The French Basque coast is the region to the south-west of South-West France and the north of the Northern Basque Country. Well anyway, it doesn’t matter what direction the compass is pointing, it’s above all THE place to be…
Stretching less than 40 km along the Atlantic Ocean coastline between the department of Les Landes and the Spanish border, the Basque coast is a treasure trove of diversity, curiosity and beauty just waiting to be discovered.
The Atlantic Ocean
It inspires awe with the fury of its spectacular storms that shape the cliffs and remind us of the force of nature; it fascinates surfers from around the world who come to take on its majestic waves; it soothes with its shimmering moments of calm when the sun glistens on the water encouraging quiet contemplation. The ocean is an ever-changing seascape that we never grow weary of.
It has also played a crucial role in shaping a whole way of life as, over the centuries, fishing forged the character, habits and customs of the Basque people. From hunting whales to fishing for tuna and sardines, the financial survival of an entire population depended on the goodwill of the ocean. It is the same appeal of the sea that prompted the development of tourism, the mainstay of our economy today.
One coastline, but a variety of atmospheres
Here, there is no need to travel long distances for a change of scenery. Very quickly, you can pass from one town to the next village, almost without noticing and yet each place has its own very distinct characteristics.
A variety of landscapes
Seeking to control the elements has always been an intrinsic part of human nature. The bay of Saint-Jean-de-Luz and Ciboure is a perfect example with its breakwaters that preserve the town and port from the ocean’s wrath. This bay has a beautiful, large beach sheltered from the waves and is ideal for children; likewise for Socoa beach in Ciboure, protected by the Fort and its breakwater.
For unconditional fans of fine sand, the beaches of Anglet, Biarritz, Bidart and Hendaye are ideal. Here, the sea can freely express its mood swings : sometimes calm and peaceful, other times turbulent and unpredictable to the great delight of both those seeking thrills and those who enjoy basking in the sunshine.
It’s not just geology enthusiasts that are fascinated by the flysch cliffs that can be observed between the different beaches : this spectacular geological formation is unique in the world. Picture this: a turbid tale of plate tectonics, polarity, earthquakes and erosion played out since the dawn of time that has given a “pleated” aspect to the rocks. In Saint-Jean-de-Luz, the cliff overlooking the bay is called “the pile of plates”, a fitting epithet that perfectly describes this geological wonder. The Corniche clifftop route that goes from Urrugne to Hendaye offers a magnificent panoramic view of this phenomenon.
A variety of towns and villages
The two largest towns along the coast are Biarritz and Saint-Jean-de-Luz. There’s nothing ‘common’ about what they have in… common, and that’s the monarchy, no less! Imperial Biarritz as the town was greatly influenced by the Empress Eugénie de Montijo and her husband Emperor Napoléon III taking up summer residence with their imperial court, thus contributing to the development and wealth of the town. Royal Saint-Jean-de-Luz as the Court of Versailles descended on the town for the marriage of Louis XIV to Marie-Thérèse, the Infanta of Spain. These two major events, which took place in different eras, heavily influenced the history and architecture of these towns.
The coast also includes some villages that are resolutely focused on the sea, like world-renowned surfing hotspots Bidart and Guéthary, and Ciboure that still maintains its inherent fishing village atmosphere.
A variety of sporting activities
The choice is enormous just in water sports alone.
There are, of course, numerous surfing schools for all levels all along the coast, and there are also classes giving an introduction to paddleboard, hydrofoil and all board sports, not forgetting sailing and underwater diving.
On terra firma, there are the five golf courses of Anglet, Arcangues, Biarritz, Ciboure and Saint-Jean-de-Luz that offer various possibilities to improve your swing.
In this part of the world, the mountains have their feet in the sea and a multitude of marked hiking trails, some with a view of the sea.
And why not discover a new sport with an introduction to the game of Basque pelote.
A variety of atmospheres
It’s fun spotting the difference between the atmospheres of each place. It’s imperceptible, it’s impalpable and yet it’s there. Oddly enough, Guéthary, the smallest village on the coast, is often likened to Biarritz for its “Bohemian-chic” and “Cocktails in espadrilles” atmosphere. Why? How? Nobody knows, but it’s common knowledge. In contrast, it can clearly be felt that the values and ambient mood in Saint-Jean-de-Luz and Ciboure are based on the hard work of a seafaring life. Urrugne, a coastal village without any real access to the sea, is more influenced by the world of agriculture and welcomes visitors in friendly simplicity. But these are just impressions. What’s your opinion?