Bayonne, Biarritz and the French Basque Country – France 2010

After a stay at the huge aire at Capbreton (excellent beach), we headed down to Bayonne, Biarritz and St. Jean de Luz for the final coastal stage of our trip.

The beach at the Capbreton aire
The beach at the Capbreton aire - apparently a surfing mecca

Bayonne was all that the guidebook said and is well worth a visit. The Saturday morning market was on when we were there, with most of the outdoor stalls selling genuine homegrown produce. There is plenty of pay and display parking although much of it is height limited – take care. After a couple of hours wondering around the narrow, winding streets and admiring the tall, narrow, timber-framed buildings, most of which have been well preserved, we left in search of some tacky seaside action.

Old buildings in Bayonne
Timber-framed buildings predominate in Bayonne's old city centre

Timber frame building in Bayonne, France

The river at Bayonne
The river runs through Bayonne

Biarritz was nowhere near as tacky as we feared it might be and it’s easy to see how it deserves its glamorous, upmarket reputation – if that’s your kind of thing. It is certainly not cheap and we only took a whistle-stop tour before moving on to St. Jean de Luz, a Basque seaside town that sounded attractive and was our planned overnight stop.

Biarritz
Sea views from the promenade in Biarritz
Hermes shop in Biarritz
Not many seaside resorts can support this kind of shop...

St Jean de Luz is certainly an attractive town, but the aire is hugely popular and not that big. In addition, there is absolutely nowhere to wait for a space to become free – if you can’t park, you can’t really go in for more than a few minutes. Needless to say, a sunny Saturday in May wasn’t the right time and every space was taken.

Motorhome aire at St Jean de Luz, France
You want a space on a sunny Saturday afternoon in May? No chance...

A street in St Jean de Luz

We compromised by parking elsewhere for lunch and having a walk around the town before heading inland. A secret to French aires is that the inland ones are rarely as busy as the coastal aires, even on busy days. To test this out, we headed inland to Sare, a small village in the hills which was on our planned route up into the Pyrenees.

A timber-framed house in Sare, France

Sare proved (or so we thought) to be a sleepy, picturesque Basque village and the aire was perfect – with plenty of space (click here for a video of the site). However, we appeared to have arrived on some kind of festival day (8th May), which we never successfully identified. Festivities in the village, including traditional marching band music and fireworks, started from around 9pm. More surprising still was a rock concert in a hall just above our car park. The scheduled start was about 10pm, with the final act scheduled for 0240… the music continued long after this and didn’t actually end until about 5am. Still, we slept well enough despite this and it’s a great location otherwise that I’d recommend if you’re in the area and want a quiet night.

Church in Sare village, France
The church was surprisingly large, given Sare's modest population

A note about the Basque region of France. Firstly, much of the time, it feels like you are in Spain. Secondly, the Basque language, Euskara, is completely incomprehensible to outsiders and is nothing like French (or Spanish). Euskara has, curiously, managed to develop in isolation and is unrelated to any other language in the world. It certainly isn’t related to Greek or Latin in the way that most western European languages are. Most Basque French are bilingual in French and the language is, apparently, more widely used in the adjoining Basque region of Spain, where it is recognised as an official language, than on the French side of the border, where it isn’t.

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