|St Jean de Luz, Pays Basque|
The Pays Basque Atlantic coast
The Pays Basque isn’t just about mountains, spicy peppers, sheep’s cheese or Gateau Basque, it boasts a great coastline too, and in what I hoped would be more gentle terrain for my little legs than the mountain cols, that was where we found ourselves on our second full day back in the Basque.
When morning coffee is served with a white-sand vista stretching along the blue horizon, and the warming sun was on our faces, it was with some difficulty we tore ourselves away, unfolded the bikes and set off to explore.
Following Eurovelo 1 up, down and around the corniche, I soon realized there isn’t much that’s flat in the Pays Basque. However, with honeysuckle, elderflowers, acacia and viburnum all competing to perfume the air, walking the steeper or loose gravel sections of the bike path just extended the nasal delights. From cool and shady sections with almost hidden glimpses of dramatic coastlines, to open areas with a never-ending view, it was a treat to be there on the bikes and in the sun.
St Jean de Luz reminds me a little of La Rochelle, with its cosmopolitan feel and off-the-scale people watching score, but it retains an unmistakable Basque flavour. White buildings, red shutters, balconies, triangular Basque pitched roofs and a little bit of Spanish creeping in around the edges, it was great to be back. We picnicked in the main square where we have previously feasted on plat du jour regional specialties, but today the bike parking at our preferred restaurant looked tricky. Warm quiche and mini Gateau Basque brought direct from a quayside boulangerie, certainly set us up for the afternoon climb.
We crossed the harbor into Ciboure and soon the floral fragrance was replaced by fresh, salty sea air as we followed the coast towards Hendaye. Our afternoon was a great mix of climbing followed by sweeping descents, all with a backdrop of seaweed, seagulls and the sound of crashing waves.
From Hendaye we looked over to the tower blocks of Hondarribia in Spain, just the river estuary separating the two countries. The air was hot, and the palm trees gave it an exotic holiday feel, but there was beer waiting for us back in St Jean de Luz, so retrace our steps we had to do. A meander up the main shopping street followed the beer stop where my eye was drawn to a Basque coloured trinket to adorn Katie the Tiny Tourer, who is getting quite a collection of quirky dangly bits, none of which help my climbing I’m sure, but all make me smile.
It was certainly worth the hour or so drive from St Jean Pied de Port to the coast at Bidart where we left the car for the day. Eurovelo 1 is reasonably well marked, although after the beautiful fishing port of Guéthary (worth a stop) on our return, they send you on a longer than necessary detour, just to pass a museum, which despite the vivid mosaic sculptures in the garden we didn’t have time to visit. You certainly get to see the best of coast line following the Eurovelo by bike, rather than stuck in traffic on the busy main road by car.
Here are a few of my previous posts about the Pays Basque you might like: