Bayonne, Biarritz, San Sebastian and Bilbao: four cities, spread over two countries, but located in just one region: the Basque Country. All four located near the ocean, they seem to provide the perfect stopping points for a road trip through this unique region that stretches from the South-West of France over to the North-East of Spain.
It’s only a two-hour drive from Bayonne in the Northern Basque Country (Iparralde in Basque) to Bilbao in the Southern Basque Country (Hegoalde in Basque), passing Biarritz and San Sebastian. Of course you shouldn’t drive straight through, as these four places each have a lot to offer.
Let’s have a look.
1. Dive into history at the Basque Museum
Bayonne’s Basque Museum displays a wide variety of items to give insight into the Basque culture and history. You’ll learn about art, agriculture, architecture, sports and other areas of the everyday Basque life so that you’re well prepared for the rest of your trip through the region.
2. Marvel at the St. Mary Cathedral
The beautiful Gothic St. Mary Cathedral was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. It hold relics of St. Leo, Bishop of Bayonne in the 9th century and can be visited throughout the week. Make sure not to skip the adjoining cloister, which acts as a place of peace and silence within the lively center of Bayonne.
3. Please your taste buds at The Chocolate Factory
L’Atelier du Chocolat has chocolate shops all over France, but it’s in Bayonne that you can look into its past. Old machinery and displays give you an idea of how the chocolate production in Bayonne and the rest of the Basque Country used to take place. Afterwards you can compare this with the modern techniques employed now, and of course also taste some chocolate.
1. Take surfing lessons
Biarritz is one of Europe’s top surf destinations and surfers from over the world go there to ride the often spectacular waves at the Grand Plage.
2. Try your luck at the casino
Located by the Grand Plage, The Art Deco casino of Biarritz takes you back to past, more glamorous ages. Here you can play black jack, roulette, poker and much more.
3. Climb up the lighthouse
The Phare de Biarritz marks the border between the sand beaches of Landes and the more rocky Basque coast. It offers amazing views over the area, but for those you do have to climb up the 248 steps.
1. Explore the under water world at the San Sebastian Aquarium
The San Sebastian Aquarium is a unique combination of aquarium and museum. It elaborately displays the fishing and rowing history of the city before leading you along 31 aquariums with more than 40 species of fish. A lot of fun is the 360° tunnel that goes straight through a tank with sharks and other sea life.
2. Have fun at Monte Igueldo
Take the funicular up to Monte Igueldo where you’ll find an old fashioned amusement park. As there’s no entrance fee for the park (you pay per ride), you can also just come up here to enjoy the amazing view over La Concha Bay.
3. Wander around Monte Urgull
On the other side of the bay lies Monte Urgull. This hill used to be a defense point and you can still see several canons and military structures along the walking paths.
On top of Monte Urgull stands a 12-meter high Jesus statue that you can walk up to.
1. Visit the Guggenheim Bilbao
An architectural masterpiece, the Guggenheim in Bilbao is is worth your attention both on the inside and on the outside. Be sure to check which temporary exhibitions are running beside the permanent collection.
2. Try out the pinxtos
While the south of Spain is known for its tapas, the Basque Country is known for its pinxtos. You could say pinxtos are a more sophisticated kind of tapas and they’re offered in almost every bar. You can just take them from the counter when you’ve ordered your drink.
When it’s time to pay you have the tell the waiter how many you ate. While the waiters will keep an eye on you, the system is in essence based on trust and honesty.
3. Take a stroll through the old town
While Bilbao is quite a busy city, you’ll notice nothing of that in the old town. The Casco Viejo consists of tiny alleys too narrow for cars to pass through.
Now that you know what to do in the Basque country, what are you waiting for? Book your hotel and start packing!