barely a trickle from the distance which we stood, and it also didn’t seem particularly high. We assumed that to really see it, and as Aitor also confirmed, we had to hike in to the base to be impressed. Obviously we did  not.

But, the drive itself was worth it. Picturesque mountain valleys emerged that will make wonderful computer wallpaper going forward (seriously, I didn’t enhance this picture at all!). You can kind of see Gavarnie Falls in the middle of the picture.

Gavarnie Falls in French Basque Country

Gavarnie Falls in French Basque Country

The Strange Appeal of Lourdes

Afterwards we drove out of the mountains and in to the French town of Lourdes to view the church that was built to honor St. Bernadette, a young peasant girl in the late 19th century who saw a vision of the Virgin in the woods when she was gathering firewood. Later she convinced her priest to build a chapel in that place, based on a series of miracles related to a flow of healing water that had appeared where the Virgin spoke to her. To this day Lourdes is known to be a place of healing, and that flow of water is considered holy and able to cure the sick and heal the crippled.

Lucky for me since my ankle is still on the mend from surgery, and my sprained thumb similarly needs a miracle to repair itself. I pushed my way into the mass of people who had come across Europe to be similarly healed, and splashed some running water onto my hands and rubbed it on to my ankle. It reminded me of the religious pilgrimages I saw (and partook in) in India. The opposite of relaxing and spiritual, really. Mobs of people pushing each other to get into the Holy area, tons of tourist trap religious junk being sold on the roadside at a huge profit, and other chaos similarly associated with large crowds. I’ll take the spirituality of nature over the “spirituality” of visiting Holy sites and touching relics any day.

Our Lady of Lourdes

Our Lady of Lourdes

Choir Outside Our Lady of Lourdes

Choir Outside Our Lady of Lourdes

Healing Grotto at Our Lady of Lourdes

Healing Grotto at Our Lady of Lourdes

How did we know that people came from all over Europe to Our Lady of Lourdes? Because of the military men and women dressed in their countries’ formal military dress that clearly identified –  we saw service men and women from Croatia, Austria, Italy, Lithuania, Germany, and the list goes on. Why were dressed in uniform? That remains a mystery to us. Why were they all here at Lourdes on this particular Sunday (May 18), we also have no idea!

Military Men and Women at Our Lady of Lourdes

Military Men and Women at Our Lady of Lourdes

The other thing that became apparent is that Europeans love to march for no reason, and parade whenever possible (eerily reminiscent of Hitler Youth).

Youth Marching in a Parade at Our Lady of Lourdes

Youth Marching in a Parade at Our Lady of Lourdes

This truly was a bizarre sight that was inexplicable and beyond words to all of us – probably because none of us are Catholic. It was something we never would have considered doing if it wasn’t for Aitor encouraging us to go and look (thanks Aitor!). That said, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t meant to be amusing/perplexing but rather miraculous….

French Basque Country Lunch

Afterwards we went for lunch after two hours of driving to another French Basque Country town – Saint Jean Pied de Port – and ate at Cafe Ttipia. We had more pork, Sangria, and a fabulous dessert known to the Basque Country – Gateau Basque (like a flan pastry).

Cafe Ttipia Outdoor Seating

Cafe Ttipia Outdoor Seating

Cafe Ttipia

Cafe Ttipia

After lunch we walked through the town and window-shopped while taking in the views of the river.

St. James Road through the Basque Country

Then we pushed on over the Spanish border, through more mountain country and on the Road of St. James, a popular pilgrimage route through the Basque Country (France and Spain). Gorgeous countryside.

St. James Pilgrimage Route

St. James Pilgrimage Route

Beautiful Basque Country

Beautiful Basque Country

We also stopped briefly at a pilgrim hostel/village to check out what that was all about. We all agreed that the living and eating conditions were far too good for an authentic spiritual and ascetic pilgrimage experience.

Sheep on St. James Road

Sheep on St. James Road

Pilgrim Village

Pilgrim Village

Pamplona

On the final stretch to where we would be spending the night (Hondarribia), we did a whirlwind tour of Pamplona by car and saw the street where the running of the bulls takes place on, as well as the status commemorating the annual event. Aitor even told us that he participated in it when he was a teenager – it seems to be a rite of passage. However, bull fighting has been banned in Catalonia since 2010 and isn’t as popular in other parts of the country anymore either.

Running of the Bulls Running of the Bulls in Pamplona Statue

Running of the Bulls Running of the Bulls in Pamplona Statue

Running of the Bulls in Pamplona

Running of the Bulls in Pamplona

Hondarribia

Finally, we reached Hondarribia before sunset, around 730PM, just in time for a spectacular view of the castle we’d be staying in (Paradores’ Emperador) and the harbor looking on to the French side of Basque Country.

Peradores Emperador Castle Hotel in Hondarribia

Peradores Emperador Castle Hotel in Hondarribia

Before dinner and after check-in we sat on the terrace, drank Armagnac, and watched the sunset on the harbor, imagining the Bay of Biscay in the distance over the dramatic landscape of Basque Country.

Hondarribia on a Map

Hondarribia on a Map

Hondarribia Boats

Hondarribia Boats

Hondarribia Harbor

Hondarribia Harbor (looking on to France)

After drinks we had pintxos on the square of our hotel, and then deposited Marv in the hotel.

Hondarribia Pintxos

Hondarribia Pintxos

Aitor, Leslie, and I set out for a second round (a late dinner since we ate a huge lunch) and toured the waterfront area before stopping randomly to listen to a town choir performing on the street. It was lovely. Aitor pointed out that the songs were traditional Basque Country songs (and we even heard one of them in the car the next day).

Basque Traditional Choir

Basque Traditional Choir

After the performance we found a nearby pintxos place (Bar Gran Sol) and we enjoyed some local red wine and snacks. This was a nice and needed break for the 3 of us from the tourist day to day grind. We completed a walk around the dock area and fell in to bed around 1130PM (of course I haven’t been getting to bed until after 1AM since late night is the only time for me to be able to write).

therestlessroad

About therestlessroad

The tar in the street starts to melt from the heat
And the sweats runnin’ down from my hair
I walked 20 miles and I’m dragging my feet
And I’ll walk 20 more I don’t care
And I’ll wander this world, wander this world
Wander this world, wander this world all alone
I’m like a ghost some people can’t see
Others drive by and stare
A shadow that drifts by the side of the road
It’s like I’m not even there
And I’ll wander this world, wander this world
Wander this world, wander this world all alone
Well I’ve never been part of the game
The life that I live is my own
All that I know is that I was born
To wander this world all alone, all alone
Some people are born with their lives all laid out
And all their success is assured
Some people work hard all their lives for nothin’
They take it and don’t say a word
They don’t say a word
Sometimes it’s like I don’t even exist
Even God has lost track of my soul
Why else would he leave me out here like this
To wander this world all alone
And I’ll wander this world, wander this world
Wander this world, wander this world all alone
–Jonny Lang, “Wander This World”

One thought on “Basque Country and the Peculiarity of Lourdes

  1. JJ1

    Beautiful. Glad you didn’t encounter a live bull!

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