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Pays Basque travel guide

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Visit Pays Basque (Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France)

The Basque country (known as the Pays Basque in France) is the coastal area of south-west France along the border with Spain. It is the western part of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department, and in the Nouvelle-Aquitane region.

The French Basque country includes three historical provinces: from east to west these are La Soule, Basse-Navarre and Labourd. You might also hear the region referred to as the north Basque country (with the south Basque country being the part in Spain).

Explore French Basque country

France This Way comment: the Pays Basque area of France is a very attractive destination, with charming seaside resorts, historic towns, and mountain villages all within easy reach - one of our favourite French destinatons to spend a week or two

Most visitors will stay in one of the towns along the coast and make excursions from here to visit the villages in the foothills of the Pyrenees as part of the visit. The towns along the coast are each quite different in character and where you choose to stay will depend on your preferences.

Harbour in Saint-Jean-de-Luz

Biarritz is a large and vibrant seaside resort town, with a beautiful beach and coast in the town centre and a very wide choice of shops and restaurants. This has been one of the most popular destintions in France for at least 150 years, is one of our favourite resorts in France, and you will understand why when you visit! See the Biarritz guide.

Note that driving in Biarritz centre can be difficult and parking is also rather expensive and difficult, so if you primary goal is to take the car out exploring the region each day Biarritz may not be the best choice for your accommodation.

Saint-Jean-de-Luz is a very charming resort on the coast to the south of Biarritz with a sandy beach in the town centre, a busy town centre, and a harbour. The other side of the harbour in the small town of Ciboure you can see the houses where Ravel and Matisse once lived.

Saint-Jean-de-Luz is a smaller town than Biarritz and the coast is less dramatic than in Biarritz but you will still find a wide choice of shops and restaurants and it is a very enjoyable place to spend a visit. See the Saint-Jean-de-Luz guide.

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Hendaye is another resort, on the border with Spain. The town contains several distinct parts with the beach and town centre about two kilometres apart. It is pleasant to visit but it would not be our choice of town to stay in if the goal was to explore the Basque country. See the Hendaye guide.

Towns and villages in Basque country

In the eastern part of the Basque country, in the La Soule and Basse Navarre provinces, it is the scenery and the small towns and villages that are the principal attraction. You will quickly come to recognse the traditional architecture of the region with white houses and red or green shutters, and the villages are the best place to appreciate this architecture.

Centre of the village of Espelette

Although you will discover others when you explore, among our favourite villages in the Basque country there are several you will want to visit as a priority including:

Espelette: the centre of Espelette is very lovely, with the architecture enhanced by the numerous big bunches of chilles that are hung to dry on the front of many of the houses. See the Espelette guide.

La Bastide-Clairence: similar in style, there are lots of interesting houses in the village and a church that has retained the traditional wooden balconies to be seen in several churches in the area. See the La Bastide-Clairence guide.

Ainhoa: the village of Ainhoa is very close to the frontier between France and Spain and listed among the most beautiful villages in France. See the Ainhoa guide.

Other villages of interest nearby include Sare and Itxassou, each small but with their own charm.

Bayonne is a large town to the east of Biarritz with an extensive historic centre, an imposing cathedral and attractive houses along the river among its highlights. It is not a coastal town and so of course does not have a beach! It is not primarily a "tourist town" but we strongly recommend you visit Bayonne during your visit to the Pays Basque.

River in Bayonne

The inhabitants of the Pays Basque have a long history of seeking independence from France and Spain and becoming a country called Euskadi. Although this seems unlikely in the near future, the region has some degree of autonomy and, for example, its own televison and radio channels. 

Attractions nearby

The most popular visitor attraction in the mountains of the Pays Basque is probably the small train that goes up a mountain at La Rhune near Sare. The journey in the train is memorable and the views from the top of the mountain are very lovely - as long as can you visit on a day when the sky is clear! There s also a visitor centre at the summit

Note that most of the basque country is situated in Spain, but here we are only concerned with the part in France, about 15 % of the total area, although the attractions of the region continue into Spain with historic towns such as Hondarribia and beautiful resorts such as San Sebastian just a short distance across the border via Hendaye.

The east part of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques is historically known as the Béarn region and also has several towns and villages of interest to visitors, and the mountain scenery is more impressive than the coastal areas of the Basque country.

See also: 

Map of Pays Basque and places nearby

 
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Visit near Pays Basque with France This Way reviews

Ainhoa

Ainhoa

Betwen sea and mountains, the basque village of Ainhoa is listed among the most beautiful villages in France

Ainhoa guide
Ainhoa church of Notre-Dame

Ainhoa church of Notre-Dame

The church in Ainhoa is a traditional Basque church with rows of balconies around the walls

Ainhoa church of Notre-Dame guide
Anglet

Anglet

Anglet, close to Biarritz, has several kilometres of beaches on the French Atlantic coast

Anglet guide
Bayonne

Bayonne

Bayonne is a lovely historic city with a cathedral, a substantial old town and a charming riverside promenade

Bayonne guide
Bayonne cathedral

Bayonne cathedral

Bayonne cathedral is an imposing gothic style cathedral with a beautifully restored apse and an impressive cloister

Bayonne cathedral guide
Biarritz

Biarritz

The 19th century architecture and lovely beach and coast combine to make Biarritz a very popular destination

Biarritz guide
Cambo-les-Bains

Cambo-les-Bains

Cambo-les-Bains is a small pleasant town, best known for its thermal waters and the gardens of the Villa Arnaga

Cambo-les-Bains guide
Ciboure

Ciboure

Once home to Maurice Ravel, Ciboure is a smal port and resort just south of Saint-Jean-de-Luz

Ciboure guide
Espelette

Espelette

Home of red hot chillies, Espelette is a very traditional basque village in the western Pyrenees

Espelette guide
Hendaye

Hendaye

Hendaye, the last resort in France before the Spanish border, also has a popular large sandy beach

Hendaye guide
Hendaye church Saint-Vincent

Hendaye church Saint-Vincent

The Church Saint-Vincent in Hendaye has a charming interior of tiered balconies and red walls

Hendaye church Saint-Vincent guide
Itxassou

Itxassou

Less visited than some of the traditional Basque villages here, Itxassou is very pleasant to explore

Itxassou guide
La Bastide-Clairence

La Bastide-Clairence

Labastide-Clairence is another of the most picturesque villages in the Basque region

La Bastide-Clairence guide
La Rhune

La Rhune

The Rhune is a small Pyrenees mountain that you can go up in a scenic train - a nice way to enjoy the scenery.

La Rhune guide
Saint-Jean-de-Luz

Saint-Jean-de-Luz

A long established beach resort, Saint-Jean-de-Luz also has a lively and popular town centre to explore

Saint-Jean-de-Luz guide
Saint-Jean-de-Luz church

Saint-Jean-de-Luz church

The church of Saint John the Baptist in Saint-Jean-de-Luz has a remarkable interior with a baroque altar and tiered balconies

Saint-Jean-de-Luz church guide
Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port

The small village of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port has a long established role on one of the important pulgrimage routes across France

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port guide
Saint-Pee-sur-Nivelle

Saint-Pee-sur-Nivelle

Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle is a small basque village with a popular leisure lake

Saint-Pee-sur-Nivelle guide
Sare

Sare

Sare is one of several traditional Basque towns in the western Pyrenees, with lots of houses in the local architectural style

Sare guide

The French version of this page is at Pays Basque (Francais)

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