Hiking the GR 10 – Basque Country
Yesterday, we started our hike on the French hiking trail called the GR 10. GR stands for Grande Randonnée, and the “10” is just one of many. The Grande Randonnée (French), Grote Routepaden or Lange-afstand-wandelpaden (Dutch), Grande Rota (Portuguese) or Gran Recorrido (Spanish) is a network of long-distance footpaths in Europe, mostly in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain. In France alone, the trails cover approximately 60,000 kilometers (37,000 mi).
The GR 10 is a classic mountain walk that crosses the Pyrenees. The main crest of the Pyrenees forms a massive divider between France and Spain from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. The distance from the starting point in Hendaye on the Atlantic coast to the finish in Banyuls on the Mediterranean is only 415 km (258 mi) ‘à vol d’oiseau’ – as the crow flies. But it is 866 km (538 mi) and 157,000 feet of elevation gain/loss ‘à pied’ – walking (literally, by foot). It typically takes 45-60 days to complete. Since we only have 3 weeks left in France, we won’t even make it half way. There’s always next year, though!
Last year, we hiked in Switzerland for almost a month. Because we were hiking in the most popular hiking month of August, and because we had never completed a multi-day hike before, we hired a company to plan out all of our days, make our hotel/mountain hut reservations, provide us maps and instructions, etc. We used Alpine Hikers, and they did a really fantastic job. (See our hiking posts from last August).
This year, we decided to give it a go on our own. Armed only with our official TopoGuides from FFRandonnée – IN FRENCH! – and the Cicerone Guide by Paul Lucia…. Well, wish us luck. We are learning just how little French one can realistically learn in one month. We recognize about 1 out of every 10 words in the hiking guide, and have already spent hours looking up translations for verbs we’ve never seen before and nouns you would only hear while hiking (ridge, crest, rock outcropping, etc.).
The good news is, the trail is generally well-marked with the same recognizable, characteristic marks we saw in Switzerland last year, consisting of a white stripe above a red stripe. These appear regularly along the route, especially at places like forks or crossroads.
All sounds good in theory, but we ran into a speed bump right off the bat. Some of the towns along the GR 10 are very small. As it happened, the ONLY hotel at our first planned stop was ‘complet’ (full up). We could have bunked up at the hikers ‘gite’ but we thought we would save that particular pleasure (think 10 beds side-by-side along the floor in long narrow room) for later in the trip, in the really high mountain places where there’s just no other choice.
So we decided to go on to the next town. How hard could it be? Well, 1500 feet up the late-afternoon-sun side of a mountain, and 1500 feet back down the other side after already having hiked 13 mi adds up to a loooooong *#(%@ day. No pictures of this leg of the trip; it wasn’t pretty.Total for day 1: 19.5 miles; 5000 feet up and 4700 feet down. This might not have been such a big deal after a couple of weeks hiking, but we’ve basically been sitting on our tushes studying, eating and drinking all things French. We were beat. And sore. And starving.
Once we arrived in Sare, though, all was made right again. What a charming little Basque town.
And to end, a few short video clips of the lush scenery: