French Basque Country Region Guide

Sophistication, superb beaches & great cuisine

French Basque Country is where mountains meet ocean. Where the Silver Coast's endless beaches give way to rocky coves, world-class surf and the Spanish border. Stylish seaside resorts and pretty villages clinging to the rolling green foothills. The home of the Basques; the ancient folk of Europe who preserve their own language and traditions to this day. We're finding that a number of Côte d'Azur regulars are converting to la Côte Basque - why not find discover why?

OUR PERSONAL HIGHLIGHTS

We've picked out five 'must-dos' when on holiday in French Basque Country:
  • Soak up café life on the Grande Plage in Biarritz
  • A hike to the summit of la Rhune - and the panoramic views from the top
  • Watching local kids playing chistera at the village fronton after school
  • A fresh seafood supper at one of Ciboure's vibrant portside restaurants
  • A cliff-top walk along the Route de Corniche between St Jean & Hendaye
 
Cafe culture at Biarritz Grande Plage
Surfing Biarritz

Finding Accommodation

Alternative Aquitaine is a regional holiday rental specialist offering a wide selection of Basque Country holiday rentals and Basque Country vacation rentals, including villas and villas with pools.  

Get in touch now - we have a selection of accommodation in the French Basque Country to suit every requirement! 

Call us on +44(0)1395 576655 or send us a mail to tell us what you're looking for.

Alex, Justin & Bethan are here to help you find your perfect accommodation....

ACTIVITIES

You won't be short of things to do in French Basque Country but if you want to just mooch about on the beach or at your villa, that is certainly possible too! 

The truth is, though, that many visitors to this corner of France have 'done' the Côte d'Azur and are seeking a more discerning holiday experience. Indeed, the rest of France look upon the Basque Country with a degree of envy; its range of sports, its mountains, oceans and seductive climate all make it an extremely desirable location all year round. 

Beaches
Rocky & secluded coves or long sandy beaches are on offer. The most family-friendly beach of the region is in St Jean de Luz (town beach - La Grande Plage) - the others tend to pick up good surf. Take a look at Anthony Peregrine's 
Best Beaches in French Basque Country article from the Telegraph. 

Surfing
From summer schools for beginners to life-endagering winter reef Big Wave breaks for semi-pros. The surf is reliable throughout the year and the reefs off St-Jean-de-Luz are home to some of Europe's Big Wave riders. For more info, take a look at our Surfers page. Windsurfingdiving and sailing are also popular particularly in the bays at St-Jean-de-Luz and Hendaye.

Golf
8 excellent courses including the second oldest on the continent. You can buy a Biarritz Golf Pass which gives you 5 green fees for the price of 4. Compared to the South of France the courses are quiet and less expensive yet the standard is very high. For more info, take a look at our Golfers page or call us - we have played all the courses.

Horse-trekking
You have a choice of scenery whether its beach, countryside or mountain foothills. There are a couple of organisations we can recommend, who specialise in treks through the Pyrénéan foothills including overnight stays.

Hiking, Nature & the Mountains
Fresh air, nature and freedom in the Pyrénées. Guided or group walks are available - check with local tourist information offices. The 25km coastal path to Hendaye starts at Erretegia beach at Bidart. White-water rafting,paragliding and bird-watching are other ways to enjoy this natural haven. For nature-lovers there's also the Izadia Ecology Park in Anglet to visit.

Spa & thalassotherapy
If your bones are aching or if you simply want a little pampering, seawater cures are a regional speciality. There are centres in the all the main coastal resorts.

Shopping
In Biarritz, St-Jean-de -Luz & San Sebastian you'll have a selection of fine boutiques to choose from. For less pressure on your wallet, there are duty free shopping posts at several border crossings on the Pyrénées such as the Col d'Ibardin.

 

PLACES & SIGHTS TO SEE

One of the best ways to experience this beautiful, distinctive land, is to join a half-day or full-day guided tour. Here's a good place to start for guided tours in the French Basque Country.

