St Jean de Luz - out and about
The main beach is that rarest of things – a glorious, sandy, clean and safe town beach, Le Grande Plage
. What’s more, it’s protected by a huge breakwater which means that the surf which pounds this coastline never reaches the bay’s shoreline. As a result, this beach is superb for young families.
"St Jean de Luz has a wondeful beach with a roped off swimming area and is great for the kids. It is also a lovely Basque town well worth a visit
" - Humphries family, June 2010
The beaches to the north of town are more exposed to the surf. Erromardie
is like a north Cornwall beach with good surf and a combination of sand and rocks. There are plenty of campsites in this area so the beach is busy with families during the summer months. As you continue north on the coast path, the beachesLafitenia, Mayarkoenia
become rockier and are more technical surf beaches.
Another great family beach and a better one for body-boarders
and surf beginners
is Hendaye Plage
. This is a glorious 3kms long stretch of golden sand facing the Atlantic.
There are several golf courses
in and around St Jean de Luz – take a look at our Golf in Aquitaine
page for more details. Whilst a relatively new pastime in France, golf has been around in the Basque Country since the 19th century and you won’t find the course snobbery here that you can experience on the Côte d’Azur.
Outside of the main beach in the bay, there is good surfing
at Plages Lafitenia and Erromardie. Take a look at our Surfing in Aquitaine
page for more details.
You’ll also find the opportunity for other watersports
– the protected bay is excellent for windsurfing and just by the breakwater at the Socoa side of the bay, near the fort, is a diving and windsurfing school.
From Quai du Marechal Leclerc, there are deep-sea fishing
excursions andsea cruises
aboard Le Mairie Rose
to Hendaye and San Sebastian.
Popular in these parts is sea-water treatments
and cures, known as thalassotherapy
. There are a couple of centres in St Jean de Luz where you can be assaulted with sea-weed (they probably don’t do that really) and other marine life. We are told that it’s a very relaxing way to spend the day and it’s a popular option for the mums on holiday when the Dads and sons are off surfing or playing golf!
There are several opportunities for tennis
including a mini-complex at both Chantaco and Nivelle golf clubs. Or try something a little more adventurous – Basque Pelote
or Cesta Punta
. The latter is the fastest ball game in the world and there’s a centre in town (Ja? Ala? Campos Berri, Av André Ithurralde) where you can watch the Basques risk life and limb to compete. This is a way of life in the Pays Basque and you’ll see outdoor courts – frontons – all over the area.
A few kms outside of town there’s a handful of horse-riding
centres many of which will offer day or overnight treks in the Pyrénéan foothills.
Children’s Tourist Attractions
Children (and their parents) will appreciate the abundance of activities on offer and great beaches at hand to keep kids occupied and happy. In July & August there is the St Jean de Luz children's beach club
for over 3s. In terms of conventional ‘tourist attractions’ this is not really what the region is about. However, there are some visits worth considering:
La Petite Train de la Rhune
– funicular train to the peak of La Rhune (starts at Ascain).
Les Grottes de Betharram
– guided tours of the caves under the Pyrénées.
There’s also Biarritz Musée de la Mer
and San Sebastian Aquarium
St Jean de Luz has excellent boutiques
and is a favourite for clothes and shoes. There’s also a liberal sprinkling of speciality food shops – chocolates, almond biscuits and gâteau Basque will tempt you! Maison du Kanouga (9 Rue Gambetta), Maison Adam (49 Rue Gambetta) and Pariès (9 Rue Gambetta) are three excellent sweet shops to try.
If you enjoy visiting markets in France, then St Jean de Luz will be a treat for food lovers especially. They’re held every Tuesday and Friday plus Saturday in the summer. There’s also a covered market in Les Halles all year round Monday-to-Saturday plus Sundays in the summer. Ciboure (the other side of the port) has a market on Sunday.
The chefs of St Jean de Luz are noted for their creativity and the town is the capital of Basque cuisine with seafood being a particular speciality – the town did after all thrive as a whaling and fishing community and these sea-faring roots are much evident today – St Jean de Luz remains France’s largest tuna port.
There’s a good choice of eateries and Rue de la République is lined with seafood restaurants displaying their wares.
