About Far South-West France – Basque Coast
The broad sandy sweep of the Côte d’Argent finally runs out of steam south of Bayonne, interrupted by the appearance of jagged sea stacks in Biarritz and plummeting cliffs between Saint-Jean-de-Luz and Hendaye. This is the Basque Coast, only around 35 km from north to south.
Behind the coastal resorts, the three provinces which constitute France’s Pays Basque – Basse Navarre, Labourd and Soule – are predominantly rural, unlike their industrial and more politically active Spanish counterparts. But while the French Basques do not tend to strive for separation, their cultural identity remains strong. Distinctive half-timbered houses are graced by carved lintels and balconies laden with geraniums; unpronouncable Basque language signposts are peppered with Ks, Zs and Xs. There is Basque cuisine flavoured with onions, tomatoes, pimento and thyme all of which get thrown into a favourite savoury omelette, piperade; there are rough red wines, and a local spirit, Izarra. The leisurely game of boules is replaced by pelota, a fast and furious handball played in an open fronton court, or closed trinquet. During July and August numerous festivals are enlivened by traditional singing and dancing. And then there is the ubiquitous beret and rope-soled espadrilles, an informal uniform in these parts.
October is possibly the ideal time to seek out the best places to visit. The summer sees too many tourists, but from early September to late October, the crowds thin out, yet the weather remains mild and the sea warm.
Frequent train and bus services from Bayonne call at Biarritz, Saint-Jean-de-Luz and Hendaye on their way south to the Spanish border; and there are daily services to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port from Bayonne. Buses from Saint-Jean-de-Luz head east for Ascain, the Col de Saint-lgnace and Sare; and also Cambo-les-Bains (bus and train connections to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port).