French Basque Coast: Hendaye – Bayonne – Biarritz – San Juan de Luz

Leave Donostia / San Sebastian along the motorway A-8 to Irun. Once you have passed the border you will come to the first town called Hendaye. Hendaye is a popular seaside resort on the shores of Txingudi bay, situated at the site of spectacular coastal cliffs and a immense beach at the mouth of the river Bidasoa, facing Hondarribia. The town centre, with the Church of Saint Vincent and small shopping streets, is separated by a pleasant avenue that borders the mouth of the river as far as the coastal area, where hotels, restaurants, thalassotherapy and the yachting harbour are located. Above the end of the promenade along Ondarraitz Beach and strategically situated overlooking the ocean stands Château de Antoine D´Abbadiesurrounded by large fields. This Neo-Gothic building dating from the 19th century was designed by the architect Violet de Duc for the scientist Abbadie, a fervent defender of the Basque culture and language. Today you can visit the Château’s observatory, which Abbadie used for his investigations, and a number of different rooms.

You continue your route along the A-63 to the next town called Bayonne. Follow the signs to the city centre until you reach the Place de la Republique. Follow the signs to the Office de Tourisme (Tourist Information Office) and you can park the car in the square where the office is located. You are now in what is known as Grand Bayonne. Bayonne is the region’s administrative capital located at the meeting point of the rivers Adour and Nive. Its main streets, with a unique style reminiscent of medieval times, are abounding with a variety of attractive shops. Up until the 17th century, the port went as far as the city along canals that were used to transport goods. Place de la Republique, Rue des Gouverneurs next to Château-Vieu and the Gothic Cathedral of Santa María are situated in the city centre. It is a pleasure to walk along the pedestrian streets and admire the shops; Rue d´Espagne leads towards the old wall surrounding the city and its bridges over the rivers Nive and Adour. Rue Peletier leads to Château-Neuf and Rue Bourgneuf leads to the two most important museums in Bayonne, the Basque Museum and Bonnat Museum.

Leave Bayonne and take the N-10 to Biarritz. Biarritz is undoubtedly this coast’s best resort. For a long time, it was considered to be the beach of the kings and the queen of all beaches due to the great number of monarchs that spent the summer there. Today this predominantly tourist-orientated city is just as beautiful, classy and prestigious. It is full of small charming spots and places to visit, such as the Roman Byzantine Parish Church of Sainte Eugene, the promenades along the coastline and the Grande Plage. Interesting buildings include the Hotel du Palais, a former imperial residence built in 1854 by Napoleon III for Eugenia de Montijo and the Casino. There is also a small port at the opposite end to the city’s lighthouse. From there you can see Le Rocher de la Vierge, which has marvellous views. It is also worth visiting the Sea Museum, the Eastern Art Museum and the Imperial Chapel.

Continue for 15 km along the N-10 to San Juan de Luz – Donibane Loitzun, which is a picturesque and charming town and it is vibrantly coloured by a number of typical Basque houses filled with flowers. The centre has an abundance of small, narrow streets, the majority of which are pedestrian, with a variety of shops. The Church of Jean Baptist is situated in Rue Gambetts which ends at Louis XIV Square (replete with pavements cafes) Maison de L´Infante and the fishing port. A pleasant promenade borders along the beach and the house where the famous composer Maurice Ravel was born sands at the other side of the river mouth. Interesting visits can be made to the nearby inland towns of Sara, Ainhoa and Ascain or you can take a ride up to the top of La Rhune by train. Ciboure and Socoa situated on the ” corniche” coast that borders the sea are equally attractive places to visit.