My trip in and around St- Jean de Luz, Pays Basque, France

St-Jean de Luz beach
St-Jean de Luz

Many moons ago I visited St-Jean de Luz in the French Pays Basque for the afternoon as I was attending a wedding in nearby Pau. I loved the atmosphere of the place, and I always wanted to go back. I had the opportunity this last September to enjoy this fabulous place, now with the bonus of extra time and energy.

On the Way to St-Jean de Luz, Bidart and Guéthary

I travelled from Bayonne to St-Jean de Luz, stopping in the cutest villages and beaches on the way. The first stop was the coastal village of Bidart, tranquilly located on a hill overlooking the Atlantic. The views are breathtaking and it has one of many golf courses in the region..

bidart in near Saint Jean de Luz, Pays Basque, France

The Basque architecture dominates this area with white facades, Basque red shutters, timbered details and clay-fired red roofs tiles.

Guéthary, near Saint Jean de Luz, Pays Basque
Basque flag in Guéthary, near Saint Jean de Luz, Pays Basque
Basque Flag in Guéthary beach

Guéthary was my next stop, nowadays a not-so-well-known resort on the Pays Basque coast. This small fishing village was once famous for whale hunting in the 13th century. Now you can visit the local beaches, the Guéthary museum and gardens, hire electric bikes to explore the area and, of course, learn to surf, which is a popular activity in the region.

Plage de Senix, near Saint Jean de Luz
Plage de Senix

Driving along the coast, I saw many little beaches between Guéthary and St-Jean de Luz. Each beach is very different from the other. Plage de Senix, for example, is where I saw two London double-decker buses used as bars and a restaurant. The next beach along, Plage Mayarkoenia, is very beautiful and it’s worth having a drink at BiBam snack bar (Acotz, 64500 Saint-Jean-de-Luz, France) and enjoying the ambience while overlooking the sea. Some evenings they have live music.

Plage Mayarkoenia, near Jean Jean de Luz, Pays Basque
Plage Mayarkoenia views from BiBam bar

Plage Latifenia, a sandy, pebbly beach  one that’s favoured by experienced surfers. Then, just before arriving at St-Jean de Luz is the Plage D’Erromardie, a quiet beach that’s a peaceful contrast to the busy next door neighbour.

Plage Latifenia, next to St-Jean de Luz, Pays Basque France
Plage Latifenia,

St-Jean de Luz

St-Jean de Luz  beach from afar
St-Jean de Luz

After a whole day of coastal sightseeing, I arrived in St-Jean de Luz, and a well-deserved meal was in order at L’Ocean, a one-michelin-starred restaurant located at the five-star Grand Hotel overlooking the Atlantic.

Sunset in St-Jean de Luz
Sunset in St-Jean de Luz, overlooking the mountains and Spanish Basque Country

That evening the sunset was spectacular. The glowing sun a crisp circle in the slightly orange sky, illuminating a quivering path across the water.It was the perfect setting for the dinner for that was about to be unveiled. The restaurant has an open kitchen so we could see all the action and the menu is short and sweet.

L'Ocean, a one-michelin-starred in St-Jean de Luz, Pays Basque, France
Dinner at L’Ocean, a one-michelin-starred

Dinner started with a sweet and delicious cocktail of apricot & Champagne sprinkled with Espelette pepper.

Sourdough and homemade whipped seaweed butter arrived at the table, and I couldn’t resist it. Next was the amuse-bouche: crab pâté in a buttery crust and a corn dome on a crusty pastry.

L'Ocean, a one-michelin-starred
Sourdough and homemade whipped seaweed butter at L’Ocean
amuse-bouche at L'Ocean, a one-michelin-starred
amuse-bouche: crab pâté in a buttery crust and a corn dome on a crusty pastry.
Starter at L'Ocean, a one-michelin-starred
starter at L’Ocean: trio of poached oyster on a bed of kiwi and cucumber; nasturtium topped with cucumber jelly with mini cucumbers

My starter was a delicate trio of poached oyster on a bed of kiwi and cucumber; nasturtium topped with cucumber jelly with mini cucumbers scattered around the plate; and in the middle was the creamiest rye bread ice cream – what a dream, paired with a perfectly balanced Sancerre, made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes.

