Espelette, Pyrenees-Atlantiques: tourism & sightseeing

Photo of Espelette (Aquitaine region)

Visit Espelette (Aquitaine, France)

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Espelette is a delightful village situated in the foothills of the Pyrenees to the east of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, and south-east of Biarritz below a mountain called Mondarrain. Historically the village is within the Basque province of Labourd.

The village is famous for its chilli peppers and those grown in this region even have an ‘appellation controlée’ to vouch for their authenticity. After the harvest at the end of summer the houses are strung with strings of the ‘piments’ to dry and the effect is wonderfully colourful.

Explore Espelette

France This Way comment: it is a pleasure to visit Espelette, with its broad streets of cafes and shops, and charming local architecture. Although it is not listed among the 'most beautiful villages of France' (like some nearby) it is our favourite of the basque villages in this region.

centre of village

Most of the houses in the village are built in the traditional Basque style of the region, with white houses and red or occasionally green shutters. You will discover several villages in the Basque region in this style, but almost none elsewhere in France.

At one end of the main street is the 16th century castle that is now the village mairie (town hall) and also the tourist office (on the first floor) and a place to hold various exhibitions including:

  • an exhibition related to chilli peppers
  • another dedicated to Agnes Sauret, who lived in Espelette and was the first lady to win the 'Most beautiful woman in France' award (around 1920),
  • another for Armand David, an intrepid explorer from Espelette who travelled the world in the first half of the 19th century.

Although it is the village itself which is the main attraction to visitors, be sure to take a look inside the Church of Saint-Etienne on the edge of Espelette. The church has has a typical Basque church interior with three levels of wooden galleries going round the walls and a very decorative 18th century altarpiece.

The style of church interiors in the region is very attractive so we do recommend that whenever you see a village church in the Basque country you try and take a look inside.

There are a good selection of shops, boutiques and artisans in espelette if you are looking for a souvenir to take away with you - or perhaps a box of home-made chocolates (chilli flavour? why not!) to eat straight away?

church of saint-stephen

Espelette chilli peppers

The village of Espelette is very much dedicated to red chilli peppers. Walking round the village many of the shops are dedicated to the local piments and you can buy strings of them to take home for cooking or perhaps buy the local olive oil which has piment and garlic in.

This is perfect to pour on pizza (French restaurants always have a bottle of spicy oil to pour on pizzas) or to spice up your salads and they make great presents. There are many other products too. In a neighbouring village we even had the chance to try macaroons with piments in, and they were much tastier than you might guess!

France This Way comment: if you visit in September or October you can see the strings of bright red chilli peppers hung up to dry on the front of the houses in the village, which is quite a lovely site. If you visit later in the year some will still be there (others will have been sold) but the chillies will have turned a deeper shade of red as they dry, and after October you start to have quite a high chance of poor weather.

If you can, visit Espelette during the ‘Fete aux piments’ in October.

chillies drying in Espelette

Attractions nearby

There are several other villages nearby which also have the same basque architecture as Espelette and are pleasant to visit including Sare and Ainhoa which are both listed among the most beautiful villages in France.

The surrounding countryside of low mountains is perfect for exploring by car, walking or cycling - or by taking the small train that climbs the mountain at La Rhune for a different view across the countryside and a great experience. In the countryside you might be lucky enough to come across the small semi-wild horses called 'pottok'.

Of course you are also close to the Atlantic beaches a short distance to the west of here with our favourites being Biarritz and Saint-Jean-de-Luz.

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

See also:

Map of Espelette and places nearby

Visit near Espelette with France This Way reviews

... or see ALL recommended places to visit in Pyrenees-Atlantiques

Address: Espelette, Bayonne, Aquitaine, 64250, France || GPS: latitude 43.3414, longitude -1.44639

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