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The Ultimate Road Trip in the Basque Country, France
A guest post by Stéphanie from Ethno Travels
The French Basque Country, in the region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine in Western France, is a land rich in cultural traditions, natural wonders, and small, pretty towns. The Basque people are very nice and welcoming and the French Basque food is excellent too!
The best way to explore the French Basque Country is by car, on a road trip. This French Basque Country Road Trip covering the coast and some small villages takes four days. It is the ideal French Basque Country itinerary for those who love the ocean, mountains, history, small towns, local specialties, and good wine.
This tour of the Basque Country in France starts in Biarritz and it is one of the best road trips in France. Read more about road tripping in France:
Road Trip Basque Country, France Overview
- Start: Biarritz
- Finish: Biarritz (or Bayonne if you take the train)
- Duration: 4 days
- Suggested route: Biarritz –Saint-Jean-de-Luz – Aïnhoa – Espelette – Bayonne
- Total distance: 143 km, 2 hours 11 drive in total
- Region covered: Nouvelle Aquitaine
- Best for: Sightseeing, landscapes, nature, small towns, food
Road Trip French Basque Country Map
French Basque Country Road Trip Itinerary
For this road trip from Biarritz, you don’t need the car until day 1 in the afternoon, so if you are taking a self-drive vacation to the Basque Country in a hire car, wait until then to pick up your rental car in Biarritz.
Day 0 | Arrival to Biarritz
This French Basque Country itinerary starts from Biarritz, on the French Basque coast. Arrive at Biarritz Pays Basque airport or Biarritz railway station and stay in Biarritz for one night. Hotel Windsor Grande Plage, facing the Grande Plage beach, is ideally situated close to the main attractions. Located in an ancient private mansion, the hotel is eco-labeled. This is the only green label officially recognized across the European Union for accommodations with low energy impact, limited waste production, and promoting environmental practices.
Day 1 | Biarritz – Saint Jean de Luz
On day 1 you do not need the car until the afternoon.
Morning at Biarritz
Day 1 of this French Basque Country road trip starts by exploring Biarritz. After breakfast, catch the free bus, the navette Saint Charles, and go to Biarritz lighthouse (‘Le Phare’ bus stop). Climb the 248 steps to the top and enjoy the panorama: the Landes beaches, Bayonne and Anglet on your right and Biarritz beaches, Rocher de la Vierge, Saint Jean de Luz, and Spain on your left.
Then, enjoy a relaxing walk by following the coast down to Côte des Basques Beach. Enjoy looking at the numerous private mansions built after Emperor Napoleon III, and Eugénie decided to have their summer residence ‘Villa Eugénie’ on the Grande Plage beach. The Palace Hotel, now called Hôtel du Palais, was the site for the G7 meeting in 2019.
Continue to the Grande Plage beach that people often confuse with the Côte des Basques beach. Visit Sainte Eugénie Church, then take the stairs to Basta Rock. This is the location of the former fishermen’s village, Miarritze in Basque or ‘the two rocks,’ which has been in existence since the time of Napoleon III’s visit. Over the years, Miarritze grew and became the city of Biarritz.
Walk to the fishermen’s harbor with its beautiful, tiny houses. Walk up to the Atalaye Plateau and enjoy the view of the ocean and Pyrénées mountains before walking down to the Rock of the Virgin. This is the second rock that marked the limits of the tiny Miarritze village. The Virgin was erected by Napoleon III after he failed in building a harbor here. She faces Bayonne’s harbor to bless the boats leaving it.
After the free visit to the rock, continue your walk along the ocean, through Port-Vieux, where whales used to wash up and where the members of the association ‘Les Ours Blancs’ like to swim every day.
Villa Belza is an ancient Russian casino now populated by showbiz people. You will then arrive at the Côte des Basques beach. This beach is the cradle of surfing in Europe. Catch the free bus back to Biarritz, the navette Verdun, and stop in the center, or walk back to the Grande Plage beach through the commercial streets in front of Port-Vieux.
Afternoon at Saint Jean de Luz
It’s time to take the car and start this French Basque Country road trip. In the afternoon, drive 15kms to Saint Jean de Luz by following the ocean road. Don’t miss the fabulous view of Bidart beaches on your right!
Saint-Jean-de-Luz, a beautiful coastal town with a rich history, is one of the top places to visit in Western France. It was a village of whale-hunters which became a pirates’ town. In 1660, Saint Jean de Luz hosted King Louis XIV and Infanta Maria Teresa of Spain’s wedding because of its ideal location right on the border of France and Spain.
First, visit the harbor with the view of the Rhune mountain on your left, Ciboure town and Maurice Ravel’s house on the opposite side, and the pink Maison de l’Infante and Place Louis XIV on the right.
