This road trip was about discovering the Basque Country for the long weekend – from the fairy tale-like villages to the most beautiful city beaches in the world.
My plan was to visit my good friend Arnaud who lives in Lille, a city in northern France, before heading to Tomorrowland in Boom, Belgium. Because of Bastille Day, however, we had a sudden change of plans. At this time of the year, people from all over northern France head south. Arnaud asked if I would want to join his road trip with his friend Bradley. I thought this was a fantastic idea and immediately booked my flight from Zadar, Croatia to Biarritz, France via Ryan Air.
Take it from me, having local friends to show me around the off-beaten-track beauties of their countries always make the best kind of adventure!
It is quite a common impression that when people hear of the Basque Country, they think of Spain. But this autonomous community isn’t just in Spain alone. There are 7 provinces that make up the Basque Country. 4 of which are Spanish provinces (Álava, Vizcaya, Guipúzcoa and Navarra) and 3 are former historic French provinces (Labourd, Basse-Navarre and Soule), now part of the present-day Pyrénées-Atlantiques department.
Back to our road trip! We spent 3 amazing days enjoying the scenery, food, and, of course, all sorts of alcohol!
Bidart (French Basque Country)
I landed at Biarritz airport and my friends picked me up. We drove 5.7 km to our first stop: Blue Cargo in Bidart, a small hilltop town at the south of Biarritz.
Located at the end of Ilbarritz Beach, Blue Cargo is the best restaurant in town. My friends actually had to book a reservation a month in advance because it gets really crowded in the summer, especially during Bastille Day. We arrived just in time for sunset and sat on a terrace facing the sea. There, we savoured not only the delicious food but also the sophisticated ambiance.
After dinner, we headed down to Blue Cargo’s open sky nightclub by the beach. A live band was warming up the posh crowd and the in-house DJ was playing upbeat, party music. Music and drinks – yes, the party has begun!
It was a massive night. Two bottles of gin later, we were all very drunk. Without my knowledge, Arnaud told the ladies I was the son of the president of the Philippines! Well, I ended up dancing with two hot Parisian girls on top of our table – win! They also invited me for dinner for the following night so I think I must have been convincing. Haha! That was a fun night!
For restaurant reservations, visit their website: http://www.bluecargo.fr/
Biarritz (French Basque Country)
We booked an apartment in Biarritz, a city on the Bay of Biscay in southwestern France for three days. This fashionable beach town is the capital of surfing in Europe as well as a luxurious seaside tourist destination known for the Hôtel du Palais. There are also many upscale restaurants, cafés and spas nearby.
Points of interest are:
- La Côte des Basques
- Rocher de la Vierge (Virgin of the Rock)
- Aquarium de Biarritz
- Phare de Biarritz
- Cite de l’Ocean et du Surf
- Grande Plage
- Port Des Pecheurs
San Sebastián (Spanish Basque Country)
Hungover, we continued our road trip and drove for about an hour to San Sebastián, the gastronomical capital of Spain. San Sebastián is a coastal city and municipality in the Basque Autonomous Community, Spain. It is considered one of the world’s culinary capitals. “Pintxos” (bite-sized appetizers, similar to Spanish tapas but better) can be found in nearly every bar. They are called pintxos because many of them have a pincho (Spanish for spike), typically a toothpick or a skewer.
The best pintxos in the city can be found in this charming old city center called “Parte Vieja” (Old Part). It is the most visited place in San Sebastián and is famous for having the highest concentration of bars in the world.
We were going from bar to bar having small glasses of wine, “txikitos”, accompanied by delicious pintxos. This bar crawl tradition is called “txikiteo” which today, it’s a way of socializing and having a good time.
We were highly satisfied with the food and now, it was time to head to the beach for a quick dip and siesta. A stone’s throw away from Parte Vieja, La Concha is the most beautiful urban beach in Europe. This vibrant city attracts wealthy beach-goers in search of sun and sophistication. Surfers are in abundance here too.
Bayonne (French Basque Country)
Before sunset, we left San Sebastián and drove 54 km north. My friends wanted to show me around Bayonne. It is located at the northernmost point of the French Basque Country where the Nive and Adour Rivers meet. We looked for an outdoor tapas bar by the Nive River where we can eat nice tapas and drink beer. There, we had an amazing view of the town with its beautiful Basque-style, tall houses featuring traditional green and red-painted woodwork while we sipped our beer.
Of course, we cannot leave Bayonne without trying their famous Bayonne Ham. It is a fine and tasty cured ham seasoned with peppers from the nearby town of Espelette. This thin layer of peppers (Piment d’Espelette) gives a unique tang to the fine French ham. Because of its delicate taste and gorgeous color, Bayonne Ham is appreciated worldwide.
It was a pleasant way to call it a day; we drove back to our place in Biarritz.
Espelette (French Basque Country)
On our third and final day, we started our road trip by driving 24 km south from Biarritz to Espelette. Espelette is a picturesque Basque village famous for its red peppers, “Piment d’Espelette”. They dry these peppers by hanging them neatly in rows on the façades of their traditional Basque houses. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to have one but we were able to try the famous “Gâteau Basque” (Basque Cake).
Ainhoa (French Basque Country)
Our next stop was Ainhoa, just 6 km southwest of Espelette. It is ranked among the most beautiful villages in France. It has a long and unique street, lined with picturesque half-timbered houses with exposed stones at each corner against a backdrop of green hills.
We stopped by some shops that are well-known to be makers of “espadrilles”, a comfy summer shoe, for over a century. Espadrilles originated in this region in the Pyrénées at the French-Spanish border in the 13th century.
Bidarray (French Basque Country)
From Ainhoa, we drove 25 km to Bidarray to try the whitewater rafting along the Nive river featuring category II with class III passages. We paid 30 euro each for half-day rafting, including equipment. The raft fits 6-8 people and the mini-raft fits about 3-5 people. We were thrilled as we paddled downstream. For adrenaline lovers, you also have the option to jump off rocks into the river. The scenery along the river is spectacular and the water is just refreshing.
For bookings, visit Arteka’s website: http://www.arteka-eh.com or call +33 (0) 5 59 37 71 34
Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port (French Basque Country)
After whitewater rafting, we drove another 20 km south to visit Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. This medieval town is an important stop on the Saint James route to Camino de Santiago de Compostella also known as the Way of St James. Here, you can find the beautiful 14th Century church of Notre Dame du Bout du Pont (Our Lady at the End of the Bridge). You will also be charmed with the cobblestone streets lined with old houses and the old bridge over the Nive river.
Anglet (French Basque Country)
For our last stop, we drove 51 km north from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Anglet. Anglet commune is part of the urban area of Bayonne-Anglet-Biarritz (B.A.B.) and is famous for its 11 beaches. With our trip coming to a close, we figured there would be no better way to end it than by relaxing and drinking beer together. We headed over to Kostaldea Restaurant, located high on the cliffs above the beach at Anglet. This is the perfect place to watch the sunset, especially in summer when everyone is out drinking. There’s live music that makes the atmosphere even more wonderful.
There is still so much more to explore in the Basque Country. As one of Europe’s oldest and most culturally rich regions, it has a lot to offer visitors. Even if you go more than once, there is something different to do on each visit. The Basque Country simply oozes charm and character!