These are some of the better-known restaurants
and pintxos (Basque tapas) bars*:
Auberge Kaiku, 17 Rue de la République
Muscade, 20 Rue Garat
Au Chipiron, 4 Rue Etchegaray
Pasaka, 11 Rue de la République
Bakea, 9 Place Camille Julian (Ciboure)
Ramuntcho, 24 Rue Garat
Chez Martin, 51 Rue Evariste Baignol (Ciboure)
Taverne Basque, 5 Rue de la République
Chez Maya, 4 Rue St Jacques
Vieille Auberge, 22 Rue Tourasse
Chez Pablo, 5 Rue Mademoiselle-Etcheto
*Bar Le Brouillarta, 48 Promenade Jacques Thibaud
Chez Pantxua, Port de Socoa
*Bar Xaia, Rue de la Fontaine
Chez Théo, 25 Rue de l’Abbé-Onaïndia
*Chez Kako, Les Halles
Ibaïa, 39 Rue Tourasse
*La Taverna du Nesle, 5 Av Labrouche
La Diva, 7 Rue de la République
*Le Majestic, Place Louis XIV
La Grillerie du Port, Quai du Marechal Leclerc - "after reading about it in the Lonely Planet. You need a weeny bit of French, but the food was really the best thing we ate all week, and a meal for 2 and drinks came in at less than 20 euros. It's quite basic, but really fresh and tasty, the kind of real food you don't often get, and has a great view of the harbour and you can watch the fishing boats going out in the evening, sunset over the harbour, all very romantic. And their Basque beer was fab". (thanks to Clair Doran for this contribution)
Le Kayola, 18 Rue de la République
*Le Duke, Place Maurice Ravel
Le Patio, Rue de l’Abbé-Onandia
*Pantxua, 7 Rue Tourasse
Le Peita, Rue Tourasse
*Pub du Corsaire, 16 Rue de la République
La Table des Freres Ibarbooure Maricharenia, chemin de Ttaliena, Guéthary
The above list has been compiled with the help of the Lonely Planet Guide (South West France)
, The Green Guide (Atlantic Coast)
and the Cadogan
Guides – always an excellent and informative read. “Bilbao & The Basque Lands
” is the one to buy.
For nocturnal fun, there’s a casino plus a disco (El Paseo on Av André Ithurralde). This being continental Europe, many bars are open until 2am too.
Arts & Culture
Whilst the town is of course dominated by its Basque heritage, there are some art-deco influences too – the resort flourished in the 1920s and 1930s (as did it’s neighbour, Biarritz). The splendid casino is firmly from the art-deco era and one of the town’s art deco villas – Le?horra – is open for tours (Ciboure, 1 Impasse Muskoa).
To further explore the town’s architecture
, at the port, the elegant Maison de l’Infante is one of the town’s most impressive residences. La Maison Louis XIV (Place Louis XIV) is another beautiful, historic property. The nearby Rue Mazarin is where the ship owners of the 17th century used to live and a few imposing houses remain, notably Maison St Martin at no. 13.
Further afield, Château d’Utrtubie
just off the RN10 on the way to Urrugne, is a 14th century château. On the Basque Coast Road – La Corniche Basque – between St-Jean-de-Luz and Hendaye-Plage, is Domaine d’Abbadia
, the Second Empire home of French scholar Antione Abbadie (1810-97). Both are open to the public
St-Jean Baptiste is rated the best of all Basque churches
. It is also where Louis XIV and Maria Teresa – the Spanish infanta - were married in 1660. The church is found on the main street, Rue Gambetta. Church lovers should also take in the Notre Dame de Socorri pilgrimage chapel at Urrugne. The views from here are stunning and encompass the three big western Pyrénées peaks – La Rhune, Jaozkibel and Les Trois Couronnes.
To further your knowledge of Basque traditions, try the Ecomusée de la Tradition Basque
which is situated on the edge of town just off the RN10.
A number of festivals
and special events
take place in St-Jean-de-Luz throughout the year and these include:
»Danses des Sept Provinces Basque – dancing from the French and Spanish Basque Country, held in late May or early June.
»Fêtes de la St Jean – choral concert, bonfires, music and dancing, held the weekend preceding or following St John the Baptist’s day (Jun 24).
»La Féte du Thon – tuna festival with a mix of music and fireworks, held the first Saturday after 1 July. "The local tuna festival provided a really interesting way into Basque culture as well as a delicious meal",
said the Dearey family.
»Féte du Ttoro – competition to see who can cook the best fish soup (ttoro is a classic Basque dish)! Held the first Saturday in September.
There are some pleasant coastal walks to enjoy either side of the bay. On the Socoa
side of the bay you can walk out to the fort and breakwater to the lighthouse, then out along Rue du Sémaphore for excellent sea views – the view down the cliffs to the shore is not for the faint-hearted! On the north side of the bay is Pointe Ste-Barbe where there is a fine botanical garden on the cliff top.
(between St-Jean-de-Luz and Urrugne) is a delightful floral park and woodland, recommended to visitors who would appreciate botanical gardens.
For day trips to explore the region, there’s a number of other resorts, towns and villages worth visiting.
In the French Basque Country
, there's Biarritz
, Bayonne, Bidart
and the pretty villages ofSare
The proximity of Spain
is a real bonus. A day in San Sebastian sampling its beaches, shopping and superb cuisine is a must. We recommend going by sea – avoid the traffic and take a boat excursion all the way. There’s the Guggenheim museum
in the up-and-coming Bilbao
, plus the infamous streets of Pamplona
For further tourist information about the area beyond St-Jean-de-Luz, please browse our region guides for the French Basque Coast
Lastly, here’s a few words of travel advice when you’re holidaying in St Jean de Luz…
Parking is very difficult in July and August especially. There is a shuttle bus service to reach the town, or hire a bike instead. There’s a train station in the town served by SNCF with regular connections to Biarritz/Bayonne and beyond, as well as south to Spain.
The main route north-south through St Jean de Luz (RN10) is best avoided in the summer, particularly on Saturdays. You’ll soon discover the back roads and miss the worst of the traffic. Also, make the most of being by the sea – there are many excursions up and down the coast (including to San Sebastian in Spain) disembarking from the port.