About Southwest France

Welcome to the “other” South of France, the Southwest, the region North Americans have yet to discover. Most tourists flow en masse to the Southeast, to Provence and the Riviera. But European and French travelers in the know choose the Southwest. It is their preferred destination to enjoy authentic Old World French culture with a stunning backdrop of mountains and the ocean. Check out the slide show to sample a few shots of Southwest France.

view of St jean de Luz from the ocean

 At the foot of the Pyrénées mountains and washed by large Atlantic surfing waves, the northern Basque country has maintained its unspoiled natural environment and its strong culture, attributes jealously guarded by its proud inhabitants. I love the area for its natural beauty, its gastronomy, its rich history and colourful architecture, the warmth of its people and the festive atmosphere influenced by its proximity to Spain. It has had a long tradition of tourism within Europe but is still a well-kept secret for many North Americans in search of  the France of their imagination.

 

Southwest France Map
Find out What to do , When to go  & Where to stay.  Here is a quick description of the towns and regions you will visit within a day trip while based out of the French Basque country.

BiarritzSouthwest France Villa

Biarritz, the aristocratic jewel of the Basques, grew out of the loving care of Napoleon III and his wife. Subsequently European royal families and the aristocracy of the Belle Epoque were drawn to it. Today it is known as an upscale seaside resort catering to more than just prestigious visitors. Surfers, antique shoppers, history buffs, golf enthusiasts, sun worshippers, fans of movie festivals or art deco architecture, casino fanatics, and lovers of gastronomy all clamour for its temperate climate and rugged charm. A walk or a jog along the Biarritz coastline is truly spectacular.

Saint Jean de Luz

St Jean De LuzLouis XIV married in nearby Saint Jean de Luz, a beautiful fishing harbour known for its picturesque Basque architecture and sheltered bay. After spending my summers as a child in the town, I long for its lively food market, for a drink in the quaint town square, for the sound of voices singing in its spectacular church. I long to stroll by the beach or to wander through the town’s market and boutiques.

Bayonne

BayonneBayonne is the regional capital, similarly steeped in history and populated by medieval cellars and a gothic cathedral. In my memory I can hear the buzz of locals as they make their way through the narrow pedestrian streets. I can feel the bustle and festive atmosphere of its quaysides and town walls. I remember my grandmother taking me for scrumptious hot chocolates (the best I have ever, ever had!) in elegant tea rooms that stand out today for their sheer old world charm and bon goût.

Basque Country Interior

Basque CountryLess than 15 minutes from the coast, you will find beautiful villages and farms nestling in green pastoral valleys. They reveal a history and culture unique in the world. The origins of the Basque people remain a mystery but they still speak and sing the oldest, living European language. Hiking through the valleys, you will feel a connection to the harmony and the history of this land. Numerous street and art festivals, quaint food markets, tasty but simple restaurants perched on a mountain flank will give you great opportunities to mingle with the locals.

San Sebastian

San SebastianA real treat for French locals is to make the easy crossing to Spain (a half hour drive from Biarritz) for great shopping and an evening of tapas
tasting in the old quarter of San Sebastian. The city is built on a magnificent coastal site and has welcomed royal families and well-to-do Spanish tourists since the 19th century. I enjoy joining the locals, young and old, on a weekend night for the traditional ‘paseo’ with many stops at bars and cafés with lively, animated conversations. The NY Times recently picked San Sebastian as the IT city for dining: ” It’s old and new. Traditional and trailblazing”.

Bilbao and the coastal fishing villages

BilbaoHop on the highway and 90 minutes later you’re in Bilbao, home of the European Guggenheim museum. Aside from great art, you’ll enjoy a lively city with rich architecture and history, dating back to its roots as a medieval port. You will also experience Bilbao’s thriving spirit as the economic, financial, and cultural capital of the region, a perfect mix of tradition and modernity. Heading back to France, slow down along the coastal road, hopping between Basque fishing villages nestled on cliffs overlooking the Atlantic.

Le Béarn

Le BearnThink rushing streams, mountain villages and snow covered peaks, châteaux with nearby vineyards, and historic towns. Eating well is a central part of life here and a good spot to enjoy regional specialties is never far off. I can’t resist a warm plate of garbure soup at a refuge high up in the Pyrénées following a great hike, a stroll on the grand boulevards in historic Pau, or a glass of cool Jurançon at a nearby winery after a visit to a bastide.

The Landes region

The Landes regionThe Landes region, neighbouring the Basque Country, is my region of birth. It is quiet and rural, with a long standing tradition of gastronomy in every home, foie gras and duck confit among the most well known staples. It has a beautiful wild coastline with sand dunes, the largest forest in Europe and inviting green countryside for you to explore. I cherish the simplicity of its people and their generous souls. I miss the spontaneous invitations to join their table if visiting at mealtime…and what a meal it always is.

 

Bordeaux & its wine region

Bordeaux, a two hour drive north of the Basque coast, delivers the feel & beauty of  majestic Paris without its drawbacks as described by a client of mine. Further to 10  years of intense urban planning and restoration, part of the city — port de la Lune (“Port of the Moon”) — has been on UNESCO’s World Heritage list since 2007 as an outstanding example of 18th-century town planning.  Bordeaux is now a showcase for optimal urban living. Pedestrians will find it a heaven to explore. Of course, the city is a gateway to the eponymous vineyards, which fuelled the town’s golden age and made its name world famous: Médoc, St Emilion, Sauternes, Pomerol, Entre Deux Mers…

Dune du Pyla & Arcachon

Families, sand dunes and oysters enthusiasts will want to take a detour through the Bassin d’Arcachon. There you will find the tallest sand dune in Europe, dune du Pyla, where to enjoy spectacular sun sets on the ocean and views of the Landes pine forests. Lots of beaches to sun bathe. A possibility to hop on the boat and cross the bassin d’Arcachon to bike alone the quainter villages in Cap Ferret unless you opt to enjoy the old fashioned bourgeois ambience of Arcachon to savour a few local oysters.