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Posted by on May 9, 2016 | 73 comments

Saint Jean de Luz: Pure Basque Charm

I suffer from the over planning syndrome.  Before visiting a place, I build a three pages list of things to do, see and eat.  Then, when I am in the actual place, I start to worry about not having time to complete the “magic” list.

During the last couple of years, I have exercised some self-control and have been able to leave some wiggle room here and there on my final plans.

On my last visit to Spain, we planned to move quite a bit between cities, in a two weeks period.  That is why I stopped the urge to fill the days with side trips and excursions.  “Let’s absorb the vibe of the city,” was the motto of the trip.

I promise I was doing well until I was urged to do a day trip by none other than a taxi driver (gotta love them!).

Upon arrival to San Sebastian’s train depot, we hailed a taxi to get to the hotel.  Once we got into the car, my husband asked how far we were from France.  I wasn’t sure, therefore, I asked the taxi driver.

“I know what you are referring to.  We are XX km from the border.  But, in reality France starts further away.  The place you are referring to is still Basque Country.”

And, just like that we started a conversation about all the good stuff related to the Basque Country and why we had to visit the “French” side.

The ride lasted about 10 minutes but we were sold by this guy’s vivid descriptions.  The next day, we woke up early and walked towards the local train station.  We had to take the TOPO (the Basque has their own train system) to the end of the line (Irun), walk across the border and then jump into the French train system to our first destination of the day: Saint Jean de Luz.

Saint Jean de Luz, Basque Country, France

This small town, located in the traditional Basque province of Labourd, has the only sheltered bay between Spain and Bordeaux.  As a consequence, the town reached a prosperity peak in the 17th century because of its fishing, trading and piracy industries. During this period, Saint-Jean-De-Luz became the second largest town in the Labourd region with a population or around 12,000, just behind Bayonne.

Saint-Jean-de-Luz is known for being the marriage site of Louis XIV to Maria Theresa, the Infanta of Spain.  The royal wedding was one of the clauses of the Franco-Spanish Treaty of the Pyrenees.

To the end of the nineteenth century, Saint-Jean-de-Luz became a popular beachside resort town for the surrounding high-society.  Like Biarritz (town located nearby), Saint-Jean-de-Luz was particularly appreciated by the French and Spanish aristocracy.

Saint Jean de Luz, Basque Country, France

Nowadays, the town (with Biarritz and the rest of the Basque Coast) is a popular tourist resort.  During recent years, the area has regained its chic, jetsetter reputation (it has been in most of the well-known travel publications such as Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast).  The area attracts big crowds during the summer months.

I like to think I have seen many beautiful, picturesque towns.  But, maybe I was not prepared for Saint Jean de Luz.  The town totally blew me away in terms of uniqueness and charm.  If I was already in love with Bilbao and San Sebastian, Saint Jean performed the slam dunk that buried my heart deep in the roots of the Basque Country.

I grabbed my map at the visitor’s office and did their suggested walk.

The Market

Saint Jean de Luz, Basque Country, France

Saint Jean de Luz, Basque Country, France

Place Loius XIV

IMG_8854

Saint Jean de Luz, Basque Country, France

The Port

IMG_8869

IMG_8870

La Grand Plage

Saint Jean de Luz, Basque Country, France

Saint Jean de Luz, Basque Country, France

 

Promenade Jacques Thibaud

Saint Jean de Luz, Basque Country, France

Saint Jean de Luz, Basque Country, France

Saint Jean de Luz, Basque Country, France

Saint Jean de Luz, Basque Country, France

Saint Jean de Luz, Basque Country, France

Saint Jean de Luz, Basque Country, France

Rue Loquin

Saint Jean de Luz, Basque Country, France

Saint Jean de Luz, Basque Country, France

Saint Jean de Luz, Basque Country, France

Saint Jean de Luz, Basque Country, France

Saint Jean de Luz, Basque Country, France

Rue Gambetta

Saint Jean de Luz, Basque Country, France

Saint Jean de Luz, Basque Country, France

Saint Jean de Luz, Basque Country, France

Saint Jean de Luz, Basque Country, France

Culinary Delights

The town is a foodie paradise.  After all, you are in Basque Country.  Here are some of the product that can be acquired in town.

