Category Archives: France

Discovering the flysch in the Basque Country

Flysch Basque Country

When you are walking in the Basque Country, don’t miss the 8 km-long coastal stretch between the towns of Deba and Zumaia in the province of Gipuzkoa. Zumaia is visited in my Sunflower guide, Basque Country car tours and walks (part of the Landscapes Series).

The coast here reveals some extraordinary rock formations that are now protected as part of the Basque Coast Geopark, just 30 minutes by car from Donostia-San Sebastián and a little under an hour from Bilbao. The most striking formations are made of what is known as the flysch – a sequence of sedimentary rocks that make up one of the longest continuous rock strata in the world, formed nearly 100 million years ago by the crashing of waves against the cliffs and creating a platform of alternate hard layers of limestone and sandstone, and soft layers of clay and loam.

The effect, especially at low tide, is stunning. Park in the bustling, attractive fishing port of Zumaia (Car tour 1 in Basque Country car tours and walks), then start walking from the chapel of San Telmo on the western side of town, perched precariously right on the clifftops above the beach of Itzurun. From the chapel some of the best parts of the flysch can be seen by following the GR121 (red and white waymarking, part of the vuelta de Gipuzkoa route) just 10 to 15 minutes in the direction of Deba.

FlyschHowever, it is worth continuing along the same coastal footpath for about an hour to the most spectacular section of coast around Sakoneta, which forms Europe’s most extensive abrasion platform, that can be defined as a sloping or nearly flat bedrock surface that extends out from a sea cliff under shallow water.

At low tide, the Sakoneta coastal area reveals a huge variety of wildlife such as cucumbers, starfish and sea slugs, along with many varieties of sea anemone. The platform has been carved over millions of years by the sea to create wavy, almost wafer-like sheets of bedrock of great beauty. Until recently this area was hardly known outside the province but with the creation of the geopark, this is likely to change and so now is the perfect time to explore it.

The Algorri Interpretation Centre in Zumaia is a good place to learn more about the flysch, and where guided walks to the most spectacular sections of the coast around Sakoneta and beyond can also be arranged. A new feature here are the 3-hour boat trips from Zumaia along the coast westwards via Deba to Mutriku, which enables the best of the entire geopark to be viewed from the sea. These trips are highly recommended and can be booked before either via the geopark website itself or through one of the local tourist offices in any of the three towns mentioned above.

And of course this being the Basque Country, you are never far from mouth-watering pintxos (the Basque version of the tapa) at bars in all the towns and villages along the coast, washed down by the local txakoli white wine – to help recharge the batteries after an exploration of the flysch route!

Walking in the Eastern Pyrenees and foothills

View to Pedraforca, the forked rock, from Maçaners in the Pyrenees, France

Sunflower’s guide Landscapes of the Pyrenees is intended for people who want an introductory overall view of the range. The ideal way to use it is to tour the Pyrenees by car, stopping for walks en route. Naturally, covering such a large area, there isn’t going to be a heavy concentration of walks around any single base.

So if you’re heading to a villa or hotel near the Eastern Pyrenees this autumn and planning to stay put for a week or two, be sure to pack a copy of Landscapes of the Costa Brava and Barcelona in addition to Landscapes of the Pyrenees.

You will then have a choice of over 50 walks on the coast and in the hinterland. From the Pyrenees guide there will be nine walks (with variations) within a 50-mile radius of the French coast around Collioure. The Costa Brava guide describes 23 long walks (with variations) and 18 shorter walks especially suitable for motorists between Collioure and Barcelona.

The Sunflower team have regularly ‘road-and-footpath-tested’ both guides in autumn – when the air is sparkling and the temperatures perfect for hiking. Two of our favourite places are the volcanic Garroxta region and the Serra del Cadí not far to the west.

Photo: Pedraforca – the ‘forked rock’ – landmark of the Serra del Cadí

Back To Collioure


Photo: Luc Viatour/

We’ve always loved the area where the Pyrenees come down to the Mediterranean. Not only do you get the best of both environments but there’s a very special quality to the light – an intensity you get in few other places (especially after the famous north wind known as the tramuntana has blown through). We’ve particularly liked Collioure, a seaside village featured in Walk 3 of our Landscapes Of The Pyrenees. So when we had the chance to buy a studio in Collioure we decided to go for it. It’s an idyllic spot to be based for any kind of holiday because the area has just about anything you could want.

