St. Jean de Luz at night, image by Karim Saari
I’ve put together a series of itineraries throughout some of my favorite regions of France based on the Plus Beaux Villages de France book and website. I created these for a talk I gave to a group of expats and visitors to Paris in October at Adrian Leed’s Parler Paris Apres Midi event that she’s been having since 2012 every 2nd Tuesday of the month. The talk was well received so it seemed only natural to share with gg2p readers some of these itineraries.
Espelette peppers hanging from the homes to dry in Espelette, France
The amazing thing about France is that each region still truly has its own distinct feel, its own food and its own culture. That’s because it really wasn’t until the 1800’s that the whole of France was united. In the Basque region this holds true and then some. Like the Spanish Basque region, the French area has its own language, its own architecture and the food is very unique, with a lot more Spanish influence than French. This is one of France’s most special regions, beyond the unique culture you’ve got the stunning Pyrenees mountains right at the point where they meet the Atlantic ocean and surf.
Auberge Basque room
Train from Paris to St. Jean de Luz. Rent a car after exploring the beautiful town which acts as the central meeting place for all things Basque. I’ve chosen three different places to stay in the area (see below) and the villages highlighted will be within a reasonable drive of your hotel no matter where you decide to stay.
Town hall in Ainhoa
Ainhoa is a plus beaux village (only 1 of 2 in the region). Ainhoa is a tiny town with one main street and 650 inhabitants. It lies just three km away from Spain on the route de St. Jaques de Compostelle. The main church (our lady of the Assumption) was built in the 13th century.
Sare The ancient noble Navarrese family, the Lahet’s known since the early 12th century settled in Sare. Take the Le Petit Train de la Rhune (old fashioned train) up the Rhune mountain and explore the Grottos of Sare.
The chocolate made here with a hint of spicy espelette pepper is divine.
Espelette home of the famous Espelette peppers. Stop in at Chocolatier Antton for spicy chocolate with Espelette.
This is the street where many pilgrims begin their long journey.
St Jean Pied de Port This fairly large city is where many people start their walk to St. Jacque de Compostelle, St John’s Way or Camino del Santiago, the famous 1000 year old pilgrimage. It once was a small town and in order to find the charming parts you must go up to the top of the hill to see the small walled old village where it all began so long ago.
An old farm, renovated to become a stunning hotel.
STAY & EAT: L’Auberge Basque is a well known place to dine and a beautiful inn done in minimalist Basque style. The farm dates from 1672. Chef and owner Cedric Bechade bought the property back in 2006 and created a real gastronomic destination for those with fine taste. They have an award winning sommelier and the chef was trained by none other than Chef Alain Ducasse.
Stay: Hotel Ithurria in Aïnhoa with a gastronomic resto. Or Hotel La Deviniere in St. Jean de Luz.
Eat: La Ferme Ostalapia, a real farm with an incredible view serving traditional Basque food in Ahetze. The setting is charming and the Basque stew, called anchoa is scrumptious. Not more than 15 minutes from St. Jean de Luz.
Basque lamb stew, photo by Simply Recipes
- Surfing in Biarritz just 10 min. north of St. Jean de Luz
Insider tip: When planning your trip, be sure to get the GO-Card, your access to our little black book of resources on how to eat, live, play and stay in Paris. You’ll also get great deals from all of our 250-plus partners.