Saint-Jean-de-Luz, Pyrenees-Atlantiques: tourism & sightseeing

Photo of Saint-Jean-de-Luz (Aquitaine region)

Visit Saint-Jean-de-Luz (Aquitaine, France)

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Saint-Jean-de-Luz is in Basque country in south-west France, on the coast near the border with Spain and about 20 kilometres south of Biarritz and Bayonne. It is close to the western end of the Pyrenees so both hills and beaches are close to hand which makes Saint-Jean-de-Luz a popular centre for a visit to this region.

The town is very closely linked with Ciboure, the town just to the south of here that was home to Ravel and Matisse and is separated from Saint-Jean-de-Luz by the Nivelle River.

Exploring Saint-Jean-de-Luz: town, coast and beach

Louis XIV doorway at St Jean de Luz church

The town is still an active fishing port, with anchovies, tuna and sardines being the main fish caught, although leisure and tourism now play a large part of the town's activity - not surprising, given the town's position between the Atlantic Ocean and the western Pyrenees.

The Church of Saint John the Baptist in the centre of Saint Jean de Luz is among the historic highlights in the town and is a fine example of a Basque church, built in the 15th century to replace an earlier roman style church in the same location.

Inside the church there are typical basque style tiered wooden balconies running along on each side, and a very impressive 17th century altar with a great deal of gilding and statues.

The blocked up church doorway you can see was closed after the wedding of Louis XIV and Marie-Thérèse (the most noteworthy event in the history of the church). After the wedding the doorway they had used to leave the church was blocked up to ensure that no-one else could pass by the same doorway.

There are a good number of other historically interesting buildings to admire as you explore Saint-Jean-de-Luz, such as the 15th century Maison Esquerrénéa, the maison de l'infante where Marie-Thérèse stayed before her marriage and the 17th century Maison Louis XIV.

beach in the centre of st jean de luz

As well as these historic monuments the town has a large number of small shops (many dedicated to tourists) and streets crammed with interesting houses and architecture as well as a wide choice of bars and cafes so allow plenty of time to explore.

Seafront, harbour and beach

Walking along the seafront you can enjoy a stroll around the large harbour and fishing port area before heading for another very important highlight: Saint-Jean-de-Luz has a very nice beach right in the town centre. The harbour and beach are also overlooked by some interesting buildings.

While there are the inevitable new buildings in the surrounding area, Saint-Jean-de-Luz has avoided most of the excessive coastal development that blights a lot of seafront towns and is a charming place to visit.

History of St Jean De Luz

The town has a long and colourful history, with origins as an important point on the coastal pilgrimage route from France to Santiago de Compostella, and became rich in the 16th century from fishing and whaling. Piracy, backed by the French King, further added to the town's wealth and many of the grand houses in the town were built on the proceeds from this piracy.

In 1609 the town gained notoriety when 600 of the town women were accused of witchcraft, and sentenced to be burned as heretics - happily they were saved when their husbands rushed back from a fishing trip to Newfoundland.

The 'finest moment' for the town was in 1660 when Louis XIV married Marie-Thérèse of Spain in the town church, the Basque Church of Saint John the Baptist, following the signing in 1659 of the 'Treaty of the Pyrenees' between France and Spain.

Other sporting activities

If you want a change from the beach there are plenty of other activities to choose from in or close to Saint-Jean-de-Luz, with golf and walking along the coast among the most popular.

Golf near St Jean de Luz and Biarritz: The region is reputedly the home of golf in France, and there are many golf courses in the region. You could try Golf de Bassussarry, Golf d'Arcangues, Golf d'Epherra, Golf de Chantaco or Golf de la Nivelle. Or go to the Le Phare golf course, the oldest golf course in France.

Walking: Walking is popular both along the coast and in the low hills and mountains at this end of the Pyrenees. One walk of particular interest is the coastal walk, that runs from Bidart to Hendaye, a total of about 25km. The path can be joined at Erretegia, Les Alcyons, Pointe Sainte-Barbe, the Fort de Socoa, Asporotsttipi, Abbadia and Sokoboru. Various information posts about geology, fishing and so on are found along the way.

Cycling, quad-bikes, horse-riding and canoeing are other popular sports with visitors.

To visit close to Saint-Jean-de-Luz

There are numerous other activities and things of interest in the St-Jean-de-Luz area - below is a brief summary.

hondaribbia walled townAbbadia: At Abbadia, on the road to Hendaye, there is a chateau - the Chateau d'Abbadia - which was constructed in the 19th century with a fine view across the ocean. Interesting, with an outside based on medieval chateaux and an interior decorated based on oriental designs, the owner (Viollet-le-Duc) also added an observatory so that scientists could map the stars (interestingly, he also drew the first accurate maps of Ethiopia).

Abbadia is also home to a 65 hectare nature reserve, with 30 species of protected birds.

Coast Road: The road south from St-Jean -de-Luz towards Hendaye (the 'corniche') is protected from development, and continues to Hondarribia and beyond. There are lots of viewpoints, cliff views and some beautiful countryside.

Rhune train: Small train that runs up the Rhune mountain, where you are greeted by spectacular views in all directions. Trains leave from Ascain, en route towards Sare.

Hendaye, on the coast south of Saint Jean de LuzHendaye: Heading towards Spain from St-Jean-de-Luz, at the end of the 'corniche' (coast road) you will find Hendaye. Hendaye has a very nice beach - 3km long - although perhaps a little spoiled by the building developments on the other side of the road.

One interesting feature of Hendaye is the nearby 'Ile des faisons' a no-mans-land island between France and Spain where treaties between the two countries were signed and hostage exchanges took place. Less common nowadays.

Fort de Socoa: Just along the coast from Ciboure, Socoa has a nice quiet beach and a fort. The Fort de Socoa is also used as a base for watersports. A nice walk from Ciboure.

Other: There are many other 'tourist attractions' - small museums, caves, houses recreated in middle-age style, aquariums etc etc You will find details in all the tourist offices in the area. At 3 km from the town the Chateau d'Arturbie is an attractive small castle dating from the 13th-17th centuries with a richly furnished interior and set in attractive gardens.

See more of the popular beaches and resorts in Aquitaine

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

See also:

Photos of Saint-Jean-de-Luz

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Map of Saint-Jean-de-Luz and places nearby

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Address: Saint-Jean-de-Luz, Bayonne, Aquitaine, 64500, France || GPS: latitude 43.387, longitude -1.66

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Sightseeing & tourist attractions to visit nearby

Market days in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, France

Regular market(s) are held in Saint-Jean-de-Luz each Tuesday & Saturday & Friday. (Markets are held in the morning unless stated.)

The French version of this page is at Saint-Jean-de-Luz (Francais)