  • Tuna, mackerel and sardine conserves
  • Marzipan
  • Macarons
  • Jambon (Ham) de Bayonne
  • Foie Gras
  • Regional Cheeses
  • La Rioja and Bordeaux Wines
  • Piment de Espellete
  • Basquaise Tart
  • All sorts of pastries

Saint Jean de Luz, Basque Country, France

Saint Jean de Luz, Basque Country, France

 

IMG_8856

Saint Jean de Luz, Basque Country, France

Saint Jean de Luz, Basque Country, France

Saint Jean de Luz, Basque Country, France

Saint Jean de Luz, Basque Country, France

I felt like I was stuck in time while walking around time.  Before I knew, it was time to leave.  But, I am serious when I say this: I will be back.

Have you visited the French Basque Country?

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This post is part of All About France at Lou Messugo.

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73 Comments

    • Great! I want to go back and do a road trip around the area. I hope it will be sunny when I do that.

    • Thanks! Glad you liked it.

  1. What a charming town indeed. I have never heard of it before this and I’m always curious about the Basque country so this is really very helpful. Awesome architecture too.

    • Seems like the French side has some of the most beautiful Basque villages. If you are interested in learning more you can read look for “Maribel’s Guides Pays Basque.”

    • I am happy I followed the taxi driver’s advice ;0)

  2. I am exactly like you, Ruth. I always bite more than I can chew when it comes to planning for our trips. However, the more you plan the more chances you have to see a lot, even if you don’t accomplish your “magic” list. Sometimes we do last minute things like you did and we never regret it. What a charming town you discovered! I’m sure you thanked that taxi driver in your mind.
    Anda recently posted..How to Make a Long-Haul Flight More BearableMy Profile

    • I want to see as much as possible. People say you can always return to a place but, to be honest, the is not certainty you will return. I was really happy after this day of sightseeing.

  3. St Jean de Luz has a special place in my husband’s heart as he spent many childhood vacations there and he took me there for one of our first trips away as a couple when I was pregnant with our first child 17 years ago. I loved it then but have never been back. Luckily we’re going this summer, so thanks for reminding what a great place it is. I’d love it if you’d link this to my #AllAboutFrance linky along with all the others you’ve linked up to as I don’t think I’ve ever read anything else by you about France. It’s a monthly linky (every first Thursday of the month) open till tomorrow evening but probably better to wait till next month (Thurs 2 June).
    Phoebe recently posted..A visit to the Escoffier Museum of Culinary ArtMy Profile

    • What a great story! I am sure you are going to have an amazing time on your next visit. This has been my only visit to France in more than 10 years. This is why I usually do not write about the country. I will add the post to the link next month.

      • I’m so glad you linked up this month Ruth, this area of France hasn’t been written about yet by anyone in the linky in 17 months so I’m sure people will love reading it. Please come back again if you have any other posts on France. #AllAboutFrance
        Phoebe recently posted..A visit to 2 museums (not perfume related) in GrasseMy Profile

  4. Wow. Simply stunning. I have a feeling I’d like this part of “France” better than I did Paris!

    • I am not a huge fan of France (I know some people are going to hate me after that) but this town took me by surprise. It is just so cute (like the rest of the Basque Country). I wish I could be back (and visit Bordeaux too).

  5. Oh what a beautiful place. I love France and visit this country very often, but I do not know Saint Jean de Luz. Thanks for this discovery.

    • You should include it in one of your trips to France. Look up the Cote Basque and the towns in the country side of the Pays Basque.

