Along the coast in northern Spain and southern France sits the unique Basque region. The Basques have their own language, culture, and traditions. Bilbao, San Sebastian, Bayonne, and Biarritz all are major cities in the Basque region and, while technically in two different countries—Spain and France—seem to make up a smaller, unique country of their own. While most people visit Bilbao or San Sebastian in Spain, visiting Bayonne and Biarritz in France is something special because the pride in being Basque is truly palpable.
Where To Stay:
The beautiful thing about these two Basque cities is that they are very close to each other. We recommend visiting both Bayonne and Biarritz. However, you don’t have to stay in both because you can just do a day-trip between them on the local bus.
Most people probably opt to stay in Biarritz, but we decided to stay in Bayonne. Between the two, Bayonne is inland, grittier, and the more industrial city. It’s still a beautiful city in its own way, but if you visit Bayonne and Biarritz you’ll see the difference.
We stayed in an Airbnb across the river from the city center, but it wasn’t too far away. Our host was incredibly nice, and it was cheaper than other ones closer to the center. Plus, we got this incredible view from the Airbnb…
If it’s within your budget, we’d recommend you stay closer to the center of Bayonne as that’s where the majority of places to see, eat, and drink are.
Biarritz is like the flashy, coastal city and has a different vibe from Bayonne. Like we said, most people probably opt to stay in Biarritz.
We didn’t stay in Biarritz, but if you do, try to find a place close to the center or beach. It will probably be more expensive than staying in Bayonne, but you’ll be closer to the ocean.
If you’ve never used Airbnb before we highly recommend it! Here’s a code for first-time users where you can get $30 in travel credit when you book a place.
What we did:
Once again, regardless of whether you stay in Bayonne and Biarritz, you should take a day-trip to the other city. They are connected by a bus that takes about 20 minutes. It only costs 1€ each way, or you can get the 24-hour pass for 2€ where you get unlimited rides for 24 hours.
In Bayonne, we mostly walked around the center of town and saw them setting up the Fêtes de Bayonne, a festival that happens every summer. Unfortunately, we missed the Fêtes de Bayonne by a day…We didn’t know about it when we booked our trip. If you’re in the area, including San Sebastián, during the Fêtes, which is usually the last week or so of July, make the trip to Bayonne because even the pre-festival looked awesome!
The center of Bayonne is quaint, beautiful, and captures the true essence of Basque culture. Take a stroll through it, see the Cathedral, and enjoy the narrow streets, architecture, and river that flows through the Bayonne.
We only took a day-trip to Biarritz, so we didn’t get to experience everything. However, there’s a lot to do between the beach and the center of town. We didn’t go in the water because it was a little cooler that day, but we walked the path all along the water. It was beautiful! If you’re into surfing, it might be a good option as there were a lot of people surfing.
Where to eat and drink:
Cidrerie Ttipia – The Basque country is known for their cider houses where you get unlimited cider and a delicious meal, culminating with steak. We went here to check it out and, because of our incredibly weak French skills, accidentally ordered a 4 course meal. It consisted of tortilla de patata, bacalao, salad, cheese, bread, walnuts, and steak. Plus, we got all the cider we could drink. This meal is a little pricey at 40€ per person, but it’s delicious.
Chocolat Cazenave – Bayonne is famous for their chocolate. In fact, it’s said to have the best chocolate in the world. At Chocolat Cazenave, we ordered 2 hot chocolates and a croissant. The hot chocolates were like nothing we ever tasted before. They were by far the best hot chocolates we have ever tasted, and probably will ever taste.
You can also buy some of their chocolate bars to go, like we did, in case you’re looking for gifts or simply more delicious chocolate on your travels. Chocolat Cazenave is an absolute must when visiting Bayonne.
L’atelier du chocolat – Since Bayonne is famous for chocolate, we decided to stop into another chocolate shop. This time we ordered different types of chocolates, each with a different flavor, and once again, they were delicious. You can also see them making the chocolate inside the shop at L’atelier du chocolat.
Restaurant Le Chistera – When looking for dinner, we ended up Restaurant Le Chistera. Their charcuterie plate was really good as the Basques, even in France, are known for their jamon like the Spanish. However, the tuna tartar we had to eat was just okay. Our lack of French got us two orders of it instead of one, but either way, they weren’t too great. Maybe their other items would have been better, so keep this in mind if you go.
West Farm – If you’re looking for a delicious breakfast spot in Bayonne, or simply craving a bagel, check out West Farm. Their staff was super friendly and helpful, and their bagel sandwiches were to die for. We got the Farm Bagel and the Euskadi Bagel. It was a little pricier, but it’s because it was the first day of the Fêtes de Bayonne.
Milwaukee Cafe – We stopped into the Milwaukee Cafe in Biarritz quick just to check it out because we’re from, and currently live in, Milwaukee. The owners are actually from Milwaukee too! Their coffee was good, and while the food looked good, we didn’t eat here.
Olea Mediterranean Cuisine – We did, however, eat at Olea Mediterranean Cuisine in Biarritz, which was outstanding. They had quite a few options that were refreshing healthy and full of vegetables, which is always a bonus after a long vacation of eating out without much fresh fruit and vegetables. We’d definitely recommend eating here if you’re in Biarritz!
The two Basque cities of Bayonne and Biarritz in France certainly have a different feel than other French cities, like Bordeaux. They have their own unique atmosphere and culture. It’s really interesting to see the ties between all the Basque cities, like Bilbao, San Sebastian, Bayonne, and Biarritz. The Basque culture and language are so rich, unique, and intriguing.
Anywhere along the Basque Coast in nSpain and southern France is visit that will definitely be worth your while, especially if you’re interested in the history of a truly unique culture.