Things to See and Do in the French Pays Basque
Indulge yourself from the beaches to the mountainous interior, via the great cities of Bayonne and Biarritz
[Related articles: Great Travel Destinations: French Basque Country
12 Great Places to Visit in the French Pays Basque
Where to Stay and Eat in the French Basque Country]
There are great Halles marketplaces in the town centres of both Saint-Jean-de-Luz and Bayonne. Open until lunchtime every day of the week.
Located in Biarritz, the Musée Asiatica features works of art from India, China, Tibet and Nepal, plus cultural artefacts from Burma and Japan.
Don’t leave the Pays Basque without witnessing this ancient ball game. Poke your head round the door of an indoor trinquet court, visit one of the ubiquitous outdoor frontons, or buy tickets for a full-on game of cesta punta at Biarritz Jai Alai, one of the biggest centres. Ona Pilota (+33 (0)6 26 76 66 88) offer lessons and visits round their workshop where they manufacture the balls and baskets.
In the Pays Basque the locals take their rugby very seriously indeed, and the rivalry between Aviron Bayonnais (les bleus) and Biarritz Olympique Pays Basque (les rouges) is one of the most intense derbies in all of French sport. www.abrugby.fr and www.bo-pb.com.
There’s great surfing at beaches all along the coast, and many companies offering lessons. Contact the Fédération Française de Surf in Soorts-Hossegor, 20km north of Biarritz, for recommendations.
The makila is a traditional Basque walking stick but with a hidden weapon. Unscrew the top and you’ll reveal a sharp metal spike used to goad animals and protect shepherds from wolves. One man in Bayonne called Gérard Léoncini still makes makilas the traditional way. He doesn’t officially welcome visitors but if you knock on his shop door (37 rue Vieille Boucherie) and catch him in the right mood, he might explain his craft.
Love it or hate it, bullfighting is part of Bayonne culture. And, yes, they do kill the bulls. There are fights staged throughout the summer at Les Arènes de Bayonne. Corridas feature experienced matadors and fully-grown bulls. Novilladas are for novices in both categories. www.bayonne-tourisme.com/fr/decouvrirbayonne/ville-festive/les-corridas.php
Close to a million revellers, all decked out in white clothing with red neckerchiefs and belts, descend upon Bayonne for the annual Fêtes de Bayonne in late July. There’s lots of partying, lots of drinking, and a running of the bulls, like in Pamplona, only on a smaller scale, and with female cows and blunted horns. The 2017 festivals runs from 26 to 30 July. www.fetes.bayonne.fr
Golf in Pays Basque
With hills, mountains and the sea, Pays Basque has a varied selection of golf courses on offer. For the best links courses, try Golf de Biarritz Le Phare which dates back to 1888, or Golf de Chiberta further up the coast near Anglet, which dates back to 1924. Inland, the natural obstacles created by valleys, hills, forests and water courses make for some brilliantly designed golf courses. The Harry Colt-designed Golf de Chantaco is a great example. One way to sample a selection of courses fairly cheaply is to buy the Golf Pass Biarritz, giving you access to Golf d’Arcangues, Golf de Biarritz Le Phare, Golf Club de Bayonne Makila and Golf Blue Green Seignosse. Prices currently range from €100 for two courses in the low season to €268 for four courses in the high season. www.golfpassbiarritz.com
Right next to the Pyrenees, the Pays Basque is perfect for hiking, whether moderately in the foothills, or more intensely in the mountains. The Gorges de Kakuetta www.sainte-engrace.com are worth a visit as long as you’re already in the area. Many operators offer rafting and canyoning trips on the mountain rivers. Try Ekilibre 64, Nature Riviere or Arteka.
Pays Basque’s main ski resort is La Pierre St Martin. A very family-friendly resort, it features 25 pistes and 12 lifts. There’s lots of hiking and mountain biking in summer.
From France Today magazine
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