Find all the places you cannot miss on your French Basque Country itinerary.
We are often searching for new places to visit with no big preparation. With all the facilities that low-cost airlines are giving, the more and more we are always visiting the same places. Now it is possible to meet someone from your hometown everywhere if there is a Ryanair or EasyJet stop by the area.
So, if you are searching for something new and different this article is for you, the re-discovery of a classic that never gets old. I was invited by the Basque Country Tourism team to stay and test all their marvelous attractions for three days and here is a small travel diary of our journey.
Every good weekend needs to start with a good retirement in nature. Sare is an incredibly pretty small village just 15 km away from the coastline. Its name means forest in Basque and it is identified as one of the prettiest villages in France for years.
There are a lot of rural hostels, with cozy rooms and regional food that will make your day. A good example is the Arraya Hotel, where you could stay the night and if you are lucky enough you will enjoy the stunning night views from their balconies.
As the day starts there is a mandatory place to visit, La Rhûne. It is a recognized mount from France, it is 905 m in height and it takes 2 hours to get to the top. If you are lazy enough there is another interesting possibility, an old charming train will take you there in about 40 minutes.
The views from the top are incredible, you will see the sea from Hendaye to Biarritz, and also the Spanish frontier villages. It is not difficult to see savage horses on your way to the top.
This mount is visible all over the region, it means a signal of identity for them and if you continue reading you will discover a fun fact about it.
If you are brave enough, after visiting La Rhûne and going back to Sare you will have the opportunity to free your mind of any unnecessary stress trying a lesson of Basque pelota in a real trinket. In a half-hour, you will discover yourself playing like a real pelotari with the only purpose of beating the opponent.
If you are not in the mood for sweating you could always order a beer and enjoy how the real players do their workout.
In Sare you will discover the first typical Basque church of the trip, they are all very similar, with characteristic balconies or galleries, reserved for men, while women stayed in the base benches.
After such an intense day, it is time to enjoy a good dinner with local food. As a good Spanish, I know that local food is always a good plan, and it is even better if you have dinner in a real Basque mansion as Olhabidea, property of the Guillaume and Jean, they will take care of you and your empty stomach with some local fish and a glass of good local wine, like Irouléguy or Jurançon.
Leaving nature, it is time to arrive at the coastline. But before, on your journey to the coast you will find two really interesting places, the Lartigue factory, and the Golf Chantaco.
Lartigue 1910 is a weaving company that keeps the traditional process to make their products. It is very interesting to visit their factory and see how they manufacture their weaves to make from kitchen accessories to hammocks. Both directors are always there ready to help you and explain everything.
On the other hand, Golf Chantaco is the perfect place to spend a great time playing golf. It is the property of the Lacoste family since 1928. Along with its 18 holes, you will enjoy the views of La Rhûne (yes, it is visible from all over the region) or discover a mini lake with the shape of America, this one was a gift from the Lacoste father to his daughter for winning the U.S. Women’s Open.
Once you arrive at the coastline, the first visit for your trip is Hendaye, it is the closest city to the Spain border.
You can enjoy a good beach time in this village while practicing some surfing or other water sports. There is also a hike that starts in Hendaye and it goes all along the coast, it is easy and wonderful to arrive until Saint Jean de Luz or Biarritz. Starting in Hendaye, you will see the Twin Rocks, a pretty amazing start, and then you will discover the Loya Bay and the cliffs, with the typical water erosion of the Atlantic Ocean coastline.
Another unmissed stop is the “Chateau d’Abbadia”. Anton Abbadia is considered the driving force of the Basque culture in the XIX century. He traveled the world and then he moved to the Basque Country again to build this castle with inspiration from everywhere.
He was a passionate researcher of science and stars, so he did an observatory inside the castle. It is amazing to see how the different instruments were changing over the years, like calculators or telescopes.
Going back to Hendaye, it is nice to go to the fish market and try different local fresh fishes.
If you are lucky enough, you would see the clouds coming from Spain and going from the mountains of Hondarribia to the sea, it is stunning! It probably means that you will need to stay the night at the hotel because a storm is coming, but it is worth seeing.
Just a few steps from the beach, you will be able to have a great time in the Serge Blanco Hotel Thalasso & Spa, the views are pretty amazing, and staying a few hours in the spa is always a good plan before finishing the day. It is the property of Serge Blanco, a French rugby player local from Biarritz, even if he was born in Venezuela. After retiring as a player, he started a new life founding three hotels on this coast.
The hotel offers two different types of treatments, one focused on the beauty health of the body and another one focused on the performance health of the body, both of them are designed to recover yourself from all the stress of your time.
Hendaye also offers another activity to free your mind from the daily stress, a morning routine of Yoga on the beach to start the day properly with the sun going up from the sea.
