Ainhoa, Pyrenees-Atlantiques: tourism & sightseeing

Photo of Ainhoa (Aquitaine region)

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Ainhoa is a village in the Labourd province and deep in the Basque country close to the Spanish border in south-west France. The village is classified among the 'most beautiful villages of France' and often visited as an excursion from one of the nearby Atlantic coast resorts such as Saint Jean de Luz and Biarritz.

Ainhoa was an important stop on the pilgrim path to Santiago de Compostella, where many of the routes from France converged. The original village was destroyed by the Spanish in 1629 and the village you now see was built in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Ainhoa tourist information and places to visit

Ainhoa, like Sare and many other villages in the area, is a lovely Basque village with a great deal of charm and houses that are very good examples of the local architecture, with the half-timbered wood often painted in deep red and green colours.

France This Way comment: the village itself is little more than a main street and a large church, but is pleasant to explore and the surrounding mountains make the setting very attractive. Several information panels along the main street explain the history of the village.

Perhaps the most curious feature of Ainhoa is that the buildings on one side of the street appear to be more decorative, and have more balconies, than those on the other side of the street. This is because the local tradition is to build houses with their backs to the sea, for protection against the wind and rain. So on one side of Ainhoa main street you are seeing the backs of the houses. Personally I found the slightly more austere 'house backs' as attractive as the more decorative fronts.

The overhanging rooves that protect the half-timbered houses are another characteristic of the architecture of the region.

cemetery and basque houses in centre of Ainhoa

Also interesting to visit, Ainhoa Church of Notre-Dame de l'Assomption originally dates from the 13th century although it has substantial later modifications (17th century) including the belltower. The church was apparently built on the site of a fortified manor house that stood here in the 12th century.

Inside the church features the 'two rows of wooden balconies' commonly found in Basque churches and an ornate altarpiece: the church is listed as a historic monument because of these unusual wooden balconies. The adjacent cemetery contains some interesting early gravestones.

The other principal historic monument in Ainhoa is the lavoir (ancient washhouse) on the edge of the village in the region called Dancharia. You are following in famous footsteps at the lavoir: it is said that Napoleon III stopped here in 1858. Of course, being a Basque village, Ainhoa also has a 'fronton' wall next to the cemetery where old and young have played Pelota, the local sport, since the wall was built in 1849.

The village also contains a couple of expensive 'art' shops (we found the village to be expensive, for things like postcards, even compared with nearby Sare) and cafes.

Next to the Ainhoa Tourist Office there is also a multimedia tourist site where for a small entrance charge you can watch a wide-screen video relating events from the history of the village.

Note: in recent years the name Ainhoa has also gained popularity in France as a girl's first name.

Close to Ainhoa

Ainhoa is a common starting point for several walks in the low mountains of the region, and is also very popular with cyclists. The tourist office have a useful leaflet that shows a map with several suggested walks of various difficulties and distances in the nearby forest and countryside.

The area around the village is known as the Forest of Ainhoa and is well known for the diversity of wildlife it contains (we saw a small deer but I am pleased to say we didn't come across any of the wild boar that are said to live in the forest.

Just outside the village you should also visit the small Chapel of Notre-Dame de l'Aubépine on the edge of the Atsulai mountain. This chapel was built in the place where the Virgin Mary once appeared to a local shepherd, and has very lovely and far reaching views across the countryside.

When you visit Ainhoa you will be aware that part of the lovely setting is created by the Rhune mountain that stands above the village. You can ascend the Rhune mountain on a small train through very scenic countryside. The neighbouring villages of Espelette and Sare (another 'most beautiful village of France') are also both very pretty and well worth a visit

Ainhoa is also a stopping place on the pilgrimage path that crosses France and continues to Santiago di Compostelle in north-west Spain. In fact the village originally developed in the 13th century because of this role.

You can find more local travel ideas in the Pyrenees-Atlantiques guide and the Aquitaine guide.

See also:

Photos of Ainhoa

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Map of Ainhoa and places nearby

Visit near Ainhoa with France This Way reviews

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Tourist classifications for Ainhoa

Ainhoa is classified as a one of the most beautiful village in France (plus beau villages)

Address: Ainhoa, Espelette, Bayonne, Aquitaine, 64250, France || GPS: latitude 43.306, longitude -1.498

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Sightseeing & tourist attractions to visit nearby

The French version of this page is at Ainhoa (Francais)