Donibane Lohitzune – St Jean de Luz has many places worth seeing nestled in its green sea-salt-licked hills. For example, Château Observatoire Abbadia, dotted with stone animals from snails to snakes and crocodiles, lies just east of the bustling summer beaches.
The castle was named for its observatory and its original owner Antoine D’Abbadie, an enthusiast of geography and astronomy and oriental culture, who was born in Dublin to an Irish mother and a Basque father. He sketched the first map of Ethiopia after spending over a decade in the aromatic land, researching the origin of the Nile River and the cartography of the night skies.
When he later returned to explore his heritage in the Basque Country, he helped to rebirth the Basque games in Urrugne, co-authored a Basque grammar book, and received the honorary title from his neighbours of “Euskaldenaita”–Father of the Basque people.
His castle in his father’s homeland holds an astronomical observatory, and at his death he bequeathed it to the French Academy of Sciences, which still holds the property and the castle today.
Ten minutes away, in Urrugne, Château d’Urtubie is tucked in the beautiful countryside, a historic castle visited by the likes of Louis XI who lauded its “charme, le vrai”. I plan to return to its onion-topped turrets and discover more of another “Monument Historique” in Lapurdi of Euskal Herria. Watch this space for details!
Words & Photos by Jonathan McCallum