IN THE AREA
Saint-jean-de-luz and the other towns and villages along the Côte des Basques, from Hendaye on the Spanish border to Anglet, have been popular seaside destinations since the arrival of the railway and the first wave of wealthy travellers by car. The area continues to attract high-profile figures of film, fashion, music and sport, as well as an international surfing crowd.
The Cité de l’océan in Biarritz (citedelocean.com) gives an insight into what lies beneath the waves and offers a virtual reality experience of surfing as well as charting the sport’s rise in popularity. Ever since the 1950s, when Californian film stars started riding the waves on Plage de la Côte des Basques during filming for The Sun also Rises, Biarritz has been considered the capital of surfing in Europe.
Its proximity to the Pyrénées also makes Saint-jean-de-luz a convenient base for exploring the rural inland areas in this southern part of the Pays Basque. Ainhoa and Sare, two of the Plus Beaux Villages de France, are within a 45-minute drive, as is the red pepper town of Espelette. Go deeper still at the Grottes de Sare (grottesdesare.fr) to learn how the area’s earliest inhabitants lived, in a geological formation that is more than two million years old.
Above ground, take a ride on the historic Petit Train de la Rhune (€19 return, €16 single, rhune.com), which since 1924 has been travelling up the mountain that holds a sacred place in Basque folklore. Starting at Col de Saint-ignace, near Sare, the rack-andpinion train travels the 35 minutes to the summit at 905 metres, where on a clear day you can see all seven Basque-speaking provinces of France and Spain. A bus service runs from Saint-jean-de-luz to the train’s departure point.
Rather than taking the train back, you can descend along one of the walking routes from the summit to get a closer look at the pottok horses and the birds of prey, from red kites to vultures, circling overhead.
ABOVE: Peppers drying in the traditional manner at Espelette; RIGHT: The Petit Train de la Rhune offers spectacular views