Exploring Basque Country
Southwest France and Pyrenees Mountains Locations
This page contains all other locations that we visited after we completed our Loire & Dordogne Valley and Northern Spain explorations. We selected a diverse set of destinations to satisfy our curiousity and to enjoy locations that we had not previously seen. Several of these locations we had considered visiting on previous trips to France, but for whatever reason, we did not get it done until this trip.
The Basque Country is a cultural and historical region located in northern Spain and southwestern France. It is known for its unique language, culture, and cuisine. The Basque Country is home to around 3 million people, and the majority of them speak the Basque language (also called Euskara or Euskera), which is unrelated to any other known language. We noticed (while driving) that all highway signs were always in 3 languages - for example in France, the signs would be in French, Basque and English. In Spain, the signs would be in Spanish, Basque and English.
The Basque Country is a beautiful region with a lot to offer visitors. The region is home to stunning mountains, picturesque villages, and charming coastal towns. The Basque Country is also known for its delicious food and wine. Some of the region's specialties include pintxos (small tapas), bacalao al pil-pil (cod in a garlic and chili sauce), and txakoli (a local sparkling wine).
The drive south from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the D-933 and N-135 highways we found to be not only beautiful, but challenging. The number of switchbacks that we encountered were frequent and almost always nearly a complete u-turn !
Biarritz was our target destination after we completed our Dordogne River Valley exploration, and as we only stayed there one night, we did not take any imagery or video. Our goal was to relax, enjoy the beach view and get ready for the Spain adventure the next day. It is probable that we were missing our Florida beaches, and we thought we might be able to find some good seafood while there. We stayed at the Le Biarritz Hotel, just across the Rue de Madrid from Marbella Beach.
Biarritz has earned its reputation as the surfing capital of Europe. With its consistent waves and beautiful beaches like Côte des Basques and Grande Plage, it's no wonder surfers flock here. Whether you're a seasoned pro or a curious beginner, there are plenty of surf schools and board rentals available to get you riding the waves. After we checked into our room at the Le Biarritz Hotel, we walked over to the cliff above Marbella Beach and watched the local surfers having fun.
Things to do in Biarritz
Biarritz has something to offer everyone, from beach lovers and surfers to culture vultures and foodies. Here are a few of the top things to do in Biarritz:
- Visit the beach: Biarritz is home to several beautiful beaches, including the Grande Plage, the Plage du Miramar, and the Plage de la Côte des Basques. The Grande Plage is the most popular beach in Biarritz, and it is a great place for swimming, sunbathing, and people-watching. The Plage du Miramar is a smaller and more secluded beach, perfect for those who want to escape the crowds. The Plage de la Côte des Basques is a popular spot for surfers, and it is also a great place to watch the sunset.
- Go surfing: Biarritz is one of the best surfing destinations in Europe. The waves at Biarritz are perfect for surfers of all levels, from beginners to experts. There are a number of surf schools in Biarritz that offer lessons and rentals.
- Visit the Rocher de la Vierge: The Rocher de la Vierge is a large rock formation located just off the coast of Biarritz. It is one of the most iconic landmarks in the town. Visitors can take a walk or a boat trip to the Rocher de la Vierge to enjoy the stunning views of Biarritz and the surrounding coastline.
- Explore the Old Town: The Old Town of Biarritz is a charming maze of narrow streets and alleyways. It is home to a number of shops, restaurants, and cafes. Visitors can also visit the St. Martin's Church, the oldest church in Biarritz.
- Visit the Musée de la Mer: The Musée de la Mer is a museum dedicated to the marine life of the Bay of Biscay. Visitors can learn about the different species of fish, shellfish, and other marine creatures that live in the bay. The museum also has a number of interactive exhibits, making it a great place for kids to visit.
We had planned to visit Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port ever since we began to plan this trip. We had strongly considered taking the Camino Frances and had researched this village several times in depth, however my health got in the way of us taking that adventure. In any event, driving through here on the way to Spain was a quick and easy decision. Besides wanting to explore the village, we were excited about crossing the Pyrenees Mountains.
The town's name translates to "St. John at the Foot of the Pass," a reference to its strategic location on the ancient Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port serves as the traditional starting point for pilgrims embarking on the Camino Frances, a journey that spans 900+ kilometers across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela.
Nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains, it serves as a gateway to the Camino Frances, a historic pilgrimage route leading to the shrine of St. James in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
The town itself is a postcard-worthy vision, with its narrow cobbled streets, half-timbered houses, and a formidable citadel that stands as a testament to its medieval history. The Porte St-Jacques, the iconic town gate, welcomes pilgrims and visitors alike. You can explore the town's charming boutiques, savor Basque cuisine at local restaurants, and soak up the peaceful ambiance of this historic place.
Stopping here was not part of our original planning, but as we motored east on the A-64 (headed to Lourdes) we realized that it was lunch time and Pau was going to be the largest city until we got to Lourdes. As French restaurants are open for lunch from noon to 2PM, we knew we'd better stop somewhere, and then maybe do some exploration before getting back onto the A-64. Otherwise we'd wind up eating "light"!
Pau, located in the beautiful region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine in southwestern France, is a city that combines historical charm, natural beauty, and a touch of elegance. This vibrant city, often referred to as the "Green City" or "Garden City," is framed by the breathtaking backdrop of the Pyrenees Mountains.
One of the city's most notable landmarks is the Château de Pau, a stunning medieval castle that was once the birthplace of King Henry IV of France. Visitors can explore its ornate rooms and immerse themselves in French royal history. The castle is surrounded by lush gardens and offers panoramic views of the city and the mountains beyond.
Outdoor enthusiasts will be able to appreciate Pau's proximity to the Pyrenees, offering opportunities for hiking, skiing, and other mountain activities. With its rich history, natural beauty, and warm ambiance, Pau is a delightful destination for travelers seeking a taste of French culture and the splendor of the Pyrenean landscape.
Stopping here was based upon the fact that our return flight to London was departing from Toulouse, France and we did not find things we wanted to visit in the Toulouse area. So when we expanded the search, we found Lourdes just 180 kilometers from Toulouse. Research revealed that Lourdes is the 4th most visited religious site in France, and the 12th most visited religious site in the world.
The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, encompassing the Grotto of Massabielle, is the focal point of the town and attracts millions of pilgrims and visitors annually. Pilgrims come to seek healing and solace, and the town is characterized by a serene, contemplative atmosphere. The Grotto itself is a place of great reverence, with a spring believed to have miraculous healing properties.
Aside from its spiritual importance, Lourdes is set amidst stunning natural beauty, with the Pyrenees Mountains providing a picturesque backdrop. The town's charming streets are dotted with religious shops, hotels, and restaurants, catering to the needs of pilgrims and tourists alike.
The Fortress of Lourdes, known as the "Château Fort de Lourdes" in French, is a historic stronghold located in the town of Lourdes, in the Occitanie region of southwestern France. While it may not be as famous as the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, it holds significant historical importance.
Exploring Lourdes allows for a unique blend of faith, history, and natural wonder. The town's charming streets are lined with shops, cafes, and hotels, making it an accessible destination for all travelers. Whether you seek spiritual enlightenment or simply wish to admire the scenic splendor, Lourdes offers an unforgettable experience in the heart of southwestern France.
NOTE: This is a very, very popular place to visit, and we saw huge crowds each day. If you are not staying in a hotel that provides parking, it will be difficult to locate a parking place.
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