A good plan to know about Basque culture must include at least one visit to the French Basque Country. Even being a small region it has many charms, at least, for more than 3 days of visit. But if you have only one day for your tour I am sure you will not be disappointed. The area is internationally known for its beautiful beaches, spas and surfing, golf and rugby, having as its main reference the sophisticated tourist destination of Biarritz. The largest city in the French Basque Country is Bayonne, well known for being a port for whalers and pirates, and for its chocolate; but maybe their most famous icon is the bayonet, which was invented in this city in 1670.
Since the end of the 19th century, Biarritz, and the entire French Basque coast, have been a resting place for European kings and celebrities, but also for surfers, since the entry of this sport to Europe happened along these coasts in the mid-20th century. It is interesting to see how the luxury of palaces and hotels coexists with the alternative culture of surfers. Biarritz is the “Queen of the Greens” for golfers, and one of its 16 courses exists since 1888. The Basque pelota, jai alai, rugby and surf are sports in which its locals win first places in France; so there are events of these sports all year round. Do not miss your tea at the Hotel du Palais, eating at Le Regina hotel; or visit the bucolic fishing port.
Bayonne appears in the UN World Heritage Sites for being the beginning of the Way to Santiago, and its cathedral of Santa Maria is a monumental place worth seeing. It also preserves the network of fortifications designed by Vauban (1633-1707). And in Saint Esprit, the oldest Jewish quarter in France, there is still a synagogue of the 13 that it had. Because Bayonne welcomed many of those Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal. These Sephardim introduced chocolate to France, and today Bayonne has the best chocolate in the whole France. The Basque Museum and the History of Bayonne are very instructive options; and the culture of Gascony also has influence in its history.
The Road from Bayonne to Santiago runs through the coastal cities of Anglet, Bidart, St. Jean-de-Luz, Urrugne and Hendaye; all of them with countless leisure and cultural activities, mainly during the summer. The fishing port and the beaches of St. Jean de Luz have an unique charm, as well as the church of St. John the Baptiste where King Louis XIV married in 1660 with Maria Teresa of Austria. From St. Jean de Luz you can see the birthplace of the famous music composer Maurice Ravel in Ciboure; and also very close you have the castle of Urturbie in Urrugne, and the lighthouse of Guétary.
In the French Basque Country there are 3 routes of the 4 main roads of the Camino de Santiago in France: Le Puy way, Limoges way and Tours way, all World Heritage since 1998 by Unesco. These 3 ways come together in the Basque town of Ostabal according to the Codex Calixtinus, one of the first tourist guides in the modern world, written in 1660. In this travel guide we find unique Basque words and phrases from the post-Roman period. The town of St. Jean-Pied-de-Port, known as St. James Door, has a beautiful citadel and a castle listed as Historic Monument; as well as the Walls of the upper city and that of the neighborhood of Spain. And its Church of Notre Dame is the most important Gothic building in the French Basque Country after the Bayonne Cathedral. Here the story between Navarra and France has a lot to tell.
In addition to St. Jean Pied de Port, the French officially recognize the Basque villages of Sare, Ainhoa and La Bastida Clairence as part of their list of the most beautiful Villages in France. Personally, I also love the La Rhune rack railway, Sare’s prehistoric caves, the Espelette paprika, the Basque Cake Museum, the neo-Gothic castle of Antoine d’Abbadie, the beautiful thalassotherapy centers and the SPAs, the Chateau de Brindos or telling my guests about the life of Hemingway or Chaliapin through these lands. As you can see there are many options to choose from, and we can help you select them according to your interests and tastes.
A land with Basque, Navarre, Gascon, French, Spanish & English accents and history!