With its rocky, sea-battered coves, misty mountain landscapes and cosmopolitan centers, Basque Country stretches across two countries yet feels like it’s own. Having wanted to travel to France and Spain for the better part of a decade, I finally made the trek out for a short but sweet adventure there with my Australian friend and photographer, Woody Gooch. We surfed, hiked, ate, and road tripped our way along a stretch of coastline offering the best in Basque culture and scenery.
By day one, I was in love, and by the end of the week I knew exactly why. Here are my favorite things about Basque Country and a few tips for making the most of this essential bucket list destination.
I’m a sucker for the “Romance” languages and getting to practice both French and Spanish in one trip was so much fun! Both sound so beautiful to speak and hear among the sounds of crashing waves, laughter and clinking wine glasses. I found both the French and Spanish to be very patient and gracious, and I got a chance to learn plenty of food-related vocabulary at markets and restaurants.
On the border of France and Spain (just an hour inland from the beach) are the Pyrenees Mountains, an incredible mountain range showcasing the stunning Basque countryside. We hiked La Rhune mountain, a gorgeous two-hour hike that parallels a train that runs to the top and back a few times a day. Prepare for a very steep start as the first hour is straight uphill but the views are 100 percent worth it. Bring plenty of water and a picnic lunch and make a day of it as you will for sure want to take your time soaking it all in once you reach the summit.
Driving and walking through Basque Country is especially enjoyable thanks to all of the eclectic architecture. I flew into Bordeaux and drove two hours south through tiny towns with quaint, French villas juxtaposed with towering church steeples. Check out Cité de l’Océan in Biarritz, a museum with architecture derived from the spatial concept “Under the Sky”/“Under the Sea.” The building has an empty pool on the roof where the locals skate almost every day. Sprawling Spanish churches leave you with mouth agape and gazing at the intricate detail and enormity. The diversity in architecture within a 40-minute drive across the border is amazing.
The long stretches of beach along the border of Spain and France boast an abundance of surf spots, from point breaks to sandy beach breaks. We found waves along the stretch from Hossegor to Bearritz and Bidart and were able to score at the popular spot Cote des Basques, where views of the castle on the cliff are simply picturesque. Zarautz is a great longboard spot near San Sebastián, but needs a bit of swell to really work. A word to the wise: Get yourself a tide chart and ask around about which spots work when; conditions depend drastically on the tides cooperating with the early and evening soft winds, so be ready to plan accordingly. Visit Chipuron Surf Shop in Hossegor for surfboard rentals and locally shaped boards.
We were in heaven in this culinary corner of Europe. French cuisine masters the art of complex flavor combinations in even the simplest of dishes, while Spanish tapas allows you to taste a variety of seasonal fusion masterpieces. Mornings in Basque country are filled with wave checks, coffee, and croissants, and evenings of specialty gin and tonics, red wine, octopus, and goat-cheese salads. Every meal seemed to be better than the last, it’s a foodie’s dream come true.
Restaurants to Visit In Basque Country
• The Beach House in Anglet just outside of Bearritz. This restaurant boasts an amazing menu with sophisticated beach vibes and an old sailboat retrofitted into a deck-top bar.
• La Guinda Deli & Coffee in San Sebastián as a sit-down option for lunch or dinner. Make sure to find a local to guide you through the tapas experience—one that could have you drinking red wine and dancing ‘til the wee hours of the morning.