Pyrenees High Route 3 - Basque Wine and Cider

This is stage three of the Pyrenees High Route. The trail continues through the rolling hills of the Basque Country known for the fine wines that they produce. This stage crosses between France and Spain several times and includes sections above 1000 metres for the first time including the historic Roncevaux pass. When the weather is good navigation is not difficult as you walk along well defined paths and country roads.

Basque Wine

Basque Country wine broadly falls into two main categories: Txakoli, which is the traditional Basque wine, and Rioja from the Rioja Alavesa region in the south of the Basque Country. However, Irouleguy from the region near Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the south west of France also produces prize winning wines that are fruity, tannic reds and full-bodied, tangy whites.

Txakoli has been a part of the Basque culture since the 16th century. Before large corporations started production in the 1980s, it was almost entirely home-made in farmhouses. In recent years, Txakoli has acquired quite a fame. This is due to the high quality of the wines being produced and its light, cold and fruity characteristics that are widely appreciated by wine consumers. It is also easy to drink so you will be finishing the bottle before you know it. Txakoli normally accompanies fish, sea food and rare meat, but it's also very common to drink it with pintxos (the Basque tapas). Txakoli is a dry, slightly acidic, carbonated wine with an alcohol content of around 11%. There are three regions producing Designation of Origin-certified Txakoli: Gipuzkoa, Biscay, and Alava, each of which have their own special cultivation techniques and grape combinations that create subtly different wines. Txakoli is poured from a height and served in small amounts to retain some carbonation.

Rioja Alavesa is in the south of the Basque Country. The vineyards are positioned between the Ebro River and the Cantabria Mountains, at around 400-500 metres in altitude where they benefit from long days of sun exposure. Around 80% of the grapes grown are Tempranillo that create wines that have a lively, brilliant colour, a fine yet intense bouquet and a fruity flavour.

Irouleguy wines are white wines, roses and reds produced only in vineyards surrounding the village of Irouleguy close to the French/Spanish border. These wines are renowned for being full-bodied and fruity. While the majority of wine produced is red, the whites in particular are blended from rare grape varieties not found elsewhere. Only a limited amount of Irouleguy wine is produced each year due to the small size of the vineyards.

Basque Cider

Known locally as sagardoa, Basque cider tastes similar to the scrumpy ciders found in the west of England: rough and an acquired taste! It is a fermented apple juice low in alcohol made by traditional methods that distinguish it from cider made in other parts of Europe. The cider is naturally fermented with no additional sugar added, creating a final product that is dry and very acidic.

It is not known precisely when sagardoa was first made in the Basque Country. However apples and cider have been present in the Basque Country for centuries. Cider production is still very much a living tradition, with the area producing about 13 million litres of cider annually, which is mainly consumed by the Basques themselves. The cider is traditionally poured from up high to let the liquid aerate, although nowadays this is more of a tourist display and locals tend to pour it straight from the bottle.

Cider is available at most cafes and bars but for drinkers looking for more than a sample should visit a cider house (sagardotegi). Here you can enjoy the cider together with a course of traditional dishes. The heart of the Basque cider culture is in Astigarraga, where most of the cider houses are concentrated.



Elevation of Trail

Guidebook & Map

Pyrenean Haute Route

Tom Joosten's guide to the classic high-level trek, if there is only one guidebook you buy for the Pyrennes High Route then this should be the one

Pays Basque West Rando Editions 1

The western most section of the French Pyrenees between the Atlantic coast and St-Jean-Pied-de-Port