Saturday, July 17, 2010


View from the Citadel

View from the Citadel

The Citadel

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, whose name literally means “Saint John at the foot of the mountain pass” in French.

The town has traditionally been an important point on the Way of St. James, the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela (it is the pilgrims' last stop before the arduous mountain crossing). This would explain the loads of people I saw walking around town in full hiking garb and packs.

The medieval town lies on the Nive river and is situated close to the Spanish border, only 8km away. As a result , it was heavily fortified with imposing stone walls. A citadel, built in 1628, overlooks the town and dominates the valley below. The heavy town walls run the hill to join with the corners of the citadel. The views from the citadel and the town are spectacular, and I would definitely recommend a visit.

An abundant assortment of great cafes, restaurants and French Basque country shops, (Basque linen shope in particular) could be found throughout the town. There was also an amazing spice store which I completely fell in love with - they had an amazing selection of different spice marinades and mixtures, the smells were fantastic!

I also got the chance to try some of the local cheese. Saint Jean Pied de Port specializes in cheese made from sheeps's milk, specifically Brebis de Pyrenees and Ossau-Iraty.

Brebis de Pyrenees – A hard, dry cheese of medium strength with a thick yellow/orange rind. I was told this cheese is best in the spring when the cheese was produced from floral fall milk and given half a year to deepen in flavour: sweet, almost caramelly, with grassy nutty undertones. Would work well with a full bodied dry white or full bodied red with some spice.

Ossau-Iraty – A delicious, nutty and robust cheese that is both smooth and sweet. The exterior resembles that of large rusty stepping stones while the interior is light and straw coloured. Would pair well with some yummy dried fruit and a bottle of Bordeaux!