From our studio we’ve been discovering some great hiking. Of course we’ve retraced the walk we feature in the book, which climbs from Collioure to the old hermitage of Notre-Dame-de-Consolation and the 13th century Tour Madeloc before descending to Banyuls-sur-Mer. That was a great day out with fabulous views all along the Côte Vermeille, capped by a visit to the studio where the sculptor Maillol (1861 – 1944) produced many of his works. So far we’ve discovered two more beautiful walks, and no doubt there are others. The first is an easy stroll along the clifftops to Racou, which is about 4km away to the north. At the little Ouille cove we stopped for a swim (bracing in May) and had a second from the wide sandy beach at Racou before returning by the same route. The second is one of the most exhilarating walks we’ve ever done, blue sky above, blue sea below. We started in Port-Vendres (1km south of Collioure) and followed the coastal path out along the promontory to Cap Béar. From there the path traces the south side of the promontory to the superb Paulilles cove, which really is a gem. The bay was never developed because it was the site of a dynamite factory. In 2005 the General Council of the Pyrénées-Orientales demolished nearly 70 buildings, cleaned it all up and turned the bay into a protected area. It’s as special a cove as you’ll ever find in Europe.

Paul and Chrissie are making their studio in Collioure available to Landscapes readers. Their website for it will be going live during June at

A Roman Town in Provence


Recent television programmes plus the British Museum’s current Life and Death in Pompeii exhibition have brought renewed interest in the city that was destroyed in a cataclysmic eruption of the volcano Vesuvius in the year 79AD. What many people do not realise is that – albeit on a lesser scale – if you are walking in Provence you will have the opportunity to explore another Roman town that, like Pompeii, disappeared from sight for many centuries. That town was Glanum. It was lost not from a volcanic eruption, but from man-made circumstances. The town was abandoned in 260AD when its inhabitants founded the nearby city of St. Rémy. In fact, they used some of the stone from the deserted buildings of Glanum in building St. Rémy. The sophisticated drain and sewer system of Glanum that had been constructed by the Romans ceased to be maintained. Over the centuries the ruins eventually became flooded and covered with mud and sediment washed down from the surrounding hills in heavy rainstorms. Little was left to indicate that it had once been a thriving settlement.

Not until 1921 did the first systematic archaeological excavations begin – and they continue to this day. In the intervening years, the 5-acre site on which Glanum stood has been opened to the public. Sunflower’s two guidebooks Walk & Eat Avignon and Landscapes of Western Provence both contain tours or walks that visit the site. Among the ruins to be seen are the public baths and swimming pool. The huge stone slabs with which the Romans constructed the main street remain intact. Underneath the street ran a water channel to carry away rain water and sewage. Extensive information plaques can be found throughout the town directing the visitor to the principal buildings of interest including the council house, treasury, fountain and wells. One of the houses has a painted bedroom and there is also all that remains of the forum and theatre. Stone, engraved in Latin nearly two thousand years ago with beautiful classic lettering, will delight any designer or artist. It’s a fascinating glimpse of how thoroughly the Romans colonised this part of France.

Across the road from the site entrance is a magnificent triumphal arch in a remarkable state of preservation, (see photo above) together with an equally well-preserved and impressive three-storey mausoleum. These two buildings remain largely intact, in contrast to the ruined state of the remainder of the town. A visit is a must if you are staying in Avignon, Arles, Nîmes, Orange, or nearby. (Each of these towns also have Roman remains worth exploring, including some fine amphitheatres.) Whether you are walking or touring by car in Provence, do make a point of visiting Glanum. The setting, surrounded by trees, is delightful – a visit will be a highlight of your walking or touring holiday in Provence.

Above left: Part of the Roman town of Glanum. Right: the triumphal arch

Cider Houses of the Basque Country

Basque Cider House

The beautiful Basque coastal city of San Sebastián (or Donostia, as all the locals call it, in Basque) is rightly famous as a Mecca for foodies, boasting 7 Michelin-star restaurants, three of which have been awarded the coveted 3 stars – not bad for a city with a population of under 200,000.

Apart from the legendary pintxos (the often highly-elaborate Basque variant of the Spanish tapa), which are works of art in themselves, between mid-January and mid/late April is cider season. The highest concentration of sagardotegiak (cider houses) is to be found just south of the city around the town of Astigarraga.

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