I still had some time in San Sebastian before moving on, so I made sure to see the highlights of Basque country. This meant I wanted to head up the coast into France. San Sebastian is situated very close to the France border and there was no way I was going to pass on seeing the coastline. I have only been to Paris in France, so I was excited that I would get to experience a completely different region.
When I decided to include this as part of my trip, I did some research, and the most well rated tour guide out there was Jon, who runs Basque Tours. Of course it was just me, so finding a private guide for one person is not the easiest thing on the planet, and I was still hopeful that someone else in town for the wedding would want to go with me. Well, after some planning and no word from anyone else that I knew would be visiting here too, I was able to arrange for a private tour with Jon, with just me (usually tours are for at least 2 people, so I thank Jon for taking just me).
Before he came to pick me up at the hotel I decided to give the hotel breakfast a try. They had lots of good selections.
I also found this ad interesting. I am assuming this is their equivalent of lactaid pills.
Then I headed to the lobby to wait for my guide.
I won't lie...I took a TON of pictures. By a ton, I do mean I have over 100 pictures from this day. The views were amazing, I loved the architecture, and of course we stopped and looked at food. So naturally, I have a TON of pictures. I will keep the writing to a minimum (I am not kidding, I really did try with this post) and let the pictures speak more for themselves. Jon gave me a lot of information about the towns we visited, so some of it I will share, but otherwise, I there will be a lot of pictures to look at. I really wish the pictures could do the Basque coast justice, but sadly, even with my new Sony cybershot, they just don't do it.
Let's get started with a picture of our crossing over from Spain into France. Let's just say this is anything but dramatic. I only know we crossed the line because Jon told me, so I grabbed my camera.
The first town we visited was Hendaia (also spelled Hendaye). As we passed by the train station Jon mentioned that this was where Franco and Hitler met to discuss bringing Spain into the war to side with Germany, to which Franco declined. So, I took a picture! I am guessing it didn't quite look like this back then.
The first major stop along the way was at the beach of Hendaia. This is the longest beach in all of Basque country, and it has a lovely walk way that passes in front of the beach. I was dropped off at one end and able to stroll the entire length of the beach, all the while taking pictures.
Thankfully my new camera has an timer and I was able to snap this picture of myself. Don't worry, for the rest of the day Jon served as my photographer.
There were many people out taking part in water sports.
I also took some pictures of the houses and building lining the street across from the beach. This had a charming feel and were obviously too cute, so I had to take pictures.
Here is one more of me. In the background you can actually see over to Spain.
This is facing towards the French side.
When we finished in Hendaia, we got back in the car and drove along the Corniche Road, where stopped to look at the dramatic cliffs that line the coast.
Here I am, and since I am standing with Spain behind me, you can still sort of see it in the distance.
The next town we visited was St. Jean de Luz. We happened to get ourselves caught in the traffic from the end of a bike race. As we later found out, this day was a holiday in France, and this is why things were so busy. I took this picture because it's not everyday you get stopped by a blow up balloon that takes up the whole road. Thankfully they were deflating this and it didn't take too long to clear the way.
After we parked we headed over to the local market. I mentioned I like food (who me?), so we made a detour through the market. Not everything was open (Monday's tend to be slow days in Europe and many things are closed), but I was still able to see a little of the market.
Lots and lots of cheeses!
Then we headed over to the far side, which housed the fish and seafood.
Oysters are very popular in this area.
When we came out the door at that end it was clearly marked that this was indeed where fish would be sold.
Then we headed into the main part of town.
The first stop was to see the church. The claim to fame here is that Louis XIV married the princess of Spain, Marie-Therese (negotiated in "business" deal, nonetheless- his and hers castles resulted in town, as they were not married for love and didn't live together). The King insisted that he enter, get married, and get out, and that this was his own way in. Therefore, a doorway was made, and then afterwards this was sealed up again. You can see this in the photo below.
Here are some pictures from inside the church.
After seeing the church we continued on through town. I was amazed by how many pastry and chocolate shops existed. I obviously couldn't take pictures of them all (trust me, if I could have, I would have!), but I did manage to get a few good pictures of the delicious treats, and I also bought myself a few chocolates.
I found that each chocolate shop I went into had a chocolate fountain.
This is Real Chocolat. You can see why this place caught my eye. Not only is is chocolate, but the store is pink! This is the place where I bought myself some chocolate.
These were the chocolates I purchased. I was given 1 sample, and then I was hooked. I went with the dark chocolate with raspberry.
I loved that around town you could buy flowers outside from a little stand.
This place even sold little pepper plants. Too cute!
Then we checked out the beach in this town. It was also busy, just like the last town.
Here are some pictures of the town and the buildings (architecture and store fronts) that I took as we passed through from the beach over to the port area where small boats are kept. In the old days, that was used as a hide out after pirates robbed ships since this area is hidden behind where the houses are in a protected area, like an inlet.
