So­phis­ti­cated sunseekers say south-west is best

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Secret Seaside -

On the French-Span­ish bor­der, Guéthary of­fers the drama of the At­lantic – plus Miche­lin-starred food, says Frank Pre­ston

Ar­rive in Guéthary, in the province of Labourd in south-west France, and you know the hol­i­day is go­ing to have char­ac­ter. There is noth­ing vague or un­de­fined about the French At­lantic coast as it bangs into Spain: this is Basque coun­try. Cliffs, heath­land and woods drop to beaches harder-won than the vast stretches of sand of the flat lit­toral zone to the north.

The ocean rolls in over rocks, chuck­ing surfers about. Sea and sky are huge. The Mediter­ranean seems ef­fete by com­par­i­son.

For cen­turies the Basques farmed, whaled and fished from here, build­ing their white houses trimmed with red wood­work. Well-to-do out­siders be­gan ar­riv­ing in the 19th cen­tury to build hol­i­day vil­las. These days, smart Parisians who are too cool for the Riviera con­gre­ga­teon this stretch of coast in sum­mer. Warm July and Au­gust nights in the vil­lage (pop­u­la­tion 1,300) are as lively as you like at buzzing Le Madrid or the Bar Basque.

The first of the vil­lage’s four beaches, by the port, is so small that it barely counts: one game of vol­ley­ball and it is pretty much full. Along the jetty, though, is Harotzen Costa, a long and wild beach with a com­bi­na­tion of sand, peb­bles and rocks suf­fi­cient, at low tide, to leave rock pools in which your chil­dren can taunt crus­taceans. Far­ther south, Cenitz beach is rocky to the north, and then curves sandily the south.

The fi­nal and best beach is Par­lemen­tia, at the other end of the vil­lage. Here you will find a long sandy stretch, with great op­por­tu­ni­ties for bathing and mak­ing sand cas­tles – and it draws fewer peo­ple be­cause it’s fur­ther from the cen­tre.

The surf­ing is also good but, as through­out Guéthary, not for the neo­phyte: the com­bi­na­tion of de­cent At­lantic rollers and un­der­wa­ter rocks could shred bod­ies. The best Par­lemen­tia waves are, any­way, hun­dreds of yards out. Guéthary surf schools take ab­so­lute be­gin­ners a few min­utes along the coast for eas­ier con­di­tions at Hen­daye or St Jean de Luz.

None of the Guéthary beaches has a bar, though there are sev­eral de­cent ones nearby. Hippest is Hete­ro­clito – a mix of surfer hang-out and junk shop – up the slope to the vil­lage from Par­lemen­tia.

Back in the vil­lage, visit the pelota court, play ten­nis. Bet­ter yet, set off on the coastal path, a crack­ing 15-mile ram­ble to Hen­daye on the Span­ish bor­der. Be­hind, a yeo­man’s coun­try­side rises, set­tled and pros­per­ous, to the Pyre­nees.

And so back to Guéthary for sunset. Seren­ity is prob­a­ble, on one con­di­tion: don’t talk pol­i­tics. Talk rugby or surf­ing or sex or cut­tle­fish (a lo­cal spe­cial­ity). Any­thing, but leave sep­a­ratism alone. It’s not your af­fair. You will lose. And a lit­tle lus­tre will be knocked off the hol­i­day bril­liance.

● At the very top of the vil­lage, the Brikete­nia is, like all Basque busi­nesses, a fam­ily af­fair. The Ibar­boure ladies look af­ter the ren­o­vated ho­tel, with fa­ther and son in charge in the Miche­lin-starred res­tau­rant (dou­bles from £61; 0033 559 265134; brikete­nia.com). ● A true Basque villa near the cen­tre, with flow­ers in the gar­den and retro-swish within (dou­bles from £93; 559 475900; villa-catarie.com). ● Best first-stop for self-cater­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion around Guéthary is this Bri­tish-run out­fit. They have a du­plex

The tiny beach at Guéthary port, left; and sandy Par­lemen­tia, top

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