The Basque Country – known as Le Pays Basque in French – is full of a certain charm that can’t be found anywhere else. Situated in the extreme south-west of France on the border with Spain, this region offers amazing views of the sea and the dramatic Pyrénées mountains. Get to know the locals, who are proud of their language and culture; watch a traditional pelota ball match; and enjoy grilled calamari and Basque cakes on a sun-drenched terrace.
Espelette, world capital of peppers
The village of Espelette sits at the foot of the Pyrénées mountains just 20 minutes from the Atlantic coast – and its postcard-like setting makes a visit irresistible. In just a few paces you can appreciate a network of quaint winding streets, white houses with red-timbered façades decorated with strings of red peppers glistening in the sun, a church and recently-restored château, an outdoor bathing space and the reassuring silhouette of Mont Mondarrain on the horizon. It’s here that the famous Espelette peppers are grown, packed full of flavour and a key ingredient in Basque cooking. The peppers feature in everyday local dishes as well as on the refined menus of the world’s top chefs.
Guéthary, a coastal gem
The smallest village on the Basque coast has developed a reputation as a great beach destination over recent years, while still preserving its authenticity and traditional charm. A point of departure for whale hunters in the 13th and 14th centuries and thereafter a haven for writers and artists, Guéthary is a truly Basque seaside village. Life is pleasant here between surf sessions, pelota ball parties, contemporary art exhibits in the village museum and walks towards the local port, where colourful boats bob contentedly.
Ainhoa, an authentically Basque village
Included on France’s list of Plus Beaux Villages (Most Beautiful Villages), Ainhoa is a one-street village surrounded by hills, established in the Middle Ages to welcome pilgrims along the Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle route. Its main street is bordered by a pelota court, a 14th-century church and a series of magnificent red-timber-framed Labourdine houses. Aihoa is a great departure point for different hiking paths in the nearby mountains; it’s also the very last French village before you cross the Spanish border into Dancharia.