Walk to Place Louis XIV and go to the square house. In front of you, the big white town hall was the house where King Louis XIV spent the night before his wedding. On your right, the big pink house is where his future wife, the Spanish Infanta, slept.
The red and black facade on your left is the famous Maison Adam (4 Rue de la République, Saint Jean de Luz). This family created Saint Jean de Luz macaroons for Louis XIV’s wedding. The recipe is still kept secret!
Enjoy a few macaroons and follow the street to the ocean. Walk to the right along the ocean, admiring the landscape and typical houses, then take the street leading to the church. Visit Saint Jean de Luz’s church (Église Saint-Jean Baptiste) with its wooden galleries, boat shape, and colorful altarpiece. Don’t miss the sign on the door that Louis XIV used for his wedding.
Spend the night in Saint Jean de Luz. Recently renovated, the Grand Hotel Thalasso & Spa is ideally situated in the center, 200 meters from the beach.
TIP: If you want to spend the whole day in Saint Jean de Luz instead of visiting Biarritz in the morning, visit the market in the morning and drive along the magnificent route de la Corniche between Ciboure and Hendaye. Stop whenever you want to shoot photos of the ocean cliffs and Pyrenees mountains. Don’t miss Egiategia’s winery (5bis Chemin des Blocs, Ciboure), which uses under the sea vinification, and taste this delicious sparkling wine. Also, visit Château d’ Abbadia, in Hendaye.
Day 2 | La Rhune Mountain – Aïnhoa
Morning up to the Rhune Mountain
On day 2 of this tour of the Basque Country France, drive 11kms to Col de Saint Ignace in Sare and take the little mountain train up to the Rhune Mountain. Enjoy the 360° panoramic views of the ocean and mountains. Try to spot griffon vultures, pottok (the Basque horses), and wild cows.
Afternoon in Aïnoha
In the afternoon, drive 12kms to Aïnhoa, a typical Basque village elected as one of France’s most beautiful villages.
Stroll around the church with its cemetery of Basque tombs and the little streets with their small, beautiful houses. Enjoy the view of the mountains.
If you have more time, take the pilgrim’s route to the top of the mountain and Chapelle de l’Aubépine. You can also cross the border to Spain and visit the witches’ village, Zugarramurdi, in the Spanish Basque Country.
Spend the night in Ainhoa. Ithurria Hotel Restaurant offers a Basque atmosphere with its wooden facade, old furniture, and Basque paintings. For dinner, enjoy the Basque cuisine at the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant.
Day 3 | Saint Jean Pied de Port – Espelette
Morning in Saint Jean Pied de Port
To begin day 3 of this road trip Basque Country France, drive 43kms to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. This is where all the paths to Santiago de Compostela join and from where the pilgrims cross the Pyrénées. Enjoy the town, its market, and scenic views. Saint Jean Pied de Port also has a Michelin-starred restaurant, Les Pyrénées (19 Place Carles de Gaulle, Saint Jean Pied de Port).
Afternoon in Espelette
In the afternoon, drive 42kms to Espelette via the Irouleguy wine hills. Visit the village famous for the AOC chili pepper used in Basque cuisine and also for its white facades decorated with chilis. You can pay a visit to L’Atelier du Piment (ElizaldekoBidea, Espelette), then head to Bayonne, at 23kms.
Spend the night in Bayonne. Okko Hotels Bayonne center, at 650 meters from the cathedral, offers the best service in Bayonne.
Day 4 | Bayonne
This French Basque Country road trip itinerary ends in Bayonne, where we recommend visiting the city center before leaving.
The city famous for Bayonne ham is also the French capital of chocolate. Walk along the quays, photograph the stilt houses, visit the magnificent cathedral and its cloister, drink a hot chocolate at Cazenave’s, (19 rue Port Neuf, Bayonne), and buy chocolate from some of the best chocolate-makers in France. If you have time, enjoy the free visit of L’Atélier Pierre Ibaialde (41, rue des Cordeliers, Bayonne). You will learn the process of ham salting and also get to taste their products.
If you have more days available, consider this road trip Bordeaux to Biarritz but in the opposite direction. This 6-day itinerary takes you from the ocean to the countryside visiting some great sites.
So, what are you waiting for? Book your French Basque Country road trip today!
Stéphanie Langlet @ Ethno Travels. Passionate about Humans and autochthonous cultures, Stephanie Langlet spends her time between the Basque Country and Asia. Both a guide, trip planner, and guesthouse owner, she mixes on her blog ethnography and helpful travel tips. Feeling social? Follow Ethno Travels on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.
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