France: Pays Basque: Another France
Unlike their Spanish counterparts, inhabitants of the three Basque provinces in the southwestern corner of France harbor no separatist views, yet they strongly embrace their distinct identity, unique language, and local traditions. Many flock to the popular resort towns that line the region’s flat coast, while a mountainous interior attracts those looking to fish for trout, hike, swim in mineral pools, and marvel at the glaciers along the Pyrenees.
Upon your arrival in Bayonne, you’ll check into your accommodation, a hotel neo-Basque in style, with large windows overlooking a patio and surrounding gardens. After check-in, you’ll head straight to the Musee Basque, the largest museum dedicated to Basque life and history, featuring over 2,000 works of Basque art. The capital of the northern Basque region, Bayonne sits at the confluence of the Adour and Nive Rivers, and has for centuries been a port of great significance. The rivers divide the city into a number of quarters, the most lively and picturesque being Le Grand Bayonne, which boasts the 13th century Gothic Cathedrale Sainte Marie, and le Petit Bayonne with its typical Bayonne houses, completely white, with shutters and beams painted in Basque colors of deep red and green.
Take time this afternoon to explore the city, wandering in and out of the half-timbered buildings that line the rivers and house various shops, cafes, and bars. Dine tonight at a suggested local family-owned restaurant which offers the most eclectic and flavorful dishes in town, such as the twice-cooked pigeon.
Collect your rental car this morning and drive 15 minutes to the resort town of Biarritz. Biarritz, once the exclusive vacation spot of royals and celebrities, is currently undergoing a renaissance as a destination for the world’s best surfers. Upon arrival, you’ll head straight to the beach for a private surf lesson.
Your afternoon will be spent at your leisure in Biarritz. You may opt for lunch at one of the restaurants in the sumptuous Hotel du Palais, the celebrated centerpiece of old Biarritz. Alternatively, you can make your way to the busy Place Ste-Eugenie and choose a terraced cafe, which is perfect for people watching. For a quieter view of the city, stroll south of the market and stop for lunch at the Patisserie Miremont.
Later, drive 10 minutes to St.Jean-de-Luz, a small fishing port on the Basque coast known for its architecture, sandy bay, and fine cuisine. Spend the remainder of the day exploring the city on foot, and for dinner this evening we recommend a nearby restaurant which serves cuisine inspired by local products, with fine meats and the freshest seafood.
Before departing Bayonne this morning, you may want to visit the Musee Bonnat, which displays an impressive collection of 19th century paintings, or the local market, an absolute must-see on a Saturday. The large market offers a wide and remarkable array of fresh produce, cheeses, bread, and seafood.
Driving east from Bayonne, break for lunch in the small village of Urt, on the northern edge of the Basque country. Located in a 17th century sailors’ inn, the restaurant offers a warm ambiance and serves traditional French cuisine infused heavily with regional southwestern Basque flavors.
Two hours from Bayonne, in the sleepy village of St. Savin, you will be greeted by the owners of a generations-old inn in the heart of the Hautes-Pyrenees. The hotel’s restaurant gives country cooking an international twist, and tonight, you may wish to dine on the terrace, taking in the view of the Argeles Valley with the Viscos peak in the distance.
Alternatively, venture 27 km southwest to the town of Barèges this evening, for dinner at a mountainside inn. Here you can enjoy a fantastic menu of traditional French dishes, a walk around the lake, and the magnificent view of the Pic du Midi de Bigorre.
This morning, depart from Saint Savin, continuing your drive up into the Hautes-Pyrenees. From the village of Gavarnie, you’ll explore the Cirque de Gavarnie and Europe’s highest waterfall, the Grande Cascade. A guided morning hike will be tailored to your interests and abilities. For the adventurous, hike five hours up to the Breche de Roland Glacier**, stopping for a well-deserved rest at the refuge de Sarradets towards the top of the glacier.
Return to St-Savin this afternoon to try your hand at preparing regional Basque favorites during a two-hour cooking lesson with a Maitre Cuisinier de France.
You will return your rental car in the city of Pau this afternoon, departing for Paris in the late afternoon. The first part of your day is yours in which to explore the area. You may wish to visit Lourdes, which is 20 minutes from St. Savin; stop in the village of Uzos to sample the local take on bonbons; or head straight for Pau and take a leisurely walk through the Musee National du Chateau de Pau or the Musee des Beaux-Arts. Late this afternoon, board your return train to Paris, or continue on to the thermal spa at Eugenie-les-Bains.
This is just the beginning.
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