The Basque Country
(Beitrag auf Englisch)
Basque Country is a remarkable Atlantic coast from Bilbao (Spain) beyond Biarritz (France) where there is everything from beautiful beaches, museums of chocolate, fine art architecture and Michelin star restaurants till unpretentious and tasty tapas, hidden Game of Thrones locations and great surfing spots.
The weather is great even in early Autumn and this place is definitely worth to be on everyone's radar who is looking for the sun in September and value a wide choice of leisure opportunities on the spot. You can tailor your holiday experience from calm and high-flying to sporty and unfussy.
My holiday style is usually a very active one - don't like to sit still or lay on a beach for more than 2 days in a raw, therefore wherever I travel a car is one of the main components of my trip. I like to do the road trips through a region and see as many outstanding sites and landmarks as possible. However this time despite of having a car, we decided not to try our best and made a schedule for 11 days which provided us with an active but no-rush lifestyle, comfort and worthwhile experience. We were still planning till the very last second to engage into surfing, however waves were always seeming too big to us to dare to enter the ocean :). Would need to come back there one day again to accomplish this point though. Nevertheless, I must say this was one of our greatest vacations in Europe thanks to variety of experiences the region is ready to offer to an enthusiastic traveler.
We chosen to stay in the french part of the Basque coast. The reason for that is that the point we wanted to be based should be conveniently located and with a short driving distance to any spot in our program. The second reason - surprisingly - was the accommodation cost.
So what was in our program to visit:
Saint Jean de Luz
And therefore we decided to stay in Ciboure (France) - a little fisherman's low key village, not very remarkable at first glance from a touristic point of view. The great benefit of it though is that it almost merges with a popular and cozy french beach resort called Saint Jean de Luz - just cross the bridge and you are already in the animated area with many shops and restaurants and a long beach comfortable for swimming. Finding a nice accommodation in Ciboure was easier and cheaper than in the Spanish and other French resorts all together.
I can't avoid sharing my memories of the house where we stayed - an amazing, just renovated building in traditional french-basque style called AitaBaita (you should be able to find it at Air B&B if curios). And if you are a fan of interiors in traditional style, leaning towards neoclassic than a room we were living in will strike you. On top of that if you would only see the main drawing room dedicated for the guests' breakfast with the gentle classic music playing and refined breakfast table appointments you would immediately turned your camera on to capture it and share with everyone you know - as firstly you don't expect nothing of this kind when looking at the house from outside and secondly that special atmosphere can rarely be experienced in our contemporary life except for in fine art museums. The most amazing there, is that there is nothing theatrical and artificial in that ambiance because it is a part of an everyday beautiful routine of the hosts they are sharing with their guests.
Staying in this authentic housing in the center of the little village with the laid-back regular lifestyle turned our vacation into a very memorable charming experience which we would never be able to get if staying in an area designed to be convenient for any tourists' desires.
I won't be telling you about all the places we visited simply because you can find comprehensive tips on what to see in Bilbao, Biarritz and Saint Sebastian as well as what are the best beaches in the region from many open sources and any touristic guides. Instead, I would like to mention specifically 3 other locations which were prompted to us by locals. They are also popular but we didn't know about them before we came to the area. Here they are:
The peak of Larrun mountain (905m), the Pyrenees, at French and Spanish boarder
the place where you can be taken by the special Petit train de Larhune from the French side and where you can equally get by feet in case of good weather following many paths. By choosing hiking there, make sure you allocate enough time as well as you have good shoes and some water with you. The route to the top takes several hours depending on your physical conditions, pace and a path you would prefer. In case of the train I would recommend to check its schedule and buy tickets in advance on the Internet otherwise you may be waiting in line for more an hour. From the top you will see a panoramic view to the ocean and the region. Good place to spend a day in a nice weather.
Trekking trail along the ocean between Ciboure and Le Chateaux Abbadia (19 century), 9 km
Comfortable and enjoyable walking path with many picturesque view points to the Atlantic Ocean. Walking there is easy and pleasant during a sunny day. Sometimes the trail dives into small groves, sometimes goes besides the motorway. The latter might disappoint those who entered the trail from Ciboure as this is the first you will experience however the further you go the better it gets. There are 2 touristic attractions at once at the end of the itinerary: Le Chateaux & Observatoire with its guided tours and the beach where it's very delightful to relax and get refreshed after the walk. This beach has no surfing spots and convenient for swimming however due to the wind the waves still can be strong. And yes, one more point - this is a nudist beach. It's not banned for non-nudists to enter but just be ready that the neighbors on your left and right most likely won't be wearing anything.:) After the walk and the beach we didn't have enough energy to go back by feet and we took a train to Ciboure which was very convenient and fast. If you are staying in the area I would definitely recommend it.
Gatelugatxe or Dragonstone place from the Game of Thrones, Spanish side of the Basque Country.
A small islet off the coast of Biscay connected to the mainland by winding man made stone bridge became very popular since an episode of the famous the Game of Thrones was filmed there (check out the link). The original hermitage built on top of the island and not included into the movie was built in 9-10 century and dedicated to John Baptist. Next to the hermitage there is a big bell which anyone can ring, therefore it is very noisy and almost impossible to stay there for a long time. :) The comfortable and closed shoes/sneakers are recommended for walking there. After the walk there is an opportunity to get some tapas in the view point cafe/restaurant next to the parking area.
Finally couple of words about the food in the region. In the Spanish part our main day meal was tapas of different kinds. In the French part - seafood especially Les Moules with various sauces available on almost every corner. If you are up to something distinguished and sophisticated - check out the map of the Michelin restaurants for the region. There are quite many of them in the Basques country!
Have a great trip!