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My father had been a part of an RCAF/RAF Halifax bomber crew who were shot down over Belgium in 1943. It had long been my desire to walk in my father’s footsteps as he was guided to safety by Belgian, French and Basque resistance workers along the famed Comet Line. We provided Philip, who IS Basque Country walks with what details we knew of my fathet’s adventure along the Spanish section of the Comet Line. Philip met with my wife and I the day before our scheduled hike to outline some options based on homework he had done from the details our family knew of my father’s”travels”.
Philip mapped out three options, all which would allow us to experience the rigours of walking the Comet Line trails. Unfortunately, the following day was stormy. Philip realized how important this experience to us and adapted brilliantly to the weather. It would have been unsafe and unpleasant to hike in the heavy rain so Philip took us in his car along mountain roads that paralleled the Comet Line, stopping to let us walk briefly where the mountain road crossed the paths of the Comet Line.
But the most memorable moment came when Philip took us to a “safe house” ( a house that hid Allied airmen) on the chance that we might meet an older gentleman whose family had harboured evaders. Fortunately, Paco Iriarte, who had been living with his uncle in the safe home , was there and invited us into the house. Because Philip speaks fluent Basque, he was able to make Mr. Iriarte and his family comfortable with our presence. Philip translated our questions and Mr. Irisrte’s stories.
It was Philip’s work and research that enabled him to take us to the most likely location where my father and his Basque guide, along with 5 other evaders would have crossed from France into Spain, sneaking passed German and Spanish guards at a railroad station and then scrambling up steep trails to arrive at the Iriarte safe house. This day filled in a lot of gaps in our knowledge of my father’s experience.
Philip was disappointed that we didn’t get as much of the physical experience that we had hoped. But he provided us with the best possible outcome – allowing us to visualize what my father and other evaders went through on their way to freedom and home. Meeting someone whose family likely helped my father was incredible. Our family owes so much to the brave men and women who risked their own lives to save my fatherr’s And 770 other airmen’s lives. Thank you , thank you, thank you, ,Philip for the incredible day we had on Sunday Oct. 15th.
From initial contact to final changes of plans to suit weather and flight times, Philip was unfailingly helpful and available. The walks were fantastic- with wonderfully detailed notes that clarified every potential confusing way marking. We never put a foot wrong as a result and also had lots of extra information on the locations we passed through. It’s well worth downloading the gps maps he sends through as well- I enjoyed having such specific detail available at all times.
Beyond the beautiful scenery of the walks and excellent planning, Philip also arranged stays for us in lovely Agroturismos where we felt welcomed, ate and slept well and felt really well looked after. Our hosts were warm, chatty and keen to give us some additional local flavour that really added to the trip. Furthermore, Philip checked in with us every evening via WhatsApp to check all was well and that we had all we needed, which really speaks to his commitment towards his customers.
Having been to Donostia twice before, the wilder countryside and coastlines that you drive past had always intrigued me and that itch has well and truly been scratched now! What a wonderful place the Basque Country is! Thanks Philip for helping us discover it so well- I hope to be back soon!
My husband and I visited San Sebastián briefly last year and were entranced by this gorgeous small city on the ocean surrounded by mountains. We knew had to return to explore the mountains and experience more of the Basque culture. We were so fortunate to find Basque Country Walks and owner Philip Cooper.
Phil arranged 8 days of self-guided, inn-to-inn hiking. The itineraries were wonderful. The routes were well described in great detail, with both more and less challenging options each day, along with cultural notes. Our accommodations were charming “casas rurales” and one coastal spa (great treat in the middle of the trip) where we always received a very warm welcome and delicious meals. Luggage transfers and all other arrangements were perfectly handled.
Phil was available with full support throughout the trip via chat or telephone. He is fluent in English, Spanish and Basque (and perhaps other languages), has been here for many years and is clearly very well regarded by the innkeepers, all of whom are local families who have been here for generations.
We could not have asked for a better introduction to the region. We will be returning, likely again and again.
Eskerrik asku/mil esker to Phil and Basque Country Walks. We look forward to our next trip with you!
I want to thank Phillip for his wonderful organisation that made our 5 day walk in the Pyrenees in Basque country such a delight.
Phillip’s maps, guide book and markers loaded onto our GPS, ensured that we were never lost.
We spent 5 days walking from Etxaler to Ellizondo, averaging about 18 kms each day. Lots of steep climbs, fantastic views, rough Roman roads as we descended or smugglers tracks well used over the centuries. Nothing was more welcome than finding our hotel for the night and having that first beer with feet up to congratulate ourselves on our efforts for the day.
We stayed in some lovely accommodation, the best of which was Casa Rural Haitezetxea with wonderful hospitality of Tony and Virginia. Meals and wine were included, along with a packed classic local lunch which was gratefully devoured after a few hours of climbing.
