From the National Geographic Explorer in Europe
Oct 1, 2012 - National Geographic Explorer
St. Jean de Luz, France
As the sun rose we entered the outer protected harbor at St. Jean Luz to set anchor for the day. Immediately the surroundings made us aware that over the evening’s navigation we had entered an entirely different region of Western Europe. Most noticeable were the Pyrénées Mountains on the horizon and the brilliant white façades topped in red tile roofs lining the harbor and nearby hills. These two factors alone tell us that we’ve entered into the Basque Country, a culturally and historically distinct part of the world. Our explorations here today would emphasize just that. This region of France, bordering Spain, makes up the Iparralde, or northern side of the Basque Country, very much connected and related to the Hegoalde, or southern Basque Country. As a whole this culture is considered by some to be the ancestral culture in this region. With its unique language and genetic homogeneity the Basques are a proud and distinctive culture even in today’s globalized system. The rugged and beautiful landscape that they have cultivated in connection with the influences of the maritime environment has shaped this culture for centuries.
We spent the morning exploring the small and colorful fishing community of St. Jean Luz with its mix of Basque and French influences. Dating back to the 12th century, this town has a rich history including serving as a major whaling port and fishing community and having hosted the wedding of French King Louis XIV. Today many visitors from France and all over Europe find this port town to be an excellent place to find relaxation, good food, and pleasant weather. As did we today; the weather all morning was perfect, making our stroll among the streets and Zodiac transfers to and from the ship most enjoyable.
For an afternoon excursion some of us set out to the interior of Iparralde to get a sense of a traditional Basque village and life in the rolling foothills of the Pyrénées. The beautifully preserved village of Aïnhoa with its Labourd style homes, most dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries, was seemingly trapped in time. The countryside was spectacular to tour through and really gave a sense of what life is like here.
The remaining compliment of our guests visited the historic port city of Bayonne, once a Roman military position in the 3rd century. This city has had nearly every major civilization occupy it, from the Vikings to the English. Still though all the conquests and conflicts the Basque people have been a consistent influence here and still are today. All of our groups returned to St. Jean de Luz by late afternoon and either returned to the ship for dinner or spent the evening in town exploring on their own. The evening was no less lovely than the day as a waning gibbous moon rose over the port and reflected golden light on the still waters of the outer harbor.