- Countryside Atlantic shores, Pyrénées peaks
- Country life Basque flavours, surf bathers
France’s south-westernmost region is a lush, green pocket of land caught between the mountains and the windswept Atlantic coast.
Straddling the French-Spanish border and pierced by the Pyrenees, the Pays Basque is a wild and rugged coastal land, whose people share a rich and proud cultural tradition with their Iberian neighbours (largely centred on food). The wild waves of the Atlantic crash into the cliffs and coves of the Bay of Biscay, making the region a surfers’ paradise, and cute spa-dotted seaside towns such as St Jean de Luz offer beachy thrills by the bucket- (and spade-) load. In the cities (from Bayonne and Biarritz across the border to Bilbao and San Sebastián), travellers will find welcoming close-knit communities, as well as unforgettable food, much of it in the form of pintxos – tiny plates of tapas – all washed down with a tot of hearty local red.
Do go/Don’t go
The landscape doesn’t go green on its own: Atlantic fronts bring wind and drizzle throughout the year. July and August are driest, hottest and busiest, so aim for May, June or September – but still make sure you pack a waterproof.
- Planes Biarritz airport has connections to London Gatwick and other UK cities. In Spain Bilbao’s architecturally impressive Sondika airport is the largest in the region with direct flights to a number of European hubs including London Stansted via EasyJet.
- Boats P&O operates a leisurely paced car ferry between Portsmouth and Bilbao and Brittany Ferries pootle between Plymouth, Portsmouth and Santander.
- Trains From Gare Montparnasse in Paris, direct trains to Biarritz take just over five hours (www.seat61.com). Once you’re down there, there are rail services across the border between Biarritz and San Sebastián via Irun (www.tgv.com).
- Automobiles Choose from five car-hire desks at Biarritz Airport including Avis (www.avis.com). It’s an easy area to drive around; the E70 coast road caters for most needs. Inland routes around Ahetze can be more twisty-turny and Guéthary and Bidart are hilly.
- Taxis In Biarritz and other biggish towns, there are taxi stands. Out in the sticks, you’re best off booking ahead. Around Biarritz, try Atlantic (+33 (0)5 59 03 18 18). Agur (+33 (0)5 59 47 38 38) is good for Saint-Jean-de-Luz.