Best of all were the stunning views each day and the wonder of seeing such magnificent country side away from the crowds of peak season. Even the day when there was light rain and mist in the hills we may have missed the fabulous views that day but the stillness of the mist, with the clanging of the horse bells all around us was really special. We have to come back again so that we can do that part of the walk in the sunshine.
Thanks for your excellent organisation Philip, your care and attention to detail were really appreciated and I would recommend this holiday to anyone who is fit and keen to see the beautiful Basque country away from the crowds. Yolande and Alan
Your Basque Country Walk will begin in two dimensions. You will read through Phillip Cooper’s detailed overview of the walks – advice about waymarking, the paths, the maps, water, and weather – admire the compendium of daily walk descriptions, then leaf through Phillip’s atlas of route maps and elevation maps. You will try to locate place names that you can’t pronounce, let alone remember, decipher the meaning of the wormy colored lines that wriggle their way through the topographic overview of your walks, and translate the peaks and valleys of the elevation maps. With your first step, however, your Walk will leave the flat map and you will venture into the heart of Basque Country.
Your “self-guided” walk will trace a route that will lead you from one lovely hotel or casa rural to another. You will leave each morning with a full breakfast in your belly, a lunch of bread and cheese in your pack, and the promise of a bottle of wine, delicious meal, hot shower!, and cozy room ahead. You will come to appreciate the history of a proud people and the topography that has inspired their spirit of independence. There will be days when you may walk without seeing a single person, when you stand on an exposed ridge next to large rocks that were placed to salute the rising sun by people who as yet had no written language, when you encounter small ponies no taller than your waist. You will develop an eye for shifts in the weather and a sense for when to linger and when to hustle along. You will hear the crunch of sheep munching grass and the music of the bells of grazing animals. You will learn to say “Hello” and “Thank you” in Basque.
The richest parts of your experience, however, may come from the unexpected – when your decisions take a detour from the “plan.” We have a kind of romantic saying that has guided us: “They set off together with a blithe sense of wrongdoing.” On the first day of our Walk, we set off with a blithe sense of “wrong way” – following some happy local mountain bikers rather than adhering to Philip’s instructions. We recognized our blunder, returned to the beginning, and set forth again – chuckling to ourselves. There would be more moments like this when where-we-are did not match up with where-we-thought-we-should-be and we became intensely alert to our environment and to our own thinking. Is that a “grassy path” going down the ridge? What is the difference between a “way” and a “track”? How long should this rock wall be? Where the hell is Philip’s signpost?
We came to enjoy the Scavenger Hunt aspect of our Basque Walk: where is that “clearly visible” dolmen, that “ruined bordo,” that white house? Ah, yes!!! There’s the green and white waymarker! We found joy not only in the countryside through which we were walking but in our ability to follow the clues with which Phillip had presented us. We came to imagine that we were stringing beads on a five-day long chain and appreciated that those existential moments of uncertainty were like little jewels.
As with all good scavenger hunts, the clues make sense in retrospect, but as with all worthwhile adventures, those off-the-guidebook moments are what make the good stories. We finished our Walk with a deep respect for Basque County – both the people and their land – and a profound appreciation for Philip Cooper’s knowledge, dedication, and sense of humor. Philip has synched the guidebook text with the maps, but we learned that his information was most useful when we sat down with our bottle of wine at dinner and marked up our own map with instructions about the next day’s walk. We also enjoyed using Philip’s booklets to record our own experiences. “Bewildering” was one our notations; the next day: “NIRVANA.” We know from long experience that “Nirvana” is only a taste, but we also know that rich experiences generate memories that grow more precious over time. Eskerrik Asko, Phillip.
Nina and Bob
19 October 2016
My husband and I had the enormous pleasure of doing a 4 day self-guided hike in the Basque Pyrenees coordinated by Philip. We travelled from Extalar to Zugarramudi then went on to Urdax, Erratzu then Elizondo. Each town had its own unique charm and we were graced with great hospitality and wonderful authentic Basque cuisine in all the hostels and hotels where we stayed. It was by far our most favorite hiking trip to date. Accommodation, food and arrangements could not have been better managed or arranged. Philip pays attention to every detail and goes well beyond what other guides do and this made the trip all the more special and enjoyable and completely worry free. His instructions are meticulous, his mannerism so pleasant, welcoming and professional. Thank you Philip! Your guidebook really did become our Bible and taught us much about the history of Basque.
Exploring the Basque countryside on foot is a magical, breathtaking experience we will always cherish. We felt we had entered and experienced another time and place, something like The Lord of the Rings. Something hard to describe in words but one not to miss or experience. We will be back for sure to explore the many other wonders and mysteries of this land.
We did two separate walks with Phillip of Basque Country Walks. A coastal one and a mountain one.
