Beach at Hendaye, start of the GR10

A grande randonnée is French for a long hike. France has about 60,000km of marked and documented long distance hiking trails each identified with a number. In 2011 we walked the GR5 through the Alps from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean.

This year I’m walking about half of the GR10, a trail through the Pyrenees mountains just on the French side of the Spanish border. It starts in Hendaye on the Atlantic coast and ends at the Mediterranean. The full hike is about 50 days. I’m doing the first 23 days, although I’m making it 24 days to break a crazy 9 hour day into two more manageable distances.

Today I took the train here from Paris; tomorrow I’ll begin the hike.

Hendaye is a lovely little beach resort town. The weather is mixed and there will probably be rain in the mountains. It was sunny and warm on the beach this evening.

GR10 Pyrenees day 1, to Olhette

20140723-183848-67128445.jpgJuly 22. A good first day. Mostly sunny, no rain, not too hard (although I am quite tired) and some good views. In places the trail wanders back and forth across the Spanish border; the little town where I had lunch, just on the French side of the border, seemed be as much Spanish as French.

The hills here (not mountains yet, that comes farther inland) get a lot of rain. The trails are muddy and badly eroded in places. It makes for slow walking.

There were goats with bells grazing in the hills as well as something I haven’t seen before, free-range horses with bells.

I’m in a hotel in a very small town tonight and I’ll sleep well. Can’t connect to the WiFI here, so this will be posted later.



20140723-191702-69422820.jpgHorses and Hendaye in background


20140723-191702-69422480.jpgHouse in Hendaye


20140723-191703-69423542.jpgOld oak tree with GR marker

GR10 Pyrenees day 2, to Ainhoa

20140724-172709-62829367.jpgJune 23. A fairly easy day although it was hot and I took it slowly. The major climb of the day, 500m to the Col des Trois Fontaines, was done in the first hour and 20 minutes. The weather was overcast with some mist at the col, not very hot, but very humid. I was soaked by the time I reached the col.

This is a busy tourist area with many day hikers and trail runners going to the col and beyond to the summit of la Rhune at 900m. Others take the cog railway which was doing a good business today.

From the col it was a pleasant walk down to the pretty little town of Sare on the low plain that lies between the hills and the ocean. The rest of the day was on the plain. Hot and not very scenic on roads, lanes and some muddy trails.

Ainhoa is another pretty and popular tourist town with old houses from the 1600s.

A good trail. No mud, not eroded.

Col in the mist

More Horses

Cog train.

It really has cogs.


Church in Ainhoa.

GR10 Pyrenees day 3, to Bidarray

A more interesting day with more time in the hills. Got to 716m elevation at the Col de Méhatché, the highest so far. Once again the route goes almost back to sea level for the night.

The day began cloudy and humid and remained that way until late afternoon when the sun finally broke through. First up was a climb to the Col des Trois Croix just above Ainhoa. You can see the crosses from town. Once again, I was soaked by the end of the climb in the humid weather. Then it was up and down in green hills. Pleasant.

Again I saw many horses grazing free in the high pastures along with sheep and cattle. I’ve come to an unfortunate conclusion about the horses. There are so many that the only possible reason they are grazing with the other farm animals is that they will share the same fate; they will be eaten. Very little horse meat is eaten in Canada and the idea of eating such magnificent animals makes me slightly ill, but different cultures have different ideas.

The last part of the hike today is normally a very steep descent on a loose trail. A bit unnerving and dangerous in the rain. A French hiker I chatted with in the morning said we might not be able to use the trail as it had been badly damaged by heavy rain. That turned out to be the case and the descent was by an alternate route, a local multi-day route used by hikers and mountain bikers named the Sentier des Contrebandiers, the path of the smugglers. Since we are on the border between Spain and France, smugglers were probably active here. It was a safe but unexciting descent on gravel road, trails and some quiet paved road.

Dinner tonight isn’t served until 8:00. I’ll be glad to be sleeping in gîtes d’étap in a few days. They are for hikers and meals are earlier, both in the evening and the morning.

20140724-203547-74147940.jpgAinhoa from above

20140724-203548-74148303.jpgCol des Trois Croix

20140724-203548-74148642.jpgAbandoned building



GR10 Pyrenees day 4, to St. Étienne de Baïgorry

BIRU-WP-16.jpegMy English guidebook describes this stage as “the first really hard day, best done in fine weather.” Mother Nature had a different idea: rain, mist, thunder in the mountains. I decided to walk the roads in the valley with some French hikers I met yesterday. It was a boring wet walk. Now, in the afternoon, the sun is out. I wonder if I made the best choice.

I didn’t see Vincent today, a very experienced French hiker I met yesterday. I wonder if I’ll see him tomorrow and he’ll tell me it was no problem in the mountains and I missed a great walk.

That’s the problem with choice, you never know how much risk to take, especially with something you haven’t done before. If I knew today’s hike, the ridge walk in particular, I could have made a better decision. I’ll never know, although the lightning was probably best avoided.

St. Étienne is a pretty little town. This is Basque country and the people are proud of it. Traditional architecture and hearty Basque cooking abound.

BIRU-WP-11.jpeg Leaving the hotel.

BIRU-WP-12.jpegThe day

BIRU-WP-13.jpegGoats sheltering from rain

BIRU-WP-14.jpegMorning coffee break with the French hikers (beer for a Frenchman)

BIRU-WP-15.jpegOld bridge and small chateau in St. Étienne

BIRU-WP-17.jpegTraditional Basque building with stones exposed on the corners