Family Farm Stay in the South West of France

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Country Farm Stay in Les Aldudes 

We stayed in Aldudes, a small village in the French part of the Basque Country about half an hour to the Spanish border. No one speaks Spanish there and it felt like people even preferred Basque to French. The French are a proud nation, but we had the impression that the Basque pushed it even a bit further. We were in Spain just before and as soon as we crossed the border, prices doubled for most things like the food in the supermarkets and restaurants. Everyone has been quite friendly but the French are just a little bit more reserved, especially when travelling with a kid. We decided to stay on a farm as Theo loves animals and we love spending time outdoors. It was a great stay and so much fun for the whole family.

Hiking

There are many hiking trails available in the region and most started from Aldudes, where we were staying; we did a couple of the smaller 2-3km hikes. After climbing for about 500 meters, we arrived on top of the mountains surrounding the village with stunning views of the area. We watched the cows and sheep along the way until we reached a fenced area with horses and Basque pigs (Euskal Txerri). Theo’s favourites were the piglets!

The area had so many hikes to choose from, ranging in difficulty from easy to athletic. One of the most popular ones is The Green Way from Salies de Béarn to Castagnéde, which is just under 7km. The hike follows the route of an old railway and is mostly shaded and colourful as the leaves begin to change in the autumn. Another extremely popular route is The Bastide Clairence, a 10km circuit in the Basque Hills that leads through the Ayherre to the valley of Arbéroue.

Basque Cake (Gâteau Basque or Etxeko Biskotxa)

As it was my birthday, Theo and Oli got me a birthday cake when they came back from an afternoon walk. Theo was supposed to keep it a secret, which his dad was telling him the entire walk back to the house. As soon as they walked in, Theo got so excited and told me straight away about the cake! Now that the cat was out of the bag, we got to enjoy my birthday cake. While the Basque cake does not look like anything special, it just tastes amazing! The perfect blend of pastry cream and crumbly layers topped with almond flavour just melted in our mouths. Theo asked for a second slice and the sugar high made him run around for two hours afterwards. Do you remember the Duracell Bunny? Yep, you’ve got the right idea!

The Basque Cake is a traditional dessert that originated in the North Basque region. Dating back to the 18th century, the cake was formerly made with bread and referred to as ‘bistochak’ before different variations flavoured variations were brought back from sea and the traditional recipe was eventually developed. The dessert is typically made with black cherry jam in the North Basque region of France and pastry cream in the South Basque region of Spain.

Tractor Train Mountain (Le Petit Train du Baigura)

Every good town in France has a Tchou Tchou Train, so obviously we found a train running about 40 minutes away from where we were staying. We also read about the downhill scootering (ATV-Arapaho) in the area but went there with the expectation to have a kids morning for Theo.

To our surprise, they rented out downhill scooters that were certainly not for kids! Oli got very excited as he has never tried one before; naturally, he signed up for the tour and we all went on the tchou tchou train that took us up the Baigura mountains. Theo has been going on about tractors since we arrived on the farm so this train was just the ultimate entertainment for him. A tractor was pulling the train carriages up the mountain. He was in toddler heaven.

The train trip started at the bottom and took us 897 meters above sea level. We went through the clouds and suddenly got worried that it might be cold on top of the mountain, as I didn’t pack any jumpers. To our surprise, we went above the clouds and it was sunny and warm on top with an amazing 360-degree view over the Atlantic coast and the Pyrenees.

The other passengers on the train got off on top to either walk down the 8km hike or took the downhill scooter on the single trek. Theo and I were the only passengers going down with the train, which meant we had a private tour guide explaining the different mountaintop, flora and fauna; especially the vultures that are unique to the area. He also showed us the wild horses that live in the area.

Baigura Leisure Centre

Coming back to the base at the Baigura Leisure Centre, there is a restaurant and playground to entertain everyone. We finished off a great morning with a tasty burger and chips while waiting for Oli to come down the mountain.

The Baigura Leisure Centre offers a variety of year-round activities. They offer a number of exciting outdoor activities to see the region, including paragliding, scooters, rock climbing and marked hiking trails. Other activities include Tree Climbing and a Meeting with a Shepherd. When you’re all adventured out, you can take advantage of the bar-restaurant and picnic areas, as well as massages!

Local Produce

During our farm stay, we saw many local produce factories and shops throughout the area; from meat with their own free-range pig farm to cheese factories, a trout farm and more. The food in France is already extremely tasty but the local produce was even better! It’s prepared to perfection with the option to see where the food is coming from.

One morning, we visited the local trout farm. This wasn’t just some small pond, but a big, family-run fish production. It was interesting to see the ponds for different ages of the fish. There was also a small museum explaining the history of the trout farm. Unfortunately, we went there on a Sunday when the shop was closed; however, I am sure it would be worth going there during the week and sampling some of their tasty products.

The ‘Truite De Banka’, also known as the Farm of Banka, is a beautiful and wild farm located in the heart of the Basque Country. Dating back to the 17th century, the exceptional quality of water allowed them to set up a trout farm on site. Over the last 50 years, the family farm is known for its fresh trout like no other.

Staying on the Farm

We booked an Airbnb on a farm in Aldudes. The lovely couple that owns the place rented out a separate part of their farmhouse; they had sheep and a sheepdog. Every morning, Theo ran out of the door to say good morning to the sheep. It was great entertainment for him to see the sheep being herded every evening and the owner driving around in his tractor. We went for a lot of walks around the farm grounds, exploring the different types of machinery, tools and flowers. Farm holidays meant family fun for us and overall, it was an amazing experience.

 

Photos by Oli Russell-Cowan

Accommodation near Les Aldudes, France

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Kat Russell-Cowan

Kat Russell-Cowan is a German expat IT professional with a passion for travel. A mini sabbatical has been her answer to living with a travel bug and holding a corporate job. Taking a break every two years to explore the world has kept her sane. As Kat worked for SAP more than 10 years her managers have always been supportive of her time off. It is great to see that big corporations move more towards the concept of 'life leave'. Kat and Oli welcomed their baby son Theo in early 2017. The lucky parents found out that he inherited her love for travelling and his Dad's adventurous personality. This kid had serious FOMO when Oli went ziplining or on the 40m waterslide during their travels. Unbelievably there are many experiences a toddler can join in already. Kat had the best maternity leave ever travelling for 5 months as a family. Theo was 11 weeks old when they packed up their belongings to start their NZ and Europe trip. Enjoying the quality time as a family she decided to quit the corporate job to join Rad Season. Combining work, family and travel is her idea of living the dream. Kat, Oli and Theo are on a mission to visit as many festivals as possible as a family.

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