Bayonne, Pyrenees-Atlantiques: tourism & sightseeing
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Bayonne is six kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean, close to the eastern Pyrenees and just north of Biarritz. Indeed the three towns of Biarritz, Bayonne and Anglet almost merge into each other.
France This Way comment: although it is not the best known destination in the region, Bayonne is a lovely city. Arriving from the north you cross over the river Adour and then straight away you cross over the river Nive. I always think towns are attractive when a river runs through them, but two rivers – double the pleasure.
The town centre in Bayonne is also now classed as one of the protected French Historic Towns.
The main thing to do in Bayonne is just to walk around through the old town’s narrow streets and soak up the atmosphere. The shops are interesting and there is an abundance of nice looking restaurants, bars and cafes. The river frontage, the old town and the cathedral are the principal highlights of a visit.
The rivers divide the town into discrete sections. The River Nive separates Grand Bayonne from Petit Bayonne and the River Adour separates Petit Bayonne from Saint Bayonne and these are linked by the Pont St Esprit.
The river Nive is a narrow river as it travels through Bayonne and a total of five bridges link Grand and Petit Bayonne. All along the river there are lovely half timbered town houses, many of them now home to shops, cafes and bars.
Basque villages and towns are often very pretty with their white houses and shutters painted in deep red or dark green - Bayonne is also a Basque town and the tall town houses with their shutters and exposed timbers painted in these typical red and green Basque colours are very attractive.
The main historical sights are in Grand Bayonne. The gothic Cathedral of Sainte Marie, built on the site of a roman cathedral lost in a fire, was largely built in the 13th century but later additions were added up until the 19th century. It is a very ornate building though a lot of the detail has been lost to the elements. Behind the cathedral is a gothic cloister built in the 18th century.
Nearby is the Chateau Vieux, where the governors of the city, including the Black Prince, were once based. This is now the property of the army and cannot be visited.
Don’t miss a stroll through the Botanic Gardens with more than 1000 species and a distinctly Japanese theme. These gardens are part of the reason for Bayonne holding the prestigious 4 flowers category of the ville et village fleurie competition, in recognition of the planting that has been carried out in the town.
In this part of Bayonne you can also see remnants of the ramparts of the town. These date from three different eras: Roman ramparts, ramparts from the time of Francois I (16th century) and ramparts designed by the famous Vauban (17th century) who designed many of the defences of French towns during his lifetime.
Some of the streets near the cathedral such as Rue d’Espagne, which leads to the Port d’Espagne, are hung with bunting adding to the lively atmosphere of this part of town.
Cross over the river Nive to visit the Musée Basque. This is the biggest museum of Basque life and houses 2000 items and works of art commemorating Basque life. Also in this part of Bayonne is the Musee Bonnat which houses a large collection of paintings by Leon Bonnat as well as paintings by Rubens, le Greco, Goya and Degas.
Also in this quarter of Bayonne is the Eglise Saint Esprit, once an important stage on the Pilgrimage to Saint Jacques de Compostella.
Any visit to Bayonne is likely to be part of a trip that also includes the lovely town of Biarritz, one of our favourite coastal resorts in France. You will also enjoy visiting nearby Anglet, both for the five kilometres of sandy beaches and the natural environment.
A little further and you should also visit the attractive resort of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, another lively town with a beach in the town centre.
Photos of Bayonne
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Map of Bayonne and places to visit
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Bayonne is classified as a historical protected town centre' (secteur sauvegardé)
Address: Bayonne, Pyrenees-Atlantiques, Aquitaine, 64100, France || GPS: latitude 43.493, longitude -1.474
Plan your visit to Bayonne, Pyrenees-Atlantiques
Sightseeing & tourist attractions to visit nearby
- Bayonne cathédrale St Marie (monuments on French pilgrim routes): heritage site
- Anglet: ville fleurie 4* (4 km)
- Marais d'Orx: site of natural beauty (14 km)
- Jardins de la villa Arnaga: remarkable garden (16 km)
- La Bastide-Clairence: most beautiful village (19 km)
- Ainhoa: most beautiful village (21 km)
- Sare: most beautiful village (22 km)
Market days in Bayonne, France
Regular market(s) are held in Bayonne each Wednesday & Tuesday & Thursday & Saturday & Friday. (Markets are held in the morning unless stated.)
The French version of this page is at Bayonne (Francais)