saint-jean-de-luz - guethary

A long weekend in the Basque Country, without a car

Known for its gastronomy, beautiful beaches and unique culture, the French Basque Country is the perfect destination for a tasty getaway in France. I had been dreaming of a Basque Country roadtrip for a long time.

What I didn’t know was that it was really simple to travel in the French Basque Country without a car! So I ended up transforming my planned roadtrip in a train trip through the Basque Coast. It was so easy that I truly recommend you to take advantage of the great public transportation network if you plan for a long weekend or more in the Basque Country. In this article, I share with you my itinerary combining the three main destinations of the Basque Coast: Bayonne, Biarritz and Saint-Jean-de-Luz.

Tip: the easiest way to arrive to the Basque Country without a car is to take the direct TGV (express train) from Paris. The train stops in Bayonne, Biarritz and Saint-Jean-de-Luz, but also in Bordeaux, which is also an amazing destination if you want to spend more time in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region. Once arrived, you’ll find a good bus network within the cities and connecting smaller villages.

Stop 1: Bayonne

quai Bayonne

Known as the main gateway to the French Basque Country, Bayonne is a quaint historic city with colorful streets. Bayonne is mostly known internationally for its famous charcuterie: the “jambon de Bayonne” (Bayonne Ham). But during my visit of Bayonne, I quickly discovered that the city was also known for its chocolate, Bayonne being the historical capital of chocolate in France. You can discover more about this by visiting the many chocolate shops of the ”chocolate street”, Rue Port Neuf. Don’t miss the famous hot chocolate from Maison Cazenave and the chocolates and macaroons (another local specialty, but not your traditional macaroons!) from Maison Daranatz.

Rue Port Neuf is part of the oldest part of Bayonne, called “le Grand Bayonne” (the Big Bayonne). This part of town is surrounded by old fortifications and is partly pedestrian. The hotel where I stayed in Bayonne, the Hôtel des Basses Pyrénées, occupies one of the old towers of these fortifications. A great place to stay if you like history!

This is also where you will find the beautiful Cathedral of Bayonne (Cathédrale Sainte-Marie), with its colorful stained-glass windows as well as one of the biggest Gothic cloisters in France. While wandering in the small streets of this very picturesque area, I recommend you try one of the local bistrots: Maison Martin, very popular with locals.

After a day of exploring Bayonne, the best way to end the day is to sit at one of the riverside cafés and restaurants of the Quais de la Nive. If you want to try authentic pinxtos, the famous Basque tapas, check out Bodega chez Gilles.

Stop 2: Biarritz

Biarritz - port-vieux - villa Belza

Biarritz is only a few kilometers away from Bayonne, but the change of scenery is complete! This very chic seaside resort got famous for its opulent parties in the 19th and early 20th centuries. A bit later, it was also in Biarritz that surfing started in Europe, and where the famous Coco Chanel opened her first fashion shop. Today, you can still enjoy its wonderful historical villas and mansions along the coast and especially on the Avenue de l’Impératrice, which is also home to the two great historic 5-stars hotels of Biarritz: Le Regina and l’Hôtel du Palais.

The best way to have a first good impression of Biarritz is to walk from its lighthouse (where you will get a panoramic view of the city) to the Port Vieux Beach, the most protected beach in Biarritz and the best place to have a swim. On your way, make sure to stop in the small fishermen harbor (Port des Pêcheurs) where you can eat fresh fish at one of its small restaurants.

After that, you should also spend some time exploring Biarritz’s little shops. Stop at Espadrilles Chistera to buy some traditional (yet fashionable) espadrilles, the traditional Basque sneakers and at Mikelena to grab some of the finest local produce, from cheese to cured meats, wines and other specialty beverages.

biarritz - rocher de la vierge - coucher-soleil

The best way to end the day is to watch the sunset from the Rocher de la Vierge. It was one of the best sunsets I’ve seen in a while!

I spent one night in Biarritz at the very trendy Le Palmito, which has also recently opened a fabulous food court and tiki bar. A great place to stay and eat right in the city center!

For a more upscale stay, check out Brindos, Lac et Château, a newly renovated luxury hotel with its own lake. If you are not staying at the hotel, it’s still a good place to have a drink or a meal with a beautiful view. The hotel is accessible by bus 7 from the Biarritz city center.

Tip: Since the train station is a bit far from the city center in Biarritz, you can also take the Chronoplus bus linking Bayonne to Biarritz in only 30 minutes.

Stop 3: Saint-Jean-de-Luz

Saint Jean de Luz - coucher du soleil

The final stop of my trip was Saint-Jean-de-Luz, a popular seaside city known for its beautiful beaches and its food, especially its fresh fish.

Historically, Saint-Jean-de-Luz is famous as the place where French King Louis XIV got married to Marie-Thérèse of Spain in 1660. The craziest thing is that you can still eat the macaroons that were served to the king during the wedding. The shop from Maison Adam is still there and cherishes the original recipe generations later! They also have one of the best gâteau basque (Basque specialty cake) you can get. As for the place where Louis XIV supposedly stayed during its wedding, it now hosts another jewel of the Basque Country: the high-end pottery shop Giocoechea. You will find even more amazing shops along the rue Gambetta and rue de la République, the town main shopping streets.

Plage Lafitenia - Saint-Jean-de-Luz

If you would like to spend some time at the beach, Saint-Jean-de-Luz beaches are amongst the best on the coast! On the main beach (la Grande Plage) you will also find the Hôtel & Spa Hélianthal Thalazur a newly renovated thalassotherapy resort with gorgeous sea views. Further away from town you’ll find wilder beaches (Lafitenia, Erromardie, Acotz…), most of them with cute guinguettes, informal bars with the best sunset views. I recommend the Balda Food Bus, where you can have a drink in old British double-decker buses, in front of the Senix beach. If you don’t want to go that far, the sunset from Colline Sainte-Barbe, the hill directly accessible from the Grande Plage, is also epic!

Baie Saint-Jean-de-Luz - Ciboure Copyright-Emmanuelle-Hubert-augoutdemma.be-1280

If you have time, don’t hesitate to cross the water to Ciboure, on the other side of the bay. This picture-postcard village has a typically Basque architecture. At the end of the bay, you’ll find Socoa and its fort (Fort de Socoa), offering panoramic views of Saint-Jean-de-Luz. There, you can also visit a very original place, Egiategia, the first winemaker producing wine… under the sea! The wine-making process happens right there, in the bay of Ciboure. Waves and current create totally unique wines, which you can try for yourself during a tour of the cellar.

I’ve spent one night in Saint-Jean-de-Luz at the Hôtel Madison, a very comfortable hotel right in the center of the city, with a wonderful little spa. La Réserve is another beautiful hotel near the Colline Sainte-Barbe, with an out-of-this-world infinity pool. Even if you don’t stay there, it is worth hiking up there to have lunch at their very nice restaurant with a sea view.

If you want to know more about my trip, check out the articles I wrote on my blog, Au gout d’Emma :

Getting to the Basque Country 

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