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.
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.
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.
Place Loius XIV
La Grand Plage
Promenade Jacques Thibaud
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
- Jambon (Ham) de Bayonne
- Foie Gras
- Regional Cheeses
- La Rioja and Bordeaux Wines
- Piment de Espellete
- Basquaise Tart
- All sorts of pastries
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?