St Jean de Luz
St Jean de Luz, this lively, cosmopolitan town, small enough to walk on foot from end to end, has it all. With its winding narrow lanes, bars and terraces, the delightful pedestrian area Rue Gambetta, a small working fishing port, whitewashed houses, tiny shops and bright boutiques, a fabulous beach, and food to die for, this town has all the necessary ingredients for a fabulous fun filled holiday.
We were booked into the Hotel Donibane for a couple of days. The rooms were compact, offering a great breakfast and the use of a very welcome swimming pool and terrace. It is slightly out of town, but it was easy to find on leaving the motorway and ideal for our short stay.
Saint Jean de Luz is in the south west of France, on the coast near the border with Spain, south of Biarritz and Bayonne. It is in Basque country, close to the western end of the Pyrenees. With a stunning backdrop of mountains, the hills meeting the sea, and gloriously long hours of sunshine, it is perfect for everyone.
The main beach, sandy, clean and safe – Le Grande Plage – is protected by a huge breakwater (3 impressive sea walls), which means that the surf pounding this coastline never reaches this bay’s shoreline. As a result, it is superb for young families. There are a plethora of activities and clubs for the children here too. Lifeguards are on duty at the weekend only in May, then daily from June through to September.
If of course you love to surf then head to Plage de Lafiténia. This is THE surfer’s paradise! Sandy and pebbly, (it is close to the campsites in the Acotz district of town) and here the experienced surfer can ride the rather large waves to the left of the rocks.
However, if like me you are a beginner, then head for Plage de Cénitz. This sandy and pebbly beach is suitable for surfers of all levels. You can ride the waves on either side of the beach, and is great if you like to use your boogie board too!
Local food and Eating Out
Restaurants abound! The chefs of St Jean de Luz are noted for their creativity and the town is the capital of Basque cuisine with seafood being a particular speciality. St Jean de Luz did after all thrive as a whaling and fishing community (it is also famous for piracy too)!
There’s a good choice of eateries and restaurants in the town and Rue de la République is lined with seafood restaurants displaying their wares. A particularly superb seafood restaurant by the port is TXALUPA.
Basque cuisine is rustic in style with an emphasis on seafood. St Jean de Luz is on the Atlantic Ocean where Hake, sea bream, tuna and cod all feature heavily on local menus. The fish is often served with delicious herb or spicy “pil pil” sauces. If you can do try Ttoro a type of Basque fish stew featuring cod, tuna, etc. Also Chipirons – which are small stuffed squid served with tomatoes. Delicious!!
St Jean de Luz has excellent boutiques and is a favourite for clothes and shoes. There’s also a liberal sprinkling of speciality food shops. Chocolates, almond biscuits and gâteau Basque.
Three excellent shops to try…
Maison du Kanouga (9 Rue Gambetta),
Maison Adam (49 Rue Gambetta)
Pariès (9 Rue Gambetta).
Saint-Jean-de-Luz specialities also include Macaroons…
In 1660, Monsieur Adam (as above Masion Adam 49 Rue Gambetta) created the subtle and delicious masterpiece we now know as the macaroon, made from a mixture of almond paste, sugar, ground almonds and egg whites.
During the wedding of Louis XIV to the Infanta of Spain, Monsieur Adam made some gorgeous confections for the new king Louis, who was delighted by them. His approval guaranteed that these delicacies became extremely popular with the Court.
The Pâtisserie Adam exists today. Maison Adam 49 Rue Gambetta, Saint-Jean-de-Luz – the recipe, a secret to this day – is passed down from father to son!
The town has a long and colourful history. It was an important point on the coastal pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostella, and became wealthy in the 16th century from fishing and whaling. Piracy (backed by the French King), added to the towns wealth and many of the fine houses in St Jean de Luz were built on the proceeds from this piracy!
The signing of the ‘Treaty of the Pyrenees’ between France and Spain took place in 1659 followed by the finest moment for St Jean de Luz in 1660. A Royal wedding. Louis XIV married Marie-Therese on 9th June in the Basque church of St. John the Baptist. After the wedding the church doorway in St Jean de Luz was blocked up. This would ensure that no-one else could pass through the same doorway!
The main route north-south through St Jean de Luz is the RN10. The scenery is stunning if you are arriving from Bilbao in the south, or if you are travelling from the north of France it become mountainous after 175km south of Bordeaux. Saturdays during the month of August can be particularly difficult to park in St Jean de Luz, and traffic queues can form quickly from the RN10 from both junctions 2 and 3 into the centre. I would advise if possible to arrive and depart during a weekday, or even better on a Sunday. The roads are free from trucks and lorries on Sundays in France, and make for a far less stressful car journey.
Alternatively…. take the train. Saint-Jean-de-Luz is on the main Paris – Madrid line with five high-speed TGV’s each day. A great way to travel! As the advert says, let the train take the strain! Bookings can be made online in advance with www.raileurope.com
St Jean de Luz, with its stunning scenic backdrop, vibrant, cosmopolitan town, fantastic fresh food, beautiful beaches for swimmers, sunbathers and surfers alike, street parties, festivals and markets a plenty, is a great holiday destination for everyone.