Some things are a lot easier now than they used to be. We went to Spain today and the only way we knew were in a different country was because the gas was much cheaper and an attendant insisted on pumping it for us – just like going from New York to New Jersey.
We were visiting the town of Zugarramurdi, where more than 300 people were investigated for witchcraft during the Inquisition in 1600. It is admitted here that the town was a bit isolated and still stuck in the pagan rituals they had practiced for centuries. They had not gotten the memo about new rituals being the only ones you could practice, so many of them died unpleasant deaths.
They are milking the tourist value of witchery now, and the tourist highlight are the caves where a lot of the dark arts were evidently practiced. The grotto is lovely, but wouldn’t want to be there at night pre-electricity.
The town was also lovely. It is very close to where we are staying, but the architecture is sufficiently different and quite striking. The Basque style almost seems alpine here, and the church was very impressive. We could see La Rhune, the mountain we ascended yesterday. Guess the witches they kept from there had to hide out in Zugarramurdi.
So all in all, it was a lot easier to get out of Zugarramurdi alive today than in 1600.
For lunch, we went to the nearby town of Ainhoa. Ainhoa and Sare (where we are staying) together with Zugarramurdi and and another Spanish town, Urbazubi, form a cross-border territory straddling the border with Spain. It is a passage for the Way of St. James, and we saw several groups of pilgrims passing along the main street, one of the oldest trade and pilgrimage routes between Spain and France. The town is filled with 17th and 18th century homes in immaculate condition.
And then it was back to Sare, with an important side trip to the museum of le Gâteau Basque. It’s not enough to just eat this delicious Basque cake. We also went to a lesson on its construction and meaning. This was all in French, of course, but we were helped with sidebars from the chef, who worked at the Peninsula Hotel in New York for many years. He got a kick out of teasing us with New York trivia. Fun to watch, a bit educational – the bits we understood – and yummy to eat the results. All that you need to know about the Basque country can be summed up in an iconic piece of cake…