IN THE AREA

France - - Take A Stroll -

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

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