It’s often a topic of hot debate in France, to holiday in the south west or south east? Everyone has their own particular favourite. This week we are focusing on the rustic Basque region- which can hardly be compared to the glamour of Provence, can it?
With many of these idyllic areas of France, simply wandering down the street is plenty in order to soak up the atmosphere of the region. And The South West is not short of beautiful towns made up of at least two or three market streets. However if you are truly looking to experience the full culture that the region has to offer then get stuck into the very best of Basque. Go to a traditional espadrille workshop and see how these now incredibly trendy, but once solely local shoes are carefully made by hand. If you are an outdoorsy type (which you really ought to be in this neck of the woods) then head to St Jean Pied de Port, which is the starting point of the Camino de Santiago, a famous pilgrimage through the Basque region, which leads down into Spain, to Santiago de Compostela.
Of course if it’s action you’re after, the South West can certainly provide. The Basque region is the heartland of the bull fights which are the center of many of the summer “feria”, a series of French town festivals which see participants dress in white with red neck scarves and take to the streets in celebration. Bayonne, a town just north of Biarritz, hosts the largest such festival in France. The 5 day long “Fêtes de Bayonne”, is held at the beginning of August each year, and for those in the area, really is an unmissable attraction. However most towns in the area have a summer feria, so do your research before traveling and find some festivities that you can join in on.
Food and drink
The Spanish Basque region is internationally acclaimed for its culinary delights, with no less than 3 of the World’s top 50 restaurants. However its French counterpart also has a plethora of culinary delights on offer. Be sure to stop by local food markets to pick up the Basque cheese and charcuterie- these are one of the best reflections of the spirit of a region in France. However for a truly spectacular experience, that’s worth traveling for, head to Saint Etienne de Baigorry. This picturesque little village is at the heart of Irouleguy, a wine region that is scattered with just 190ha of vines. These wines are steadily on the up but best to visit before they are fully discovered, as with such a small production they will soon be hard to find. The vineyard are largely on slopes too steep for machinery and so are picked by hand, adding to the authenticity of the product. In particular, keep an eye out for the impressive wines of Domaine Ilarria, which are fast being snapped up, the world over.
Vineyards of Irouleguy
Where to make base camp
In terms of ideal location, set yourself up in either Biarritz or its less hectic neighbour Saint-Jean-de-Luz. Both are right on the sea which is perfect for any lazy beach days you might fancy taking. Hotels and guest houses are very common, but book early, as these are hot spots for local French people looking for a short holiday. If you opt for Biarritz, be sure to visit the Hotel du Palais, a building with a prime address at 1 Avenue de l’Imperatrice, and steeped in history. If looking for a truly authentic stay in French Basque, then skip the tourist traps and head to Espelette, a truly Basque town which features the iconic “Piment d’Espelette” (local dried pepper).
The jury is still out as to which south of France is the best south, but one thing is guaranteed is that you won’t be suffering for trying out this incredible Basque region. Have you travelled to this part of the world, or would you like to? Let us know any tips which your favourite region of France to holiday in is!
– Lucy Kelly