Thursday, 10 April 2008

Very Basque Saint Jean de Luz

If I asked myself whether I really wanted to see Biarritz during my family’s short holiday in the Basque Country (Euskal Herria), that is nothing compared to what I felt about Saint Jean de Luz (Donibane Lohizune). I could not have been more wrong so, for a change, I am happy to have a stubborn wife. (Com veieu, té ella per menys la base per ser una bona catalana, tot i que encara sempre prefereix el castellà.)

They say that this town is the most Basque of the beach resorts on the French side of the border, but as in Biarritz and Bayonne, I can not claim that we heard any Basque spoken in the streets. Under no circumstances does that diminish the uniqueness of this place. We started our sight-seeing walk from the northern end of the Bay of St Jean de Luz. If you look at a map you will understand why historically it was so popular with fishermen and whalers – nature is protecting it from the hard waves of the Atlantic Ocean.

We followed the dock which becomes higher and higher the further south you walk. I guess that it is there to protect the houses from the tide and it is amazing that a huge stone construction adds to the beauty of the coast. After having descended, at the mouth of the river la Nivelle, we were surprised to see the relaxed atmosphere of the beach replaced by the active, but still picturesque one of the fishing port.

Before heading back to the car, we of course made a stop at the church of Sain-Jean Baptiste. Its façade is quite plain, but the inside is totally different from anything I had seen before. Multi-tier wooden galleries along the walls gave me a feeling of being in a theatre with balconies, rather than in a church. I assumed that these galleries were built for the great wedding which was celebrated here in 1660 when the Sun King Louis XIV of France reached peace with Spain by marrying María Teresa.

Now I know better. Apparently as late as 1962, Basque churches still made use of such galleries to separate men from women during mass. And was not that exactly what I had been looking for – the proof that St Jean de Luz is typically Basque?

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