With its iconic beret, famous pepper and countless “frontons” – courts where Basque pelota is played – the Basque Country has always been a land of tradition and character. Delve into the heart of this heritage during a visit to the Irouléguy wine region.
In the south west of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, nestled in the shadow of the Pyrenees, sit 250 hectares of vines that span 15 communes. In valleys beside the border with Spain, the white of the traditional houses stands in sharp contrast to the greenery of the countryside, surrounded by herds of goats and water that flows from the mountain peaks. Here you can almost sense the Basque soul as it echoes from one mountain to the next.
This natural paradise is also home to an extensive network of local artisans and producers. From AOC Ossau Iraty cheese to traditionally farmed Banka trout and AOC Kintoa ham, produced by Pierre Oteiza in the Aldudes, this wine region proudly represents the very best of Basque gastronomy. The area’s towns and villages serve as a shop window for local handicrafts, with hand stitched espadrilles, colourful household textiles and Navarre pottery competing for attention alongside chocolate and soaps. Located on the Santiago de Compostela route, these villages also contain some stunning buildings, such as the Porte de Saint-Jacques, a gate classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, and St-Étienne-de-Baïgorry church, listed as a historic monument.
First planted here in the Middle Ages to quench the pilgrims’ thirst, vines have since gained a firm foothold on the mountain terraces. This distinctive topography is ideal for organic, manual viticulture. In summer Domaine Brana, reputed for its wines and eaux-de-vie, opens its cellar – housed within a Navarraise tower – to visitors, allowing them a unique introduction to these techniques. In St-Étienne-de-Baïgorry you’ll find Cave d’Irouléguy, the largest producer of AOC basque wine representing around 40 winemakers. With its sensory trail and tasting area in its shop, this cooperative introduces visitors to the unique characteristics of this wine region.
But to get a real sense of the Basque spirit that flows through this south-west corner of Nouvelle-Aquitaine you need to spend some time in the region. Hotel Arcé, which has been in the same generation for five generations, offers the very best in local hospitality, whether you stay for a weekend break or dine in its excellent restaurant. One thing is certain: you will return home enchanted by this special destination and with a deep appreciation for all that the Basque Country has to offer.
La Cave d’Irouléguy
cd 15, Route St Jean Pied de Port
Tel: +33 (0)5 59 37 41 33