Biarritz
Unabashed seaside chic without the Côte d'Azur's pretence. There are few places that can match Biarritz's eclecticism, where surfers mix with 'les riches'. Belle Époque Biarritz gained popularity in the 19th century when Europe's rich and famous bathed and rested here. Today it's vibrant once again, offers exceptional beaches, top quality golf and surf, fine shops, restaurants, museums and arts. Read Alternative Aquitaine's Biarritz Guide

St Jean de Luz
Vibrant fishing port and French Basque Country's culinary capital. St-Jean has long been in the shadow of its more famous neighbour, Biarritz, but to many its understated style makes it a firm favourite. The French and Spanish have been drawn to this town for years but you'll hardly notice a Brit here even in summer. It's a jewel. Read Alternative Aquitaine's St-Jean-de-Luz Guide

Bayonne
Culture, ramparts, museums - plus plenty of ham & chocolates! This vastly underrated city is the capital of the French Basque Country. It's just a few kms inland from Biarritz but picks up only a trickle of tourists. However, it's a great place for a day's culture and shopping, including visits to the 12th century cathedral and the musées Bonnat & Basque. In mid-August the city goes mad - the Bayonne Festival is in full swing! Bayonne Tourist Office.

Bidart/Guéthary
Traditional and picturesque seaside villages hugging the Côte Basque cliffs. A great place for spending time at the ocean and enjoying a long lunch or dinner. You will be spoilt for choice when it comes to events in Bidart throughout the summer; there are all types of musical concerts, regional produce fairs, local artists regularly displaying their work in the town square, open air cinema, and, of course, Pelote. There will be ample opportunity to experience Mutixko, the vibrant Basque jig-type dance, which is performed in pairs, lines or circles, often accompanied by traditional Basque instruments. 

Beautiful villages
Pelota, berets & beautiful architecture. To really sample how most Basques live, you need to get out in the country. The great thing is, it's only a short drive from the coast to reach hillside villages such as Sare and Ascain. Ainhoa is the best of all though and is voted one of France's Top 50 prettiest villages. A stroll down its ancient high street will tell you why.

La Rhune
The mythical Pyrénéan peak overlooks the Basque Country and something of a legend in these parts. It can be reached by La Petit Train de La Rhune tourist train or on foot - the latter of course is all the more satisfying. 

Spain
San SebastianPamplona & Bilbao are on your doorstep. San Sebastian is the Spanish Basque Country's equivalent to Biarritz - a wonderfully stylish town, culinary haven and one of the finest town beaches in Europe. Bilbao is worth a trip thanks to the Guggenheim.
 

CUISINE

Where to Eat
St-Jean-de-Luz/Ciboure bring in the fish which are rated amongst Europe's finest (so says Rick Stein). The Basques love their fish soups (ttoro) and stews (marmitako) in particular. 

Restaurant recommendations - as provided by owners and clients alike. There are many more provided in our resort guides.

La Galupe - Urt - between Bayonne and Peyrehorad just south of the Adour.
Tante Ursule - Cambo-les-Bains - you need to book in advance
Le Bayonnais - 38, quai des Corsaires, Bayonne 05 59 25 61 19 . Traditional Baque food, terrace overlooking the river. Recommended by Jo Valentine 2010 "Excellent food"

Pimento
The staple ingredient in many Basque dishes and it brings a little extra spice; if you see the suffix "Basquaise" on a menu, it will have been given the full tomato/pepper/garlic treatment. In Autumn you can see red peppers hanging out to dry across the region; if you're in the region in October you can enjoy the Espelette red pepper festivalBiPia is a goldmine of information about all things Basque and spicy, and you can visit their museum in Larressore, near Espelette.

Local Wines
Tthe principal wine of the region is Irouleguy; the reds are good and very hard to come by in the UK. Of course, hop over the mountains and you are into Rioja country. To cool off, try the local (beer) brew, 'Oldarki'. It's pink. It's deadly. 

Pintxos
Being this close to Spain, tapas is easy to find. The Basque Country - quelle surprise - has its own version of tapas called pinchos or pintxos.

Chocolate 
Another regional speciality. In Bayonne you will find the nation's most reputed chocolatiers - a hot chocolate on one of the side streets is an essential part of any visit here. And for the chocoholics, there's even a museum of chocolate in Biarritz

Cheese
Try the mountain sheeps' cheese, brebis - it's traditionally served with a blackcurrant jelly. 

Gateau Basque
Black cherries also feature in the waist-expanding gâteau Basque, a slice of heaven to be found in all boulangeries. It's more of an 'almond-y biscuit' than a cake - or at least that's how we justify their ongoing consumption when we're there. Head to the Gateau Basque Musuem in Sare - a gorgeous village too.

You'll also find all the staples of south west France, notably duck and goose in all of its formats.

 

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