Hotel Manexenea, St Etienne.
St Etienne to Bidarray: 15km, 5.5hrs; ascent 960m descent 1030m
Low-level option to Bidarray: 13km, 4.5hrs; ascent 565m descent 635m
The walk starts with a strenuous ascent first through woodland then through open grazing land to the Harietta Pass on the border with Spain, where you are rewarded with superb views of the Pyrenean chain, and possibly the sighting of a griffon vulture. You then follow the ridge, descending gradually through more pastureland to Bidarray and the Hotel Noblia. If the weather is poor, a low-level alternative traverses the foothills to the east of the Iparla ridge, connecting hamlets, farms and shepherds’ huts on open moorland and ridges with good views over green valleys.
Bidarray to Itxassou: 19km, 6.5hrs; ascent/descent 1065m
Shorter option to Itxassou: 15km, 5.5hrs; ascent/descent 685m
You ascend towards the Spanish border once more and on to the summit of Mount Artzamendi (926 metres), from where, on a clear day, you have views of the High Pyrenees behind you and the Atlantic ahead of you. You then descend through grazing land and expanses of bracken to the River Nive, which you follow to Itxassou, passing the Pas de Roland, a hole in the rock which, according to legend, was cut by Roland to let the Charlemagne army pass through. Your hotel is the Hotel du Fronton. The shorter option bypasses the climb to Artzamendi, and joins the main route as it crosses the Plateau Vert.
Itxassou to Ainhoa:15km, 5hrs; ascent 700m, descent 675m
The route leads uphill through pasture land, passing under the Pic de Mondarrain (749 metres). There are good views as you descend of the whitewashed villages on the plain below, with the Atlantic beyond. Your destination is the Hotel Argi Eder in Ainhoa, arguably the prettiest of Basque villages.
Ainhoa to Sare: 13km, 4hrs; ascent 290m, descent 335m
This is a gentler walk, with fewer ascents and descents than previous days. You follow tracks and country lanes alongside a series of streams, ascending gently to a low ridge which you follow along the Franco-Spanish border, passing a couple of tiny hamlets, before descending into Sare, where you find your next hotel, the Hotel Arraya.
Sare to Biriatou: 19km, 7hrs; ascent 515m, descent 1260m
You walk to the station and from here take the cog railway (pay locally) to the summit of La Rhune (900 metres), which affords views of the Bay of Biscay, the forests of Les Landes, and the Pyrenean chain. From the summit, you walk into Spain, crossing the Ibardin Pass back into France for a series of ascents and descents as you walk from pass to pass and on to Biriatou, just a couple of miles from the coast. Here, your hotel is Les Jardins de Bakea.
Biriatou to Hondarribia: 15km, 6hrs; ascent 400m, descent 810m
Shorter option: 7km, 2.5hrs
On your last day, you are taken by taxi across the border to the Spanish port of Hondarribia; or you can choose to be dropped off to enjoy a rewarding walk along a panoramic path overlooking the coast (or opt for a shorter stroll) to reach your final night’s accommodation, the Hotel Obispo.
Your arrival at the sea brings a real sense of achievement and to make this extra special, we recommend upgrading to a more spacious superior room, with views across the bay. Charming Hondarribia sits on the mouth of the River Bidasoa, its modern waterfront hiding the atmospheric Old Town. Wander along the streets of the Barrio de la Marina district to find traditional, wood-beamed Basque houses with flower-bedecked balconies alternating with bars that offer excellent seafood and tasty pintxos (like tapas). Add an extra night here and you also have time to visit the elegant Spanish resort of San Sebastián.
To extend your holiday, why not add on a couple of nights in Bordeaux if you are flying via this important wine city?