Spending a day at Bayonne in Pays Basque, France

After a couple of days basking in Biarritz’s beauty, I moved on to nearby Bayonne and then to St-Jean de Luz, stopping at small beaches and villages along the way. It’s a beautiful trip that can easily be done by car or by local train .

Spending a day at Bayonne in Pays Basque
Spending a day at Bayonne in Pays Basque


Bayonne is about 15 minutes’ drive from Biarritz. By train, it takes about 8 minutes and costs £3.43 (Sept 2019). Another option is to catch the bus; the Chronoplus bus takes about 20 minutes and costs only € 1. This service covers other cities in the region too.

In Bayonne, as well as Biarritz, there are also small complimentary buses (free navettes) that circulate in the city centre to encourage car-free streets.

Bayonne is a city in the Basque Country located in southwest France, where the Nive and Adour rivers meet.  A boat service was recently inaugurated to make easy transport between Pays Basque and the province of Gascony.

Bayonne streets

The city is very buoyant and vibrant, peppered with narrow cobbled medieval streets that characterise the old Grand Bayonne district. A walk in the botanic garden is a must.

Bayonne Cathedral
Bayonne Cathedral
Bayonne Cathedral inside
Bayonne Cathedral inside

The imposing Gothic-style Bayonne Cathedral is the jewel of the city. Its splendid looking interior has been meticulously restored. Curiously, its 13th-century cloister is used by the community for local events and even concerts.

Bayonne Cathedral inside cloister
Bayonne Cathedral inside cloister

Chocolate Capital of France

L'Atelier du Chocolat in Bayonne
L’Atelier du Chocolat in Bayonne

Chocolate was brought to Bayonne by the Jews, who were fleeing the inquisition in Spain and Portugal. These countries first brought cacao from South and Central America to Europe. Bayonne was their first port of call in France to stop and trade.

Bayonne played a crucial part in spreading the cocoa to other parts of Europe. They have a robust regional spirit and an intense fidelity to the town’s traditions; one of them is the making of chocolate.

Chocolat Mousseux at chocolatier Cazevane in Bayonne
Chocolat Mousseux at chocolatier Cazevane in Bayonne

I tried some delights in Bayonne from traditional artisan chocolatier Cazevane, located in an arcade at 19 rue Port Neuf. The tea room serves the most amazing Chocolat Mousseux – a hot and thick chocolate, adorned by a very heavy foam – an enjoyable break from the sightseeing. They have been making chocolate since 1854; to this day it’s still a family business.

Pariès is another famous chocolatier in Pays Basque, with shops in St Jean de Luz, Paris and St. Sebastien too. It is a business run by women and their chocolate caramel (Kanougas) was voted the best in the world. As I write this piece, I am munching on them! (the silver wrapped confections in the picture below)

Spending a day at Bayonne in Pays Basque at Praiers

D’espelines (in the middle) : roasted almonds, caramelized and seasoned with a hint of Espelette pepper (a local mild chilli). Delicious!

The Mouchou ® is another exclusive speciality of Maison Pariès (at the back of the picture). This biscuit, very similar in appearance to a macaron, is made of two round discs filled with soft, creamy and sweet almonds (Marconas of Catalonia) and it’s low in sugar. Mouchou means ‘kiss’ in Basque and the biscuits come in five flavours: nature (almond), pistachio, chocolate, praline, coffee.

Chocolate is a very serious traditional business in this town: Bayonne is a chocolate-lovers’ paradise!

There are two chocolate festivals in Bayonne in May/June and the other takes place the first weekend of November, with workshops, tasting and tours. If you can’t make it, Bayonne Tourist Office runs guided tours all year round. There’s also a Chocolate Museum, which I didn’t have time to visit – next trip!

Bayonne and Kintoa Ham

Bayonne Hams

Next, we visited Aubard, a place that specialises in ham.Maison Aubard is an award-winning manufacturer of handmade Bayonne and Kintoa hams of first-class quality.There are levels of curing that determine their superior classification. Bayonne ham is cured for 12 months, whereas IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée) only requires seven months; Bayonne ham grand cru is cured for 18 months, and Kintoa ham is aged for 20 months or more.

Bayonne Ham

We tasted both hams; the Bayonne is slightly pink coloured, sweet and delicately flavoured with a little salt to the taste. It is generally cut very thin and has a chewy texture in comparison to cooked hams. The Kintoa is an exceptional dark meat: fruity, intense and deep flavoured., Bayonne ham is a real contrast to any other you have tried before. Overall, it was great to learn about the process of ancestral methods to manufacture ham, where the knowledge is transmitted through generations by the Basque farmers.

Kintoa ham

The Baiona’Pero was the matching drink for both hams; it’s a typical Basque cherry-based aperitif, which is enhanced by a touch of Espelette pepper.

Before heading off to St-Jean de Luz, we had lunch at a local restaurant, where I had an omelette with piperade – a traditional Basque sauce made of onions, green peppers, and tomatoes that are sautéd  and flavoured with Espelette pepper.

omelette with piperade – a traditional Basque sauce spending day in Bayonne
omelette with piperade – a traditional Basque sauce
Quick lunch in Bayonne

A day is a good amount of time to get to know Bayonne but two days is better to really immerse yourself in the culture and traditions of this lovely city. The best time to visit is September, when there’s great weather and it’s not too busy with tourists.

How to get to Bayonne

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 Bayonne via Bordeaux, take the A10 and A63 (7 hr).

By Train

Take the Eurostar from London to Paris Gare du Nord and then change for a TGV to Biarritz. The TGV runs direct from Paris Montparnasse to Bayonne (4 hr).

See more behind the scenes: @Rosana_McPhee

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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.