A Rainy Week In Southwestern France

  • After leaving Spain we drove north, past French Basqueland and into the Parc Naturel Régional des Landes de Gascogne for a night outside of Sabres. In the morning, we drove into town and bumped into the twice-weekly farmers’ market, which was perfect because we needed veggies and cheese.
  • The weather was terrible so we kept driving, through Bordeaux and close to Angoulême to visit a second natural regional park, the Parc Naturel Régional Périgord-Limousin.
  • Regional natural parks in France are “inhabited rural areas recognized at a national level for the value of its heritage and landscapes which form part of a concerted sustainable development effort to protect and promote that heritage”, according to a brochure I got of activities and patrimonial sites in Brantôme. Périgord-Limousin has a five point action plan to work towards that:
    • Point I: improve water quality in the three heads of the drainage basins
    • Point II: preserve the diversity
    • Point III: encourage improvement of local resources as part of a sustainable development drive
    • Point IV: combat climate change
    • Point V: strengthen local identity and social networks
  • It’s inspiring to see local communities (network of villages, museums, nearby castles, restaurants, workshops and seasonal, holiday businesses) organize to promote economic good and environmental sustainability.
  • The problem for us is we’re passing through in March. It’s low season, so many things are closed or unavailable due to weather. It’s been raining off-and-on the whole week, with only a few moments of fleeting sun before being swallowed by the clouds. There aren’t as many hiking trails around these parks.
  • There hasn’t been much of an opportunity to meet French people this trip either. Everyone is at work, school, or inside and we haven’t visited any hotels, restaurants, or cafés.
  • In any case, we have a destination and we keep ourselves pointed that way. How is southwestern France? Beautiful, green, rainy, somnambulant, elusive.

Passing through Spanish Basqueland

Whenever we drive through a town, I can’t help but imagine ourselves living there for a moment. Is this the place we will come back to after our wandering?

The farming communities on the border of Navarra and Aquitaine are picturesque; big and broad homes with white walls and wood trim painted in green or red. Sometimes there is a flock of sheep and a small garden close to the side. This is the Basque heartland, and it is like a fairytale.

We stopped in Elizondo, in Baztan Valley two days ago and walked around a bit before finding a hiking trail and a camping spot on a nearby hill. Yesterday, we drove further north toward the border to Zugarramurdi. The caves of Zugarramurdi are where pagan rituals were organized, and the Spanish Inquisition accused 300 townspeople of being witches around 1610.

We then crossed the border into France. After so many border towns in West Africa and South America, this was a little surreal. No gate, no customs, no Spanish or French authorities, nothing. Welcome to Schengen Area.

Now it’s time for us to remember all the French we’ve forgotten since leaving Mauritania. À la prochaine fois!