This was in the main square of the town. These dancers were performing, although it was not the traditional dance to this region, but it was certainly entertaining. Good music and dancing.
Here you can see the marina area I mentioned just above. It is hidden more inside and protected by houses that face out to the ocean (bay if you want to get technical).
Next up is Biarritz. This is certainly a glitzy French beach town. In the past it was where European royalty would head for holiday (vacation).
In fact, Napoleon III wife loved this area so much that she had him build her a house here. You can see that it is still around, but now it functions as a hotel. Who wouldn't want a seaside house like that? I'll take two!
Here too you can see that many people were out in the water, surfing or similar.
I probably took the most pictures in Biarritz because it is just so beautiful and so many different things to see along the shore.
In the distance you can see the other thing Napoleon III's wife asked to be built here for her. That is the church in the background.
Since this was a popular place for royalty, other important British visitors came as well, so you can see that they brought their architecture with them.
Here is a close up of the church.
Inside there is a lot of lovely stained glass to look at.
Biarritz has 3 different beaches, and we looked at 2 of them. This is the second. It is a smaller beach, and is more protected so less waves. This seems like a better spot for smaller children.
Hey Mer, this one's for you! I couldn't resist!
The last area we looked at was this rock with a statue (of the Virgin Mary, I think), and there is a bridge that goes across, but at this time it is under construction, so I just took a picture of it like this.
Also in this spot is a "window" to look back out at Biarritz.
Last up, we headed back into Spain and stopped in Hondarribia. This is a little fishing town, and in the newer part of the city, you can see the streets lined with cute little fisherman's houses. I loved these, and most importantly I loved that they were decorated with beautiful flowers. This is the newer part of the city because the older part dates back to Medieval times when the city itself was inside fortified walls.
We actually ate lunch in this area.
I enjoyed a delicious lunch of red peppers stuffed with codfish. These were so good. I was actually not expecting them to be so good. I think they had a cream sauce, but whatever it was, it made the consistency almost like that of mashed potatoes, but you could tell there was cod inside.
Jon ate a nice salad.
After enjoying our lunch, we headed over to the old city, which is maintained within the old city walls. You can see here that the walls have been destroyed and rebuilt many times.
This is the bridge we crossed over to enter the old city.
I happen to love old stuff. The older the better. In case you didn't know, my college minor was history, and I am a huge fan of old. So I loved being inside the old city walls knowing that in Medieval times life was busting inside this city and people lived out their lives here in a dramatically different way of life.
I will mention that the reason why this city needed to be inside of walls was because they were the first town over in Spain, so they were the first thing France would come in contact with when they moved into Spain. It became essential that they protect themselves in any way possible.
This is one of the squares inside the old city.
This was the old castle. You can see where it had been hit with cannon balls. Now this is a hotel...of course!
This was the view the castle had off to one side.
This was the main gate facing France, and the cute little Medieval looking building was where the gatekeepers family lived.
Here is the gate from the other side.
In this last picture from Hondarribia, you can see how thick this wall was in this section, which was where the ammunition and weapons were kept.
Once the tour was completed, Jon dropped me back off at my hotel. It was really a great day. While I could have gotten on a train or bus myself, I would have missed out on knowing what I should be looking for and I am sure I would not have seen as many towns as I got the chance to with Basque Tours. If you are ever in this area, I highly recommend this day trip, or even any of the others that he offers (I am sure they are as good as the one I did).
Although it was a long day, I knew I wanted to go out for dinner later on, so I washed up, took a nap, and then headed out for dinner. Actually, my first stop turned out to be at the local grocery store so I could get a few things for breakfasts for the next few mornings. I decided I didn't need the hotel breakfasts again. I happened to book rooms without the breakfast included since I knew I could always add it in later or find my own breakfast.
Since we are so close to France, you can see that foie gras is popular here too.
I stopped in at Ogi Berri, the bread place, to get myself some bread to eat with my breakfasts.
Then I picked a place for dinner. After looking and looking and having a hard time making up my mind, I settled on Bernardina Vinoteca, which lucky for me was directly across the street from my hotel.
I had some white wine since I ordered scallops, so I thought white may be a better choice.
Like I said, I ordered the scallops. As expected, they were very good.
Then for dessert, I went with the chocolate souffle, and it was served with pistachio ice cream. Delicious!
Plus, all I had to do was walk back across the street to my hotel, so I was exceptionally happy with dining here.
Boy, that was an exhausting day, but totally worth it. I am really glad I was able to go see those French towns dotting the coast. I am hopeful that one day I can return and enjoy a week long vacation here.
QUESTIONS: Have you ever visited the French Basque Coast? Have you ever been to France? Have you ever had a chocolate souffle? What is your favorite period of history?