Village St Pee sur Nivelle
Maeva Mirol

Senpere: the cradle of Basque pelota


As a village, Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle is very spread out and divided into different quarters. It has experienced some major events during the course of its history and was the centre of witch hunts that were rampant at one time in the Basque Country. On a brighter note, Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle is also the home of the iconic willow chistera basket used to play a particular version of Basque pelote.

Today, Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle is a charming village with its lake that has become a popular spot for walking and other activities.

Its quarters

Senpereko auzoguneak

The municipality of Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle is very spread out, so the little quarters took on a life of their own and gradually developed around the village centre.

The village centre : the heart of the village

The main road goes through the centre of Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle. It is lined with many shops and beautiful half-timbered houses. The fronton is in the central square and it is here that the most important events take place, especially games of pelote using the “petit gant”.

There is a pleasant walk around the village to visit the riverbank park along the Nivelle, the imposing church, and the roman bridge of Utsalea.




The Ibarron quarter

When you arrive from Saint-Jean-de-Luz, you go through the quarter of Ibarron, a very lively neighbourhood with its own small fronton. The “Senpertars” (inhabitants of Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle) love to come here and enjoy “hitting the ball” before meeting up with friends in the nearby bars.

It is also the starting point for many hiking trails, most notably the one to Mount Barbe

The Amotz quarter

When you arrive from Sare, you go through the little quarter of Amotz. It is a little hamlet arranged around the fronton. Stopping over to visit the chapel of Arotz is a definite must.

As you go around the municipality of Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle, you discover the quarters of Serres, Hergaray, Olha and also Cherchebruit.

A village of witches?

Sorginak Senperen ?

At the beginning of the 17th century, the King of France heard that there had been acts of witchcraft in the Basque Country so he sent a delegation led by Pierre de Lancre, a judge from Bordeaux. They then moved in to the Castle of Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle and began observing the Basque people.


Witchcraft or Basque culture?

Life in the Basque Country was already a little different from other regions insomuch as it was mainly a matriarchal society. The men, who were nearly all sailors, were in Canada for six months of the year hunting whales.

This way of living, which included fireside vigils, the use of a strange language, Basque songs and dances, led the magistrate to think that the whole region was infested with witches. And so began the trials for witchcraft…

Hunting the witches

On 2 July 1609, the travelling court comprising a judge, a donkey and two surgeons arrived in Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle. The witch hunt began throughout the Basque country and hundreds of women (the exact number is unknown) were burned at the stake. The constant process of holding trials and the subsequent massacre lasted for three months, but fortunately it was prematurely interrupted by the return of the sailors who rebelled and sent Pierre de Lancre back to Bordeaux.

The Oroitmina Memorial by Nestor Basterretxea

Aujourd’hui le château de Saint-Pée est toujours en ruine au centre du village. Juste à côté a été édifié un mémorial afin de commémorer cette période sombre de l’Histoire du Pays Basque. Cette sculpture prône la tolérance et le devoir de mémoire pour rendre hommage aux victimes innocentes de ces procès.


Today, the castle of Saint-Pée is a ruin in the centre of the village. Just next to it is the monument that commemorates this dark period in the history of the Basque Country. This sculpture promotes tolerance and the duty of remembrance, and pays tribute to the innocent victims of these trials.



The cradle of Basque Pelote

The legend of the willow glove

The Chistera, the large willow glove used to play this version of Pelota, was invented in St Pée sur Nivelle.

It was a 13 year-old boy who, watching his elders weaving willow baskets, had the idea of using them as a glove to catch and throw the Pelota ball. These baskets are called Xistera in Basque.

One thing led to another and the best players of the time began using the Xistera and so new versions of Basque Pelote were developed, like Cesta Punta.

The Pelota & Xistera Ecomuseum

The origins of the Xistera and of all the other Basque Pelota (ball) games are described in the museum.


Basque Pelote is the generic name used to describe a sport that is played in a range of specialised versions. They are each named after the “implement” used: Pala (bats of various designs), Main Nue (bare hand), Xare or Chistera. There are 21 different types of Basque Pelota and each game has its own rules and is played on its own specific courts, for example the Jai-Alai, Trinquet and Fronton.

A visit to the Pelota & Xistera Ecomuseum will reveal all the secrets of this emblematic sport, including how a Xistera and Pelota are made.

You will be able to watch extracts from famous pelote matches and discover the faces of great champions projected on a giant screen.

Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle Lake

Located just 2Km from the village centre, Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle Lake is hidden away in the countryside. It is fed by 4 streams and covers 12 hectares. It is maintained all year round. An easy 3-kilometre walk will take you around the lake.

The outdoor activities centre has canoes and kayaks, pedal boats and water slides. Swimming is monitored by lifeguards in July and August. There are several playground areas available for children along the 700m lakeside beach.

There is also a fitness circuit, 2 tennis courts, a fishing spot, picnic tables and parking for campervans.

There is a charge for parking at the entrance and around the lake from 15th June to 15th September.

Dogs are not allowed on the beach but are allowed on leads around the lake.

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