My son’s second area was BAB. He lived in Bayonne but we were lucky to rent an apartment in Biarritz, near the Plage de la Cote Basque. Biarritz is very different from Perpignan and Bayonne is even more unique.
My kids first priority was going to the beach since we spent most of our time in the car trying to go to the beach near Perpignan. We were only about 4 blocks from the beach. The different thing about the Plage de la Cote Basque is that you have to go down a very long set of stairs or ramps to get to it. It is on the bottom of a cliff. The beach itself is very narrow and sometimes barely there due to the high tide. It is the most popular beach for surfers as the waves are famously good. There are big rocks where you can put your belongings or you can climb up some stairs and rest on the sand on some of the terraces.
The water was much warmer than in the Mediterranean which really surprised me. This was France’s southern Cal. It had its own vibe and rhythm. Every where you saw images of VW kombi vans and surfers.
Of course BAB is part of Pays Basque and you can’t forget it. The architecture is very unique. There are Basque flags everywhere and red and green banners decorate the streets. Now that the Basque language is taught in the schools people feel prouder and more open to be Basque.
Wandering the streets of Biarritz is fun. There are many very fancy stores and surf shops. Quicksilver is originally from here. There are lots of restaurants, bars, bakeries and sandwich shops AND they are open into the small hours of the night.
One must buy item while there is the Basque sandals. We know them as Espadrilles. You can get some made in the region by hand or buy cheap ones made in China. Everyone wears them and when we visited some friends in other parts of France they wore them as slippers.
While Biarritz is the famous beach town, Bayonne is the old dame. It has all the government buildings, many of its buildings are very old and there are some lovely places to visit.
One of the must go sights is the Cathedrale Sainte-Marie de Bayonne. While the church is gorgeous, the fun part is the cloisters. This looks like the filming location for some of the Harry Potter films. It is beautiful and while we were visiting it had a craft fair.
My son’s favorite part of living in Bayonne were the pastries. In Pays Basque there are several pastries that are only found here. The most famous of them is the Gateau Basque. It is like a cream/cherry pie. Very good. Other popular ones include Beret Basque and Jesuit. We really enjoyed trying all of them. The good thing is that you walk so much so you don’t feel guilty about indulging.
One of the fun things about being in this area is the opportunity to visit other beach towns. My son wanted to take the beach route to Saint-Jean-de-Luz. It is a lovely town with lots of shops and restaurants. There is a port but I don’t think there are beaches. Here they are so close to Spain that they serve very good Spanish bocadillos. Of course the Basque specialty is called Taloa which is a galette (tortilla like) made with corn. Inside you get to pick the meat and it has lots of Basque cheese. Yum!
But the place my son really wanted to visit was Hendaye. It is right on the Spanish border. For many months he came here as a missionary and saw the border and he couldn’t go to Spain. So this time he was able to walk right across the border by the train station.
Of course Hendaye is famous for its beach and the twin rocks. I am glad we didn’t try coming to the beach here but stayed close to our apartment. Even in the evening it was hard finding a parking space.
My suggestion is that if you are planning on visiting beaches in France during the summer, rent a place near the beach you want to visit so you don’t have to drive far or try taking public transportation. We saw many buses that we filled to capacity and people couldn’t take them anymore. So it is a hard either way. Or better yet avoid the beaches during the crazy August holiday. I personally like traveling in late May. It is warm not hot and it is just the beginning of the season so things are open but not crowded.
France was so lovely. Southern France has so many unique regions and each has its own distinct culture and vibe. It was truly like visiting many countries all within one bigger one.
Also the south of France is totally different from the North. We have been to Paris and to Normandy. I absolutely loved Normandy. It is a lot like the south in that it has many small villages, a slower pace of life but it has its own unique Norman flavor. Paris is different from them all.
My French teacher always said that the French couldn’t agree on anything because there were so many different types of cheese. Now I know why, each region has its own cheeses and pastries and trying some of each is the best thing to do in France. Enjoy all of France it is wonderful.