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10 must-sees for a stay in the Basque Country

Posted by Romain on February 8, 2023

The Basque Country, a Franco-Spanish territory between mountains and sea, is an exceptional destination for a change of scenery. The Basque coast in particular, which stretches between Bayonne and Hendaye, offers a diversity of landscapes to discover: wild coastlines, Atlantic Ocean and Pyrenees in the background.

The territory is also distinguished by its culture, its traditions and the richness of its cultural heritage which build a strong identity, claimed by the locals to the point of claiming if not independence, at least the recognition of the Basque Country as a department in its own right. Let’s go and discover the tourist wonders of this magnificent region!

#1 La Rhune

La Rhune is a summit located in the Pyrenees, but don’t worry, there’s no need to reinvent yourself as a mountaineer: it can be reached by the Train de la Rhune, an authentic rack railway that is almost a century old. However, the most courageous can take a hike to the summit to enjoy a superb panoramic view of all the treasures of the Basque Country.
During your ascent, keep an eye out for endemic fauna such as Manech sheep or “pottok” (Basque ponies).

#2 Surfing

It’s no secret that the Basque coast has many spots for surfers: Biarritz, Hendaye and Anglet are ideal destinations for wave lovers, who gather there every year in large numbers to enjoy the Atlantic Ocean’s tubes. Why not try your hand at this sport? Many clubs offer introductory courses and you could, like Brice from Nice, dream of becoming one of the greatest!
If your preference is to watch the show rather than perform, there are several championships organised every year in the region: check out the programme and order a cold drink!

#3 Abbadia Castle – Hendaye

Home of Antoine d’Abbadie d’Arrast – a scholar with a passion for geography, astronomy and oriental culture – this magnificent castle-observatory overlooks the bay of Hendaye. Built between 1864 and 1884 by Viollet-Le-Duc, it is now classified as a Historic Monument and as a Maison des Illustres.
During your visit, you will discover rich scientific collections, archives and original furniture representative of the cultural heritage of the 19th century. Once outside, enjoy the park of the castle and its exceptional view of the ocean!

#4 Typical villages not to be missed

No matter how long your stay, you can’t miss four villages that have been awarded the “Most Beautiful Villages in France” label:

  • Ainhoa, a 12th-century bastide created to welcome pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela.
  • Sare, a village at the foot of the Rhune with an unusual district, Lehenbiscay.
  • Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, where you can walk through the citadel designed by Vauban and contemplate the Porte de Saint Jacques, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • La Bastide-Clairence, a village full of heritage treasures: the Israelite cemetery, the church with a courtyard paved with funerary slabs and the oldest trinquet (game of paume).

In each of these villages, you will be able to contemplate typical Basque houses, medieval bridges, Labourdin-style half-timbered houses and other colourful stone facades. A real change of scenery!

#5 The Holzarté footbridge – Larrau

For nature lovers and thrill-seekers, the Holzarté footbridge awaits you in the heart of the Olhadubi gorges. This 180-metre-high suspension bridge offers a spectacular crossing, which should not be attempted by those with a fear of heights!
It’s a one-hour hike along the torrential Olhadoko Erreka river and along a steep path through the forest: a lovely walk to be enjoyed in good weather.

#6 The coastal path from Bidart to Hendaye

Put on your hiking boots for a healthy 25km walk from Bidart to Hendaye, on a path that is probably the best way to discover the Basque coastline.
You will cross Ciboure, Guéthary and Saint Jean de Luz, and will be able to admire their breathtaking panoramas: mountainous landscapes, beaches and jagged cliffs, heather moors and coves of the Atlantic coast will share your attention in turn. A walk to be planned preferably at low tide!

#7 Bayonne

A city of art and history, Bayonne has many surprises in store for tourists. The richness of its cultural heritage is undeniable: ramparts and the Citadel designed by Vauban, Sainte-Marie Cathedral, the Château-Vieux and half-timbered houses. Its specialities also make the city a place not to be missed in the region: its chocolate workshops and the festival that celebrates it in May, as well as the ham fair at Easter, highlight its flagship products.
Bayonne is also street art and you will discover a real open-air gallery! During the Points de Vue Festival, but not only, you can contemplate monumental frescoes or plastic creations hidden here and there throughout the city.

#8 La villa Arnaga – Cambo-les-Bains

Home of the poet and author Edmond Rostand, this villa will plunge you into the heart of his life, his family, his inspirations and his famous works. Located south of Bayonne, it is inspired by the Basque farmhouses with their white and red facades. You will love this listed estate with its gardens spread over 15 hectares, its 20-metre theatrical fresco created by Jean Veber and the many wooded rooms within the villa.
Please note: the reopening is scheduled for April 2023.

#9 San Juan De Gaztelugatxe, Spain

Located in Vizcaya, in the Spanish Basque Country, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is a spectacular little island (whose name means “castle-rock” in Basque) in the Bay of Biscay belonging to the town of Bermeo.
Located 40 minutes north of Bilbao, this protected natural area is linked to the mainland by a stone bridge that you can cross while admiring its raw beauty. Fans of Games of Thrones will not fail to recognise the fortress on the island of Peyredragon.

#10 The Caves of Isturitz and Oxocelhaya

Finally, discover an emblematic prehistoric site that offers a real plunge into the memory of humanity. The only caves in the Basque Country, located 30 minutes from Biarritz, the Isturitz site contains prehistoric objects dating back more than 40,000 years, and the presence of Man is even attested to over 80,000 years ago!
The Oxocelhaya cave offers an incredible spectacle of concretions in huge cathedral-like rooms: constellations of shells, stalactites and stalagmites like you have never seen before.
You will have to wait for the annual opening in March 2023 to walk through the 600 metres of galleries.

The wonders of the Basque Country cannot be told as well as experienced. If the locals are rather chauvinistic, it is perhaps because they want to keep countless breathtaking natural and cultural wonders to themselves, and we understand them! That said, a visit to this region seems to be a good way to complete the escapades of any self-respecting tourist: it’s up to you!

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