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The Pyrenees with Michael Portillo | Preview (Channel 5)

On the first leg of his Pyrenean quest, Michael explores the Spanish Basque region, an area that has fought to maintain its own independence and unique culture, and that is integral to Michael’s own heritage.

His Spanish father and Scottish mother met through their shared interest in helping Basque refugee children who had fled to Britain after the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War.

As Michael makes his way into the Basque Country, he visits Beñat and Iñaki Alberdi, whose family have been hand-making makilas — the traditional Basque walking stick — since 1948.

They present Michael with his own bespoke makila as a symbol of respect from the Basque people, and to wish him well on his walk. Michael proceeds to the border with France to meet Santiago Elizagoien, a retired Basque smuggler who survived the harsh post-war years by trading in untaxed contraband between Spain and France.

Santiago shows how the Basques used their mountain knowledge to cover their tracks, and Michael and Santiago picnic at the former offices of the border police.

Michael continues to the Basque village of Zubieta, where he meets Georgina Howard, a British writer who gained acceptance into the infamously private community by learning the Basque language Euskara.

They visit a traditional house with livestock on the ground floor and enjoy local cider, a hearty lunch and songs at the village tavern. Michael later encounters a Basque miller who enjoys a life of solitude, and he then continues to the beautiful Baztan Valley to meet a student who embraces the area’s mythical beliefs.

Finally, Michael endures an icy wind as he climbs the Alto de Belate, revisiting a part of the pilgrimage route — the Santiago de Compostela — that he took over 20 years ago at a time when he was questioning his own identity.

The Pyrenees with Michael Portillo begins Tuesday 22nd August on Channel 5.


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