The Iparla Ridge Hike
Rising above St-Étienne de Baïgorry are wave upon wave of luminous green mountains, including the sheer-sided ridge of Iparla (1056m), which marks the border with Spain. A breathtaking one-day hike (4½ hours without stopping and an elevation gain of 900m) along the edge of this ridge is easily possible for any moderately fit walker. Many experienced Pyrenean walkers describe this as the finest ridge walk in the entire mountain range. You will need a compass, and a Rando Éditions 1:50,000 Pays Basque Ouest map wouldn't go amiss either (this can be obtained at local bookshops and many newsagents). Children may need a helping hand on some of the earlier parts of this walk, but once on the ridge it'll be plain sailing.
The trail begins from the Bordazar Berroa, a traditional Basque farmhouse. To get there, leave St-Étienne de Baïgorry northward on the D948 and after a couple of kilometres take the narrow turn-off to your left towards Urdos and La Bastide. Continue for around 3km, past the second turn-off for Urdos and past the hamlet of La Bastide.
Walk in a northwest direction along the track signed to Iparla. Fifteen minutes later, at the fork with the concrete track, head right in a due west direction. Ten minutes later, just after a stream and a shepherd's hut, the trail starts to climb steeply. At the next fork, head right in a northeast direction. You now appear to be heading away from the ridge. After another five minutes the path bends around the top of a low ridge and starts to head downhill. There should be a water trough on your left and a dirt trail heading upwards in a northwest direction, back towards Iparla. Follow this dirt trail for around 10 minutes until you get to another shepherd's hut/barn, where you turn right along a narrow track heading north-northwest.
After a quarter of an hour you come to a scree slope and the path, which is marked by the odd rock cairn, zigzags sharply upwards and onto the Iparla Ridge, crossing over a fence on the way (ignore the more obvious trail that continues along the flank of the hill). This is the hardest part of the walk – poles are useful! Fifteen minutes of huffing and puffing, and you emerge onto the Iparla Ridge beside an old BF90 marker stone. You are now on a stretch of the GR10, a highly demanding 45-day trek along the entire length of the Pyrenees, but for now things get much easier.
Turn left, following the obvious path and the red and white paint slashes of the GR10 in a westerly, uphill direction, sticking all the time to the ridge edge. Almost straight away you will be rewarded with what you might think are spectacular views, but they're nothing compared to those you'll get in a few minutes when you finally reach the summit of Iparla, which is indicated with a marker post. It goes without saying that you'll rest a while here admiring the incredible views across half the French and Spanish Basque Country, but while you're soaking it all in keep your eyes peeled for the numerous huge griffon vultures and various eagles and hawks that circle in the thermals here.
It's impossible to get lost now. Just dance along the edge of the ridge for around an hour (at one point the trail dips down slightly before rising again), following the red and white GR10 paint slashes all the way. Eventually the path drops sharply downhill, off the ridge, in a southwest direction and reaches a signpost marking the Col d'Harrieta.
Leaving the GR10 behind here (it labours upwards again and onto another ridge), turn left (east) and follow the path downhill through the forest. After around 15 minutes you'll reach a fork and a shepherd's hut. Take the left-hand path (the other one leads to Urdos) in a northwest direction towards the Col de Larrarté. The path turns into a concrete road and, ignoring any turn-offs, descends sharply for half an hour until you return to your car.