With one foot in the Atlantic and the other in the mountains, Biarritz and the Pays Basque are like an Espelette pepper, one of the favourite flavours of the region, strong yet sweet at the same time. The strength is reflected by the surfers who flock here for the powerful waves. Sweetness comes from the festive life style and the love of great gastronomy that’s inherent in the culture of this region. The tides have shaped the magnificent coastal scenery with its high cliffs, long sandy beaches and wild coves which inspire surfers and beach lovers alike. It’s also an exhilarating place to visit: André Courrèges, the inventor of the miniskirt, lived in Biarritz, though today it’s swimwear that takes the centre stage here…
Must-sees in the Pays Basque
Though the French Basque coastline is only 40 kilometres (25 miles) long, it’s peppered with picture perfect charming villages, vibrant seaside resorts and endless golden sandy beaches. An eclectic mix of architecture combining Art Deco, Neo-Basque and Neo-Norman styles, gives Biarritz a unique personality alongside a chic atmosphere. Biarritz also retains a trace of Belle Epoque elegance - the resort was a favoured holiday retreat of Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie.
Biarritz is great for surfers and golfers
Biarritz is the historic surfing capital of Europe where the sport was introduced in the 1950s. But some of the most famous waves sweep off the vast bay of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, a tranquil seaside resort nestled around an authentic fishing port. You can also try surfing in one of the many great surf spots that dot the beaches of the Pays Basque like Hossegor, where the legendary swell at La Nord beach can reach 6 metres (6.5 yards) high.
There’s more to the area than surfing though and this is a destination that’s perfect for sports lovers. There’s a long history of golf in the Pays Basque, Golf du Phare in Biarritz, one of the first courses in continental Europe, was created here in 1887. If you want to improve your swing, then this is the place to do it. With six courses between the ocean and the mountains, the Basque coast is a paradise for lovers of golf and après-golf. For your next trip to the Pays Basque, don’t forget to pack your clubs!
And if you’re a fan of ball games, then try the famous Basque pelota. Just a wall, a ball and two people required…
Endless beaches in Hendaye
Hendaye is the last French town on the Basque coast before you reach the border with Spain, and it really sums up the diversity of the Pays Basque with its 3.5-kilometer stretch of sandy beach and cliff-top trail with dazzling views over the wild creeks below.
Relax in Hossegor
In Hossegor, the invigorating sea air, an immense pine forest and a huge salt water lake attract those who adore the laid back vibe. Many come here for the great surfing but also for the authentic simplicity and natural beauty of the area.
Bayonne and Espelette, the heart of the Pays Basque
At the junction of the Rivers Adour and Nive, Bayonne epitomises the richness of Basque traditions and famous festivals. But it also has a tranquil side which a stroll along the docks lined with colourful houses and peaceful squares will reveal. In the charming village of Espelette, red and white, the Basque colours, prevail. The pristine white facades of houses contrast brilliantly with bright shutters painted the same shade as the famous crimson peppers grown here.
Gastronomy and local products: Basque specialties
Why not try some piquant Espelette? It’s not super spicy but is deliciously scented, the famous chilli pepper of the Pays Basque sneaks into most dishes, including the tasty piperade where it heightens the flavours of the main ingredients of tomatoes, onions and peppers. Enjoy it with eggs or even better in Poulet Basquaise, a mouth-watering chicken dish. And of course, don’t forget the ubiquitous Jambon de Bayonne, a flavoursome ham.
Learn about Basque traditions and join in famous Bayonne festivities throughout July and August: five days of music, dance, bullfights and races through a maze of medieval streets. It’s the perfect time to learn about Basque folk dances too. Take home a memento from the area, a Basque knife of the type that was used during the Napoleonic campaigns. Some traditional Basque fabric made from linen or cotton but always with stripes, or Basque plates with traditional patterned edging. And of course the famous espadrilles with their braided jute rope soles which continually inspire designers make for a great souvenir…