San Sebastian is very close to the border of France, about thirty minutes. We really wanted to spend a few days wandering around the Pyrenees Mountains and little villages in south western France, but we were so content in San Sebastian and the surrounding hikes that we only went to France one afternoon (but we made it count). Our sweet apartment manager, Ane (who had jokingly remarked that she was our manager while we were in San Sebastian, and it’s a good thing she was), had suggested a drive into France just because it is remarkable that over the border, everything is different with the exception that it is still Basque Country. In Spain, it is Spanish and Basque and in France (half an hour away), it is French and Basque. Ane told us that in Spain people live mostly in apartments and stay up late at night and start their days later. She warned us that the French rise before the sun in their little houses and are in bed early, so if we planned on eating dinner there, it should be early. We took our usual sustenance, cheese and crackers, and as a little aside here, this last chunk of adventure has been heavy on the cheese and crackers and I realized that a good cracker makes all of the difference.
Scott had researched a lot of hikes in France, but we got a late start and then spent some time re-navigating, so we drove only with the purpose of looking around and maybe finding a short hike. We drove for a couple of hours and ended up here, near one of the hikes that had interested Scott. It was beautiful and looked different, like we were actually in France, instead of Spain. We stopped in this little village because Scott thought that the trail head was near.
He wanted to see the Grotte d’Harpea or Harpea Cave. There was still some driving to be done.
I liked the little village church.
Some gorgeous French countryside on our drive to the cave.
Bucolic settings abound.
France has sticks too and after a couple of hours in the car the kids are begging for a hike!
The road was partially blocked and even though we don’t speak a whole lot of French, the message was clear-ish. We spent some time discussing why it might not be a good idea to travel farther. I was all for it, but Scott presented some good reasons to turn back (his mind travels a completely different path than mine), so we compromised. We took some photos of the sign and drove back to the last public place we had passed, a hotel. I walked in and using the camera, my fifteen French words, and charades, had a discussion with the receptionist. Evidently, we could continue towards our destination.
So we drove past the sign, up a mountain and onto a creepy movie set.
It was so foggy and the road was so narrow. I found comfort in the fact that other people must travel this path enough to warrant signs. It’s a good thing that Scott was driving because I spent a lot of time with my eyes closed. The fog cleared some as we drove over the mountain and descended a little in elevation.
We found the trail and the cave. It was cold and the air was damp and I still thought it was creepy but it was nice to be out of the car.
The rock was beautiful and climb-worthy.
The cave looks like it used as a pen of some sort and I read that it has been used for hundreds of years by shepherds to shelter their flocks.
At first we thought that the buildings were abandoned, but upon closer inspection, it looked like they might be used parts of the year, maybe in conjunction with the cave and pens.
This is a boundary marker between Spain and France.
Inside the cave.
The little cabin on the left was securely fenced off with barb wire and you could see furnishings through the windows.
The kids had fun playing in the stream,
but the fog was quickly blocking out the fading evening light
and so we headed back to the car and I prepared for the narrow, twisting and white-knuckle inducing ride back down the mountain.
We stopped at the creepy, mini-Stonehenge on the way back. We could hear the horses that had been standing here earlier galloping off in the distance. The fog had lifted a little.
One of the stone markers that formed the circle.
Another marker, Aezkoa is the name of this valley. We drove back to San Sebastian, almost three hours away at the end of our wanderings. It was a fun adventure and even more proof of the absolute beauty in the Basque Country.