The Basque mountain battered by the influx of visitors

“Madness!” » In Karrika Nagusia – the main street -, “We had up to 10,000 passers-by on certain days in July and August”, exclaims Annie Etcheverry, a resident of Espelette (Pyrénées-Atlantiques). To the point of saturating once again the town that some qualify as “Chilli Lourdes”. But this tourist season, which officially ends on All Saints’ Day, was exceptional. Because the visitors have also poured en masse on the surrounding Pyrenees. A good deal for traders and restaurateurs, but also a source of discontent in the region, sometimes battered by the influx of visitors.

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To the east of Espelette, Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port has confirmed its reputation. “We had a lot of hiking enthusiasts, even more than in 2019, with a number of Parisians, Bretons and Bordelais, but this year few foreigners, says Florence Steunou, advisor at the city’s tourist office. In the context of the health crisis, the Basque coast and Biarritz have refueled so well that many families have left the overcrowded seaside resorts for villages close to the coast (Ascain, Sare, Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle, Ainhoa) . Destination: the mountain of La Rhune and its 905 meters, the most visited site in the Basque Country with nearly 400,000 travelers per year on its cogwheel train.

Overcrowding, waste, damaged flora have been observed in Haute-Soule, where the peaks approach 2,000 meters

Throughout the summer, the paths have never been empty. “We have organized up to 200% more hikes in July and August”, estimates the association “Mendi Lagunak” of Ascain. This craze has further disturbed the local flora and fauna. In August, the four shepherds of Sare and Ascain had to descend their sheep from the summer pastures in advance: “The hikers trample the pastures, bring their dogs off leash and the sheep scatter far from the tracks”, complains the shepherd Patxi Etxart. The regulars of the massif also point out the papers, the droppings or the frightened pottoks (wild horses). At the end of August, it was even necessary to use a helicopter to get two vacationers out of the brambles in which they were entangled.

Overcrowding, waste, damaged flora have also been observed in Haute-Soule, where the peaks approach 2,000 meters. Destination for Sunday excursions, the places are by no means cut out for more or less well prepared groups. The mayor of Larrau, Jean-Dominique Idiart, denounces the incivism of visitors, not always from outside. “The municipal agent must pick up the rubbish deposited here and there in the town” which, over its 12,680 steep hectares, has only 197 inhabitants.

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