What to do

Map to locate the Basque countryA key appeal of the French Basque country is the ability to enjoy a wide range of activities, landscapes and experiences all within a small driving distance: no more than a 20 minute drive to go from towns to villages, from ocean to mountains, from France to Spain. Do not try to do it all in one trip. The idea is to slow down and see the world go by. Come back many times and experience some more.

Here is a sample of what you can do:

History & Architecture

  • FontarrabiePrivate guided visits of historic but lively and charming towns such as Saint Jean de Luz, Bayonne or Fuentarrabia &  San Sebastian on the Spanish side
  • Drop in by prehistoric caves, bastides, roman churches, 400yr old Basque farms, art deco buildings  but also public landmarks designed by high profile architects such as Jean Nouvel or Frank Gehry
  • Follow pre-defined historical routes that take you through small medieval towns, castles and historical sites. Discover the evolution of a region from the 12th to the 21st century that Gaston Fébus, King Henri IV and Napoleon III and his wife Eugènie de Montijo  have heavily shaped.

Outdoor & Leisure activitiesWhattodo_Surfeur

  • Water sports in the sea, lakes or rivers: swimming, surfing, white water rafting, deep-sea fishing, diving, sailing etc…
  • Golfing at favourite spots for golfers in continental Europe: 6 courses to choose from within 15 minutes or 11 courses within an hour’s drive and a renowned international training centre. Check out the Golfers & Friends programs. Mountain-based activities: hiking, horseback riding, canyoning, all-terrain adventures etc…Hikers will find a rich selection of marked trails catering to every level throughout the Pyrénées, including the Spanish GR11 and the French GR10, which are coast to coast long distance footpaths (Atlantic to Mediterranean). You can hike on your own, hire a local guide or join one of the many day outings organized by local hiking clubs. GOLF_D_ILBARRITZ_BIARRITZ
  • You are in the European capital of surfing. English-speaking pros will teach you the basics or perfect your style at a wide variety of surfing spots, and you can do this year-round. Snowboarders can’t turn down this opportunity, and neither can strong swimmers in search of adventure.
  • Cyclists will find easy trails by the beach and challenging but scenic training grounds along the coastal mountains. Col d’Aubisque, Col du Somport, Tourmalet, just a 90 minute drive from the coast, will give cyclists Tour de France shivers.  Knowledgeable regional bike shops and various amateur cycling clubs can provide appropriate logistical support and an injection of passion and camaraderie.
  • Learning the regional sport of pelote basque or the local dancescycling
  • Attending a rugby game in THE rugby region of France.
  • Skiing in the Pyrénées from December to April, a 90 minute drive from the coast

Gastronomy

  • Thoughtful selection and reservations at restaurants loved by the locals to sample the amazing regional gastronomy
  • Market outing with a chef, a lunch or a cooking party  in the comfort of his home kitchen
  • Foie gras and ewe cheese farm visits and an opportunity to bake gâteau basqueWhattodo_Vignoble-Irouleguy
  • Wine tasting and cellar visits of fine local wineries or go for a trip extension in the Bordeaux region.
  • Bar hopping with an insider in the streets a nearby San Sebastian or Fuentarabia,  in Spain, in a quest to try various pintxos ( tapas in Basque)
  • A hard-to-get entry into a private cooking society in San Sebastian where members celebrate the pleasures of cooking and eating together
  • Indulge a fine meal experience at one of the many famed 3 starred Michelin restaurants. Sample the richness of Basque cuisine, its traditions and latest creations
  • Taste and select your favourite local gastronomy treat: Ossau Iraty cheese, foie gras, duck confit, nougat, Gâteau Basque, dark chocolate, cured ham, macarons…
  • check out my suggestions for small groups of Food & Wine Aficionados

Art of Living & Wellbeing

  • well-beingConvivial street festivals to celebrate simple life pleasures in towns and villages
  • A simple walk through the Pyrénées foothills to enjoy a casual fare at one of many inns, called ventas,
    found on the border with Spain right in the mountains
  • A day of thalassotherapy treatments at one of 5 centers on a 30km costal stretch : thalassotherapy exploits all the virtues of seawater, seaweed and other marine by-products to enhance the wellbeing of both men and women
  • An exclusive and luxurious stay in an exquisite summer home on a sand dune overlooking the ocean; enjoy privacy, nature, gastronomy and divine personal services
  • In the Landes region enjoy the sensual pleasure of daily spa treatements in an 18th century farmhouse within the premises of a Relais & Château and a 3 starred Michelin restaurant
  • Discover traditional objects & savoir-faire of artisans by browsing  their workshops in different villages: makilas, chisteras, ceramics, linen…
  • Get an insight into the culture and traditions of bullfighting with an aficionado
  • How about life coaching in great natural surrounding with a perfectly bilingual life coach?
    He works with athletes, artists and executives who need to refocus their life

Visual ArtBilbao

  • A visit to the renowned Guggenheim museum and city of Bilbao, a 90 minute drive from Biarritz
  • The Contemporary Art -Artium Museum of Alava in Vitoria, Spain, showcases one of the most complete collection of contemporary Spanish art. In San Sebastian,  the sculptures of  Eduardo Chillida make for a very interesting garden visit.  Pop in by Musée Bonnat in Bayonne for more visual treats.
  • Painting, ceramic, painting-on-porcelain workshops with local artists in studios or private villas<
  • Many art galleries and workshops to browse through as many artists are calling this region home for its quality of living and light.

Main cultural and sporting events

There are many opportunities to mingle and celebrate life with the locals:

  • Movieat food oriented festivals: where a specific food provides a perfect excuse for eating local specialties in the streets while listening to music
  • at sport competitions (hiking, golfing, surfing, fishing, swimming etc…) that often end with a meal somewhere
  • at town fiestas, we call ‘fêtes de village’, as each town and village has a 3 to 5 day celebration every year with again more food, music and outdoor dancing
  • at Basque festivals for those of us interested in understanding the literature, the music, the singing and the sports of this ancient culture
  • at nationally renowned music festivals with choral singing and classical music in beautiful venues: Musique en Côte basque festival in late August-early September, International Festival of Choral Singing late October. Singing and music making are an important form of expression for locals.
  • Movie buffs? check out the International La Cita Film Festivalon Latin American culture in Biarritz in october, or the International Film Festival for young movie directors in St Jean de Luz, and of course the San Sebastian International Movie festival, ranked # 3 in Europe after Cannes and Venice.

And with kids?

  • with kidsHang out at the beach, play in the waves, browse through the colourful markets, sip a drink at cafés listening to live music while the kids safely run around on the plaza
  • Take a scenic train ride on a nearby coastal mountain or on the highest railroads in Europe.
  • Check out a prehistoric cave or a family cooking class to make gâteau Basque
  • Have a confetti fight at one of the open air street dances.
  • Hike or ride on a horse to a glacier lake for a picnic surrounded by sheer beauty.
  • 3 to 11 year olds can have a French immersion of their own at a local beach club, the equivalent of a day-time summer camp right on the beach.
  • And yes, babysitting arrangements can also be pre-arranged.

And with older children?

  • Teenagers love the freedom and safety of walking around the small but trendy coastal towns.surfing
  • Surfing program for a few days in English or in French to be with their peers
  • Water-rafting, mountain-biking or horse-riding on real mountains
  • Signing up for a golf program
  • Half day French classes at a local language school (with optional home stays as you can read in the French Immersion  page
  • Dropping in at many informal cultural events right there on the streets to breathe a different culture
  • Do some of the above as a family… all of you might like it!