If you’re dreaming of rugged mountain hikes and luxury coastal restaurants, the south west of France has you covered. Nestled on the Atlantic coast, the Basque Country is a hidden gem packed with rich culture and gorgeous scenery. The fascinating and unique culture of the Basque people provides insight into a largely undiscovered community while maintaining the classic features of French and Spanish (Spain is only a two-hour drive away) traditions. Eliza Wood, an intern at Original Travel, has spent every summer visiting the region since she was three, yet still finds herself enthralled by its beauty and character. Read on to find out some of the top things to do in the Basque Country…
Hiking is one of the top things to do in the Basque Country and while the Basque Country isn’t home to the Pyrenees’ biggest summits, a short trip into the mountains is well worth it. This summer, my family and I fell in love with the lush footpaths of Mont. Ursuya. This off-the-beaten-track gem is the perfect spot for exploring winding and occasionally unmapped trails, challenging yourself to a gruelling ascent of the Col d’Iraty by bike, or enjoying a more accessible mountain meander by car, following the winding road that climbs Iraty where you’ll find a small café, a quaint river which is home to some rather adorable miniature frogs, and lush fields filled with cows.
Experiencing Basque culture is a must when it comes to the top things to do in the Basque Country and nothing beats spending an evening at the Saint Jean-de-Luz jai-alai sports centre to watch a high-octane game of cesta punta. Cesta punta - a variety of the popular Basque sport, pelota - is a highly entertaining squash-like game which involves flinging a ball against a wall using a long slide-like glove. After flashing our ‘passe-sanitaires’ at the door, we tucked into some tapas and local cider at ‘Le Cidrerie’ before making our way into the court where a local child ushered us to our seats. Once seated, prepare yourself for traditional music, baffling French commentary and nail-biting play.
The Basque Country’s rich history goes back centuries. In fact, the Basque community is believed to be one of the oldest ethnic groups in all of Europe. One of the best ways to get a taste for the culture is to taste their hearty cuisine. We dined at the Michelin-starred Artzain restaurant, located in a renovated barn in the charming town of Irissary, and feasted on a menu that is designed to honour its Basque roots while also revolutionising modern French cuisine.
If you’re in the mood for a little luxury, explore one of the French Basque Country’s urban hubs, Biarritz. Relax on the soft sand of La Grande Plage or hit the high-end shops before taking a seat in the gorgeously simple ‘Casa Juan Pedro’ where you’ll find seaside seating and freshly-caught produce, making it a perfect stop.