The coastal walk was breathtaking and the mountain walk included an awesome lunch at a local mountain pub-style restaurant. Philip’s knowledge of the area and planning prowess were both top notch. We’d highly recommend Basque Country Walks to anyone wanting to get out of downtown Donostia (San Sebastian) and truly see the Basque country.
I recently spent 6 days on a self-guided walking tour with friends in the foothills and borderlands of the Basque Pyrenees. It was an unforgettable experience. Philip Cooper’s guidebook and instructions were easy to follow and took us on trails through beautiful, isolated, hills and valleys on the border of Spain and France. The lodging and food (all arranged by Philip) were excellent and the small basque villages are charming. I loved the many farms with horses and sheep along the way, beautiful waterfalls, and wonderful vistas. I highly recommend this trip.
The Baztan-Bidasoa trip Philip has crafted is wonderful…I highly recommend it. Phillip shortened the customary six day, self-guided trip for us by one day. Everything went smoothly and without any problems whatsoever. Great scenery, an excellently prepared guidebook, extremely helpful GPS information, comfortable accommodations and gracious hosts/hostesses – we couldn’t ask for more.
But there is more: Philip himself is wonderfully knowledgeable and deeply committed to Basque culture and history. There was nothing we asked that he couldn’t respond to, whether history, politics, geology, economics, language, etc. And he was absolutely devoted to making sure we were having a great time. This trip is a wonderful experience and a very good value.
My 21-year old daughter and I spent two days hiking with Phillip in the Basque Country. Everything was perfect, from scenery to customer service. Each day, we were treated with care, picked up at our hotel, led a on a beautiful hike, which included lunch in a charming mountain hut or restaurant, and then dropped back off at our hotel at the end of the day. We were able to customize our days, although everything that Phillip suggested sounded great to me. Sarah and I were both energized by the scenery and our interesting conversation about life in Basque Country.
Since we just had a few days, the full day hikes were a perfect way for us to get out in the country by day and still enjoy San Sebastián by night. We will definitely be back for the longer overnight experience!
Karen and Sarah, San Francisco
We recently returned from Philip’s Baztan-Bidasoa route (5 days) and had a fabulous time! The countryside is beautiful, each day’s path was enticing, and there was much to see along the way. The way led from one small Basque village to another and Phillip found wonderful accommodations for us and great food. Philip was very concerned that we had a good experience and was available on email at any time of the day or night if we had questions, both before and during the trip. His guidebook and maps were excellent and we were able to find our way with no trouble. This was an excellent experience and I’m looking forward to going back to try some of the new routes Philip is developing!
On a recent trip to Spain, my friends and I hired Phillip to guide us for one “full” day and one “half” day hike. A significant bike accident prior to arriving to the Basque Country, and pending rain predicted for our full day hike, caused us to alter our hiking location, as well as, hiking length. Phillip took all of this in stride; planning a combo walk and driving tour, to maximize our visit. He was simply wonderful. Responded to every email, met with us the night before to present hiking options, and was thoroughly engaging while traveling/walking about. Highly recommend hiring Phillip Cooper!
Basque Country Walks is not just a trip–it is an experience. Philip Cooper has created an intimate journey through the beautiful landscapes and architecturally stunning villages of the Baztan and Bidisoa valleys of Basque Spain. He has developed this itinerary with the utmost care and this dedication follows you as you transverse the land. Philip’s meticulous and easy to follow guide encourages you to connect to the land and engage with its people. Carefully chosen, small family-run hotels are a window into Basque family life and food prepared from your host’s kitchen (and gathered from their farm or garden) may be offered for your evening meal. While all this is truly lovely, what sets this walking trip apart from others is Philip himself. For him, this is not just a business, it is a calling. Philip’s knowledge of and appreciation for the land and the culture imbues the trip with a spirit of curiosity and enhances one’s understanding of this part of the world. His recommendation of Mark Kurlansky’s, The Basque History Of The World was the perfect companion, providing a fascinating socio-historical context to all we were seeing as we walked. In addition, Philip is a kind, friendly person who goes over and beyond to provide the best possible experience for his clients. Basque Country Walks is not simply a hiking trip, nor is it soley a cultural or culinary experience. Instead, it combines the best of these in a unique, comfortable, worry- free package. We can’t recommend it enough!
Adrian and David, San Francisco, California
Philip Cooper of Basque Country Walks has put together a series of walks with an insiders knowledge, exploring an area with which he is entirely familiar. The result is an exhilarating journey through beautiful scenery, along the way visiting remote villages all of which are of some historic significance. Historic and cultural information is a fascinating inclusion in the meticulously accurate day walk guide notes. The notes incorporating waypoints, and the other walk materials, are professionally presented so that orientation is straightforward.
Overnight venues differ rather charmingly in style, but all offer excellent accommodation, food and drink, plus fellow travellers to swop tales with! I thoroughly enjoyed my trip this year and highly recommend this company. So much so, that I think I shall have to return and explore the several optional alternative routes offered in the walk guides!
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