  6. Your photos make the buildings look just gorgeous. We once spent a week in a holiday house not far from here. It was a long time ago and I don’t specifically remember Saint Jean de luz but I am sure we would have gone there. I remember Biarritz quite vividly though because there was some sort of commotion going on at the cathedral and there were riot police everywhere.
    Lyn aka The Travelling Lindfields recently posted..The Winelands, South Africa – Vergelegen, Delaire Graff, Zorgvliet and Asara Wine EstatesMy Profile

    • We went to Biarritz too. The weather deteriorated significantly when we were there. Therefore, we couldn’t enjoy the fabulous vistas of the beach. I hope I can go back (when sunny).

  7. Such beautiful buildings! Gorgeous shots.

    • Glad you enjoyed them! Thanks for stopping by.

  8. Such a gorgeous place – I loved Biarritz (and what I’ve seen of the Spanish Basque country) but never made it to St Jean de Luz, as I was with friends who forced me to slow down rather than exploring the entire area. Another over-planner here too! I shall definitely have to find time to go back one day though. Thanks for linking up with #citytripping
    Cathy (MummyTravels) recently posted..My family villa holiday essentialsMy Profile

    • I know people want to chill out in the area’s beaches but there is so much to see that that would be an impossible task for me. I went to Biarritz too but the weather didn’t cooperate.

  9. Oh it looks just lovely! I’ve been to Biarritz but never made it to St Jean de Luz. Clearly a big mistake. Great photos. #citytripping

    • Biarritz is nice but it doesn’t have the traditional Basque architecture. That is why the small towns are a must visit.

    • That identity is what makes the place attractive. They are different in there and you feel like you want to learn more about them and about their traditions.

    • Yes, it went thru. Sometimes comments go directly to the Spam folder and I have to take them out of there. Not sure why it works like that for some people but not for others.

  10. Oh my gosh, all those charming buildings. Loved the tour of St. Jean de Luz. Basque culture is very interesting. We visited Carson Valley, Nevada (not far from Lake Tahoe) last year and were totally surprised to learn about Basque heritage there. Had a traditional Basque dinner (and spirits), too.
    Catherine recently posted..After Hours in St. Mark’s BasilicaMy Profile

    • I have heard a lot about the Basque community in Nevada. It is something I want to experience (no doubt about that). There is also a community in Bakersfield. I hope I can eat in one of the restaurants there one day.

    • You are like me. You do not need more travel ideas but keep reading magazines and blog posts and the list of places to see keeps growing. Glad you are considering a visit to the city.

  11. Yes thank you for sharing these beautiful photos of such a gorgeous place. I haven’t done much of Europe at all, but I am remedying that next year where I hope to travel to Italy and do an Adriatic Sea cruise.
    Kathy Marris recently posted..SE Asia Cruise: Sihanoukville, CambodiaMy Profile

    • Uhhh! An Adriatic cruise sounds nice. Hope you can concrete those plans.

    • Taxi drivers are a fantastic source of information. I love to talk to them.

    • Isn’t it gorgeous? Red is not my favorite color but have to say it works wonders on these buildings.

  12. I’m like you that I do all my homework before visiting a new place. I prioritize and do as much as I can because you just don’t know if you’ll make it back again.

    Great job, as usual. The colours of European buildings always get my attention. 😀
    Trekking with Becky recently posted..Photo Friday: Philippine FireMy Profile

    • Shout out to all the planers out there! I know I am not the only one. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Lately, all my impromptu trips have gone very well. I am believing in the magic of last minute trips.

  13. The town looks lovely! I’ve been hesitant about going to the Basque country for language-related reasons as I typically go to Spain to practise my Spanish and I’ve heard that (similar to Barcelona) people there don’t really like it if you speak Spanish! I notice a lot of the signs there seem to be in French – do a lot of people there speak French?
    Michelle recently posted..Hong Kong: Even More Good FoodMy Profile

    • Michelle, I have heard the same but I do not think that is completely true. Everywhere I went in Barcelona, Bilbao or San Sebastian, people spoke to me in Spanish. And, I am referring to cases where they started the conversation. I cannot tell if they like to speak in Spanish but I didn’t see any gestures or attitudes that were signaling any type of discomfort. So, I do not think you should be hesitant about visiting (this may not be true in more off the beaten path destinations). In the French Basque Country, French rules (some people know Spanish). But, again, this shouldn’t matter. There is always a way to communicate.

