Our friend Dominique Pasquier Biansan had recently posted Sebastien Carnet's spectacular sunset picture above, taken from La Chapelle d’Aubépine near the small Basque village of Ainhoa about 35 minutes from here. In spite of all the hiking we've done in the Pyrenees, and although we've come across prehistoric cromlechs, dolmen, and megaliths out in the middle of nowhere (see my post Pays Basque: Sare, Zugarramurdi, (witches!) and a Hike into Prehistory), we had yet to come across Basque steles - ancient burial markers found along trails in the mountains. We decided to brave a few residual showers and make our way to the chapel.
We parked in Ainhoa, which sits right on the Spanish border. The village is well known as a stop for pilgrims on on the Santiago de Campostella or the Way of Saint James. It's also a stop for those hiking the GR-10 - the 538-mile trail that runs from Hendaye on the Atlantic, through the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean: 157,000 vertical feet of climb in what, for most, is a two-month hike.
Heading out of the village, we started up a paved road which soon turned to dirt - no motor vehicles allowed. After the first turn, we read the warning sign about Betizu - wild cattle that roam this section of the Pyrenees - in a nutshell, avoid them if at all possible. Fortunately, we didn't see any on this hike (we'd seen them on others and they were pretty aggressive), but we did pass a few groups of Pottuk - small semi-wild horses also native to the Pyrennes.
We continued up the steep road/trail and were stunned by the beauty in spite of the numerous showers limiting our views.
And, over the course of our 50-minute hike to the chapel, each turn revealed even more amazing vistas.
After climbing about 1000 vertical feet, we were a bit disappointed by the chapel itself. It was built on a site where a shepherd saw the Virgin Mary who appeared above a hawthorn bush (aubépine in French). It was closed today. Perhaps the inside is impressive, but my photos of the exterior weren't worth posting. Then again, it wasn't the chapel we'd come to see. It was the steles and the views from the top.
The showers stopped, and our photos improved. We considered continuing on the GR10 a bit further. Past the chapel, it turns into a single track trail and there's a loop back to Ainhoa, which would make a nice 6-mile hike. However, given the incoming weather and our limited experience with the area, we decided to be conservative and head back down the way we came.
This, like most parts of the GR-10 is well worth the hike. We're looking forward to longer forays into this area once the weather improves.