The French Basque Country

Last fall, my girlfriend and I were planning our next big adventure. One of the places we both wanted to explore was the Basque Country. The Basque Country is an incredibly fascinating place – although it is not actually a country, this region denotes the home of the Basque people (an Indigenous ethnic group). The region actually spans two countries, Spain and France, and consists of the Autonomous Communities of the Basque Country and Navarre in Spain and the Northern Basque Country in France.

Cool facts:

  • The Basque language is not related to any other Indo-European language (there are also about 8 dialects)
  • The Basques are some of the oldest (if not the oldest) peoples in Europe
  • A Basque delicacy is called “angulas”… What is that you may ask? Baby eels!

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Wanting to throughly immerse ourselves in this region, we made a point of visiting both the Spanish and French parts. After spending quite a bit of time in Spain, we decided to hop the border and explore what the French side had to offer… and were we ever blown away!

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We first drove into the southern part of the Lower Navarre (Basse-Navarre) and then towards the coast in the former Labourd province. These two areas now compose part of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department. Can I say how incredible the sights were? If it wasn’t the landscapes that took our breath away, it was the adorable architecture. If you are thinking about a road trip near this area, I would highly recommend it!

We stopped in the small village called Ascain to get a treat from a local bakery. After we explored the quaint town we carried on through Saint-Jean-de-Luz and onto Biarritz – a town famous for its surf. Biarritz is known as a surfer’s paradise. When we visited there were surfers everywhere, up and down every street and, of course, on their boards in the ocean. The salty air and coastal cliffs made the town all the more worthwhile.

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Our final destination in the region was Bayonne, a city of about 46,000 people. The city is one of the most picturesque towns I have ever visited. I completely fell in love with the historic centre. The preservation of the old buildings, streets, and spirit really made a positive impression on me. We spent hours walking around and taking in the sights and taking way too many photographs. As the Basque Country, French or Spanish, is known for its fishing, either treating yourself to a meal or buying some canned fish at La Belle Iloise seemed to be a popular choice with many visitors. We purchased an assortment of (very beautiful) cans of sardines, mackerel, and tuna for my girlfriend’s family.

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Recommendations:

  • Don’t just stick to the coast – be sure to visit a small village in the mountains too! The atmosphere is very different and these towns are especially picturesque. One I can recommend would be Sare.
  • Stretch your legs and take a walk around the towns. The old town quarters are very walkable and easy to navigate.
  • The food prices here are very reasonable, however since there are so many Michelin restaurants in the area the cost of eating out can be higher than other destinations. But keep in mind that the quality and flavour of the food is worth the cost if you’re a foodie!
    • If you eat fish, treat yourself to a coastal restaurant. For instance, at one of the amazing restaurants in Saint-Jean-de-Luz.
    • If you are a vegan, there aren’t too many restaurant options that we found. There were however amazing grocery stores and markets that we bought fresh produce at and easily made our own meals.

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