Hergarai valley, part of the Pays de Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, is the entrance to Iraty forest, through Saint-Jean-Le-Vieux. In this valley, you can find the villages of Mendive, Béhorléguy and Lecumberry.
The Gamia pass, a well-known place to stop for a gastronomic break, and the Bascassan hamlet with its citadel, are also places that will make your holiday memorable.
Not to be missed
A story from the valley
Located in Ahaxe-Alciette-Bascassan village are twin chapels. The most renowned is Saint André de Bascassan chapel, in the Bascassan quarter. This 12th century chapel is one of the last to still have a benoîterie. This small house adjoined to the chapel was home of the benoîte, who looked after the church and cemetery Marie-Louise Cadiou, the last benoîte in the northern Basque Country lived in the Bascassan benoîterie until 1991.
Her presence still lingers through her neighbours’ recollections of her and a wire, connecting the first floor of the benoîterie to the chapel’s only bell. Marie-Louise, always full of ideas, had set up this wire, allowing her to ring the bell (which was part of her job), whilst remaining in bed! The chapel’s magnificent altarpiece and painted ceiling are a highlight of the visit.
Mendive and Béhorléguy
Not far from Bascassan, in Mendive, Iraty forest still bears the traces of its sawmill industry. In the 1920s, the Mendive sawmill operated using the forest’s beech trees and employed almost 400 people in the valley.
Béhorléguy village is dominated by the Béhorléguy peak, easily recognisable by its needle-like shape. Watch where you step in Béhorléguy, as the village also contains the Apanicé chasm. This chasm, which is over 300 m deep, is a joy for potholing enthusiasts.
The legends of the Hergarai valley
The legend of Xaindia
Xaindia, a young servant girl who worked in a large house in the valley, went out one night to search for a tool she’d left in the fields. Unfortunately, she was kidnapped by the night spirits! As she was being whisked away in the air, the young girl spotted a small chapel below her, and, as a last resort, she said a prayer asking for help. Miraculously, the spirits then abandoned her at the Saint-Sauveur d'Iraty chapel. In popular Basque culture, the only way to thwart a spirits power is through Christian religion.
Here is another who was caught in this trap.
Basajaun and the shepherd
Basajaun, the lord of the mountain, supposedly lives in the Iraty mountains. It was rumoured that he owned a magnificent golden chandelier. One day, a reckless and somewhat greedy shepherd decided to steal the chandelier. When Basajaun noticed the theft, he went after the young thief. On seeing Basajaun rapidly catching up with him, the thieving shepherd decided to hide his loot in the Saint-Sauveur chapel. Basajaun could never enter the chapel, and it is said that the chandelier can still be found there today.
Laminak are elves in Basque mythology. Afraid of sunlight, they are considered to be great nocturnal builders. Legend has it that in just one night they were able to build the fortified house of Donamartia in Lecumberry.