John Dory L'Ocean, a one-michelin-starred
John Dory at L’Ocean

My main course was a John Dory with parsnip cream, Granny Smith apple and spinach sauce, cockles, charred mini spring onions, sheep cheese gyoza and enoki (Japanese mushrooms). It was a very substantial dish but not heavy. It was paired with Jurançon Sec wine: a dry white Clos Thou, golden in colour, with hints of pineapple and strawberry. It was elegant, dense, with a medium-to-long finish, and a balanced acidity.

L'Ocean, a one-michelin-starred
Cheeses at L’Ocean

My final dish was a selection of local cheeses matched with Marsannay Pinot noir: an intense wine with black and red fruits, a long finish, low tannins and a balanced acidity.

The digestive was local El pacharán (en euskera – in basque: patxaran): a liquor of combined sloe fruits, coffee beans, a cinnamon pod and anise, macerated for one to eight months. What a great meal to end a very long and beautiful day.

Les Halles in St-Jean de Luz

fish and seafood in  Les Halles in St-Jean de Luz
fish and seafood hall in Les Halles in St-Jean de Luz

The heart of any community is the local market, and Les Halles in St-Jean de Luz is no different. It offers fruits, vegetables, flowers, meat and fresh fish, and local knick-knacks. It is a way of life here to have drinks and pintxos in the halls and catch up with friends. After that, it’s time for shopping and then home to cook lunch.

Outer part of Les Halles in St-Jean de Luz
Outer Les Halles in St-Jean de Luz

The halls are open every day from 7am to 1pm every day throughout the year. The food market outside Les Halles is held on Tuesday mornings and Friday mornings all year, and on Saturday mornings during July and August.

Rue Gambetta is the main street where you’ll find restaurants, as well as fantastic shops for clothes, espadrilles, , textiles and everything Basque. Places worth a visit in and around Rue Gambetta include Maison Laffargue for high-quality leather goods. For exquisite ceramic and pottery, Goicoechea at Place Louis XIV is a family-run business and they accept bespoke orders from all over the world.

Arnabar is a Pays Basque producer of duck foie gras located in Ossès. The animals are organic and free-range. They have a shop in St-Jean de Luz at 15 Avenue Joachim Labrouche, next to Les Halles. A must for all foie gras and charcuterie needs!

Pierre Oteiza, at 10 Rue de la République, is also an excellent place to taste and buy local products, including saucissons and chorizo, pâté and foie gras, ducks (confit and cassoulet), fromage, wine and beverages.

Pierre Oteiza
Pierre Oteiza

To work off all the eating, you could try the game of Basque Pelota, which is the region’s court sport played with a ball using one’s hand, a racket, a wooden bat or a basket, against a wall. I had a go, and it was fun, but I am not good at it at all!

Basque textile for sale everywhere
Basque textile for sale everywhere

St-Jean de Luz port where you can buy local products and boat trips around the bay and most importantly, I heard you can go on the fishermen boats early morning to catch fishes – now that is an adventure!

St-Jean de Luz Port
St-Jean de Luz Port
St-Jean de Luz Port
St-Jean de Luz Port


architecture in Sare
architecture in Sare
 Gateau Basque sale in Sare, near St--Jean de Luz
Gateau Basque sale in Sare

About 20 minutes driving from St-Jean de Luz is the traditional village of Sare, a commune in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department in South-Western France on the border with Spain, and home of the famous Gateau Basque.

Museum of Gateau Basque in Sare, near St-Jean de Luz
Museum of Gateau Basque

I visited the Museum of Gateau Basque for a demo and a tasting of the two classic flavours of Basque cake:the local Xapata black cherry jam and the crème pâtsière (pastry cream). Both are delicious, but I do prefer the cherry one.

