Road Trip – Surf the waves at Biarritz and explore Basque culture!
MOLIETS TO BIARRITZ: 77 KILOMETRES
Life on the open road makes so much sense in France. Hopping from one outpost of the Atlantic coast on the Cote de Lumiere to the Cote d’Argent, and then on to the Cote des Basques, you experience a diverse series of landscapes in a relatively short space of time. Even the French autoroutes remain surprisingly free of heavy traffic if you do need to get somewhere in a hurry.
As you leave the resort of Moliets-et-Maa, heading south on the A63 towards Bayonne, the scenery is dominated by swathes of pine forest that bridge the borders of the Landes and Pyrenees-Atlantiques departements. Entering the Basque country, the views begin to open up to reveal gently rolling hillsides at the foot of the Pyrenees, with a hint of ocean on the horizon, given away by the lingering cloud.
Houses roll into view, painted in the Basque colours of white and red; some half-timbered in the oldest farmhouse tradition, others more modern variations on the same architectural theme.
The Basque people continue to thrive (Euskara is the oldest living European language), and to get a sense of their heritage and culture, visit the Musee Basque in Bayonne (museebasque.com).
Have lunch at Table de Pottoka (lunch menu €21, pottoka.fr), a restaurant by the river run by the highly-regarded chef Sebastien Grave, who specialises in Basque country cuisine with a modern twist.
From Bayonne, it is a 20-minute drive to the glamorous resort of Biarritz.
The great and the good of French society have been holidaying here since Napoleon III and his empress Eugenie fell in love with the town in the middle of the 19th century. Park on the northern outskirts and then stroll along the Grande Plage, admiring the belle-epoque and art-deco buildings that line the seafront, from the Hotel du Palais to the Casino. Carry on past the promontory of La Rocher de la Vierge, and round the corner for an aperitif and tapas at the Eden Rock Cafe at Le Port Vieux.
Further along the coast, dine at Le Surfing (mains from €14, lesurfing.fr) on Boulevard de Prince de Galles. Take a beachside table and watch the world-class wave riders at work as the sun goes down on the Plage de la Cote des Basques.
Stay close to the beach at the basic Aire Municipale de Camping-Caron on Avenue de la Milady (€12 for two people, airecampingcar.com).
BIARRITZ TO SAINT-JEAN-DE-LUZ: 19 KILOMETRES
If surfing Europe’s best waves is not your thing, then join the locals for a game of boules at Square Jean-Baptiste Lasalle on Avenue Beaurivage, or enjoy the sweet treats at the Planete Musee du Chocolat (planetemuseeduchocolat.com) before venturing on towards Saint-Jean-de-Luz on the D810.
This short but busy stretch of road ambles along hilly terrain, past the village of Bidart and on to the relaxed little town at Guethary. Here the narrow roads wind down a steep hillside, so it is best explored on foot from one of a cluster of campsites a little further on.
The Quartier Acotz on the edge of Saint-Jean-de-Luz caters for every kind of camper, from young surfing globetrotters to families with small children. A good all-round option is the four-star Camping Inter-plages (from €15 a pitch, campinginterplages.com), which has a swimming pool and private access to the beach below).
Take the half-hour walk along the coastal path back to Guethary, where there is a choice of restaurants, from Le Bar Basque in the centre (tel: (Fr) 5 59 26 55 00) to the hipsters’ hangout at Heteroclito, Chemin de la Plage (tel: (Fr) 5 59 54 98 92). It is not advisable to walk back in the dark, so pre-order a taxi.
SAINT-JEAN-DE-LUZ TO HENDAYE: 13 KILOMETRES
No visit to the Basque county is complete without a trip to the picturesque fishing port of Saint-Jean-de-Luz. Wander the streets, with its boutique shops selling linge basque and espadrilles, and peruse the amazing produce at the food market.
Try the almond macarons from Maison Adam on Place Louis XIV (maisonadam.fr), before settling down at one of the restaurants surrounding the square for lunch and a spot of people watching. Le Majestic (tel: (Fr) 5 59 26 01 36) serves a reasonably priced menu du jour, and has outside seating overlooking the pretty music pavilion.
A campervan parking area beside the harbor (€8 for 24 hours) makes it easy to get in and out of town, and it is also conveniently close to the Grillerie du Port (tel: (Fr) 5 59 51 18 29) if you want a seafood meal.
Take the D912 Corniche Basque (coast road) to Hendaye and the Spanish border. This laid-back resort is ideal for surfing novices and family-friendly days out beside the sea, with a three- kilometre-long beach and easy parking bays all along the seafront.
Head back to the UK from the Spanish ferry ports. Alternatively, continue your road trip in the French Basque country by exploring the mountain villages of Itxassou and Espelette. The former is famed for its black cherries, while the latter takes its name from the Basque red chilli pepper, which has fired the imagination of its people for generations.
GETTING THERE: The nearest Channel port is Saint-Malo, a 7hr drive. Bilbao and Santander in northern Spain are 1hr 20min and 2hr 30min away respectively. The nearest airport is Biarritz. Trains from Paris Montparnasse to Bayonne take 5hr. A faster service starts in July which will cut the time by 1hr 10min.
CAMPERVAN HIRE: If you are travelling by air or rail, you can hire a campervan at several locations in France including Bordeaux and Toulouse (trois-soleils.com).
TOURIST INFORMATION: Atout France, France.fr; Nouvelle Aquitaine tourist board, tourisme-aquitaine.fr.