On your trip to Saint Jean de Luz, it is really nice to stop in Urrugne and take a local meal in Ferme Lizarraga, trying their menu is enough to fall for their food, always with a good local wine of course. Near the house, you will be able to see cows and other animals, a perfect match for their natural spirit.
Saint Jean de Luz
The next stop is Saint Jean de Luz. This village of approx. 13.000 population and 12 km away from Hendaye, it is the most popular one in the Basque Country region. Its typical buildings will quickly remind you of the Basque mansions of pictures and films.
Here it is time to enjoy traditional French patisseries, try the original Basque macarons from “Maison ADAM”, well-known as the suppliers of macarons for Louis XIV, and test the differences between those macarons and the mouchous from Paries. Basque macarons from Maison Adam are made by the same family since 1660 and the secret recipe includes eggs, almonds, and sugar.
On the other hand, Pariès is famous for its mouchou of different flavors whose recipe brings us back to the XX. century. In both pastries, you will definitely need to try the Gateau Basque, a very typical cake made of almonds too.
If you are not plenty enough, the bunch of places where you will be able to taste the local specialties is incredible. It is important to always remember that in Saint Jean de Luz there is a Michelin-starred restaurant L’Océan, in the Grand Hotel, with Christophe Grosjean as the main chef.
The hotel has also a spa, so if you have time to enjoy the sunset in their spa you will not be disappointed at all, the 160€ for the night are well deserved.
The village’s main church is quite well known as the royal wedding ceremony between Louis XIV and Maria Theresa, the Infanta of Spain, took part there in 1660.
There are two doors to enter the church, but one of them is bricked off, the one used for the royal wedding ceremony. That’s because the church was not complete at that time, but years after the wedding the main door was finished and this second one got closed. There are also three wooden galleries for men inside the church, like the church in Sare.
There is also a small boat hanging from the ceiling. It was a gift from the Soudre family, brought from Terranova in 1865, it gives protection from bad spirits from the sea to the whale hunters that lived there. The ceiling is also stunning, it is made of wood and it simulates the hull of a ship.
Crossing the river La Nivelle, you will enter Ciboure, Ziburu in Basque, meaning the end of the bridge. Ciboure is considered a place for artists for many years now, with the typical houses and with a special tower in its church, an octagonal one made in the XVI century.
From Ciboure, it is easy to access the Socoa port. Here there is an uncommon business to visit, Egiategia, an innovative winemaking atelier founded by Emmanuel Poirmeur. He developed a new way of subsea wine vinification and aging, using the darkness, constant temperature, pressure, and the motion generated by tides for aging their wines.
It is surprising how the taste changes depending on how much percentage of subsea wine is inside the final wine. It is a good souvenir from the region for sure! All white, rosé, and red wines are extremely good and different from others.
Going back to Saint Jean de Luz to spend the night, it is possible to find very different hotels, cozy and small like Maria-Christina, where we spent a beautiful night with a much more beautiful breakfast under a lemon tree.
But, if you are more in the mood for classic Basque houses with big gardens, you could choose Hotel Parc Victoria, this big mansion is full of art deco, with different decorations in each room, and a huge swimming pool. It sounds perfect for a nice retirement after a long year of work.
The last stop on our short trip is Guéthary, this place is perfect for finishing your trip from south to north with the most relaxing day on the beach. Géthary is a small village 7 km away from Saint Jean de Luz.
Just entering the village, you will feel the charming ambiance of tradition. Going down through the main street you will easily arrive at the cliffs and the beach, where there will be a lot of surfers enjoying the waves.
It is a great moment to stop in l’Heteroclito, it will be so nice to drink a beer on the terrace enjoying the views of the French coast and the ocean. With its exposure to the ocean, it becomes so nice to stay there for a sunset.
The hike from Hendaye to Saint Jean de Luz continues through the coast passing by Guéthary. It is a very different landscape from the other part, this one is full of secret beaches and surf spots, perfect places to take a beer enjoying the sun (always if you are lucky enough to see it).
We stopped by a small beach called Cenitz, there is a fantastic food truck there called La Balda Food Bus. Even if we went on Sunday there was almost no one on the beach, it sounds much more than perfect for a beach day.
A good option to stay the night around Guéthary is choosing a kind of rural homestay named “Chambre D’Hôtes”. There are many, but one caught me, Maison Tamarin, this house is two steps away from the sea and it has a beautiful view of La Rhûne.
The nice host told us that the beach they have in front of the house is known for inspiring the Quiksilver surfing brand logo, as well as La Rhûne for the mountain in the back of the logo.
The closest beach to Saint Jean de Luz is Erromardie, and it is also a great place to enjoy some local fish in the Guinguette, it is located in the middle of the coast hike and the quality of their food is so good for a beach day.
I actually start thinking that more time is needed for this part of the region, but the trip was over and now I can only think of when I will be back there!
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