Museum of Gateau Basque
Museum of Gateau Basque
Gateau Basque
Museum of Gateau Basque
Museum of Gateau Basque
Museum of Gateau Basque

Afterwards, driving up the Pyrenean mountain range, I saw the home of the Kintoa pigs as well as the wild horses. They run around free but belong to and are looked after by the local farmers.

Wild Horses in the French Pays Basque mountains
Wild Horses in the French Pays Basque mountains
Kintoa Pigs
Kintoa Pigs

On the way back, we stopped at the village of Ascain to visit 1910 Lartigue, textile weavers of Basque linen for four generations. They have a workshop at the back of the shop where you can see how it all works. Needless to say, I bought some textiles… they are so beautiful.

Basque linen being made – what a skill
 French Basque linen
Basque linen


Happy with all the purchases of the day, it was time for some wine. We stopped at Ciboure, next to St-Jean de Luz, at the Socoa Beach to visit Egiategia. where the vinification is done in tanks instead of bottles, and it all occurs under the seawater at 15 metres deep. It is said to be the first subsea winemaking in the world. The sea offers pressure, darkness, constant temperature and movement: all perfect conditions for winemaking, according to Emmanuel Poirmeur, founder of Egiategia wines.

Egiategia wines
Egiategia wines

My last meal at Pays Basque was at Alaia restaurant in Ciboure,, along with another fantastic sunset; this time overlooking the sandy beach of Socoa.The menu consists of a selection of high-quality dishes based on farm produce, preferably organic, regional, fresh and seasonal. The menu continually changes to reflect this approach. The wines are mainly organic, with some natural wines on the wine list too.

It’s a pleasant place to have a quiet dinner with stunning scenery. My meal featured a smooth salmon pâté with homemade cornbread, followed by line-caught hake, spring onions on a bed of leek and clams. Perfect!

Starters at Alaia restaurant in Ciboure
line-caught hake, spring onions on a bed of leek and clams at Alaia
restaurant Alaia

Where I stayed in St-Jean de Luz

Hotel Madison in St-Jean de Luz
Hotel Madison in St-Jean de Luz

Hotel Madison is a four-star hotel, five minutes’ walk from St-Jean de Luz beach. Among the facilities are a restaurant, a 24-hour front desk and room service, along with free and fully working WiFi throughout the property. They have a fantastic underground spa and wellness centre, with a swimming pool, a sauna, and a hot bath.

I stayed in a superior room , which had a spa shower and a hairdryer, a flat-screen TV, air conditioning, an annexe with an extra single bed, and a handy coffee machine, which I used throughout my two-night stay.

A comprehensive Continental breakfast is laid every morning, featuring very fresh and vibrant produce. Overall, the accommodation was spotless and tidy in a superb location. I highly recommend it for amenities, service and location.

Hotel Madison

25 Boulevard Thiers, 64500 Saint-Jean-de-Luz, France

Phone: +33 5 59 85 55 55

View other Pays Basque adventures :

A short break in Biarritz

Spending a day in Bayonne

How to get to St-Jean de Luz

By Air

The nearest airport is Biarritz. The flight takes about 1hr, 5min, with the following airport departures:

London Stansted: Ryanair

London Gatwick and London Luton: EasyJet

Southampton and Birmingham: Flybe

Dublin: Ryanair

By Road

From Paris to St-Jean de Luz, take the A10 (7.5 hr).

By Train from London

Take the Eurostar from London to Paris Gare du Nord and then change for a TGV to St-Jean de Luz, Ciboure. The TGV runs direct from Paris Montparnasse to St-Jean de Luz, Ciboure  (4.5 hr).

View more of behind the scenes here: @Rosana_McPhee

Disclosure: I was on a solo press trip for review purposes. Everything you are reading here are my words, my opinions and, unless otherwise, stated my pictures. Please ask permission to reproduce/use any images.