Explore the picturesque valleys of the Basque Country hinterland
The Pas de Roland ride along the Nive
Take his time. Take a large bowl of fresh air . Get away for a few hours along a loop of the Nive , this wild river which rises south of Estérençuby and joins the Adour in Bayonne. Wake up your child's soul and set off to explore a natural site like no other. Here, the Basque Country offers itself in its fullness and its authenticity. Come and stock up on a great thrill of freedom in the heart of the green landscapes.
Close to the towns of Cambo-les-Bains , Espelette and Bidarray , the charming little village of Itxassou, famous for its black cherries, is the starting point for this unmissable 3km walk. Very popular with walkers and hikers , this route is easy and accessible to everyone due to its low elevation , just under 70 meters . Bordering the Nive, the paved road allows people with reduced mobility and toddlers in strollers to fully enjoy the beauty of the landscapes of the gorge enclosed in the valley.
Enjoy these natural landscapes, lulled by the flow of the river.
Getting there from Itxassou is easy. I strongly advise you to park your car in the village because the winding road which leads to Pas de Roland does not have parking spaces. You will find several small car parks in the center of the village, including one near the sublime Saint-Fructueux church , dating from the 17th century and now listed as a historic monument. Then follow the road for about 1km, admiring the panorama of the Atharri hill before reaching the forest and the banks of the Nive.
Along a stone wall, the gorge reveals itself in all its splendor with its living and transparent waters , surrounded by wooded hills which culminate at more than 300 m in height. Here, magic is everywhere… in the turquoise reflections of the river, around the path dominated by hundred-year-old trees and lush nature. After 2km of walking, I reach the famous Pas de Roland which marks the last meters of this enchanting walk: an immense rock dug by a narrow passage which crosses a hole carved in stone.
The Pas de Roland
According to legend, Roland, Charlemagne's nephew , passed through this site in August 778, riding on horseback towards the pass which will allow him to repel the Saracens (in reality the Basque Vasconne militia) in Spain with the help of his army . However, a large impassable rock blocked his way. A first legend tells that this cavity was dug by a hoof from the Roland horse. A second relates that unable to continue his path, Roland brandished his sword (named Durandal) and cut a passage himself to cross this obstacle with his soldiers. Legendary myth or natural collapse enlarged by man to pass a mule track? The mystery remains. Unfortunately, legend also tells that the brave Roland died shortly after this episode, on August 12, 778 at the pass known as "Col de Roncevaux" at the feet of Spain, during a confrontation against the Saracens.
A refreshing stop is essential!
Anyway, the superb landscapes and the access to the river from this rock are well worth a short stop. Stone steps and a small path lead to the shallow stream, dotted with black rocks. A haven of peace where it is good to cool off, take out your picnic or quench your thirst while admiring the vultures swirling from the top of the rocky sides of the cliffs. A little further, a small beach by the river in Laxia invites you to relax and swim when the weather allows it.
For good walkers or adventurers, you can continue your hike on other paths leading to summits like the Pic du Mondarrain or Artzamendi. By car this time, you reach the Col des Veaux on the border with Spain in just twenty minutes.
At your own pace, follow this path which overlooks the river to discover an authentic nature, gentle and bucolic landscapes. An ideal stroll to unwind, alone , as a couple or with the family . Hikers, nature lovers and mountain bikers will find their paradise here!
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Photos and Article written by Lesley Williamson for the Guide to the Basque Country