    • I know! The color palette is beautiful. Red is a popular colors in the area.

  14. Love how you manage to find these wonderfully interesting out of the way places Ruth. Saint Jean de Luz looks exactly the type of place I would like to visit… delicious food, beautiful architecture and Hello Kitty cookies!
    Katy recently posted..Photo journal – trip to Hobart, AustraliaMy Profile

    • In my travels, I try to find interesting places that are not super popular. I have been lucky enough to find great places. I am positive I am going to find more int he future.

    • Great! I am happy you found out about a city because of me. This is an area you have to add to your travel plans.

  15. Wow, I didn’t realize how cute Basque Country is! So, basically I need to visit both the Spanish and the French sides, huh? The food and drink are reason enough to visit, but then to hear about the fascinating history and to see how charming the streets and architecture look … I’m totally sold. Added to my ever-growing bucket list!
    Erin Klema | The Epicurean Traveler recently posted..Staying In Style At Boston’s Revere HotelMy Profile

    • I say you have to visit both sides. Each one is unique but great in its own right. I am so in love with the area. I can talk about it for hours. I am checking what Basque restaurants I can visit in California.

  16. Sounds an amazing place. I’ve been to San Sebastián but not ventured to the French side of the Basque Country. It’s a fascinating region though and the food is immense! Thanks for linking to #citytripping

    • Yes, the food scene alone is worth the trip. The food in San Sebastian is better than in the French side but there are some specialties in the French side that are worth the side trip.

  17. I am a born organiser by nature, but Gordon has instilled in me the belief in serendipity. What happens, happens and sometimes these are the very best experiences, as it was for you.

    • My husband is the same way. I have learned to make room for the spontaneous thing me likes to do.

  18. Hi Ruth, Sounds like you had a very persuasive taxi driver! I have not been to the Basque region although I have been in parts of France where there is definitely a Spanish influence. This town looks really lovely!

    BTW – if you are looking for any tips on mirrorless cameras, just email us as Laurence is very happy to recommend models that fit your budget and preferences 🙂
    Jessica @ Independent Travel Cats recently posted..All your Essential Travel Photography Questions Answered by Photographer Laurence NorahMy Profile

    • Thanks Jessica! it would be great if you and Laurence visit the Basque Country. I am sure the photos would be fabulous.

    • That is true! I hope I can go back to discover more. Who knows what unplanned places I will discover.

  19. I’m planning a stay in that region for this summer and will surely visit Saint Jean de Luz after reading your post. Thanks so much! #TravelTuesday

    • Oh yes! Do not miss the town. I am sure you are going to like it.

    • That taxi driver deserves kudos for his recommendation. I loved the town.

  20. Nice to know there are others who suffer Over Planning Syndrome. I do it all the time but, like you, have been trying hard to tone it down. I haven’t been to Basque Country yet, but following your posts have really made us want to visit even more. So pretty!
    RobRob @TravelLatte(.net) recently posted..Touring Montpelier, Where History was BornMy Profile

    • Seems like over planner and traveler go hand in hand. It is difficult not to jam pack your itinerary when you want to see everything.

  21. I suffer from overplanning syndrome too, although lately I’ve been trying to keep the planning to a minimum necessary. Isn’t it great when we discover places we didn’t originally intend on visiting? Your photos are lovely, as always 🙂
    Vlad recently posted..Surviving Music Festivals: What You Should KnowMy Profile

    • Thanks Vlad! Finding surprising places is at the essence of traveling and exploring.

  22. Hi! Finally I ‘m here! I’m so sorry St jean de Luz didn’t put its blue sky for you! I love this town. It’s such a lovely colorful little town. And the food is… arrrggghh
    xx cathy

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