The Anglet beach. Photo: CDT64

The Basque people have been living in this part of Europe for thousands of years, giving them plenty of time to evolve their very individual culture. In the French Pays Basque this is evident through their language, their food, their sport, their architecture, and their use of the land. The following sites and attractions will lift the lid on a region that is unashamedly Basque first and French second.

Related article: Great Travel Destinations, French Basque Country

Rostand Museum 

Remember the story of Cyrano de Bergerac, about the soldier-poet with the unfeasibly long nose? The original play was written by Edmond Rostand whose family home, Villa Arnaga, is now the Musée Edmond Rostand in Cambo-les-Bains. Website: www.arnaga.com

Rostand Museum

Biarritz Aquarium 

With so much coastline to call upon, it makes sense that Biarritz has an impressive aquarium, with a large a range of aquatic species, both beautiful and scary. During school holidays, the ‘Dining with sharks’ attraction is particularly popular. Website: www.aquariumbiarritz.com

Biarritz Aquarium

Pelota Museum

There are dozens of versions of this ancient Basque ball game, variously played with baskets, bats or bare hands, against a wall or over a net. This museum, in Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle’s tourist office, next to the town’s pelota court celebrates them all. Website: www.saint-pee-sur-nivelle.com

Pelota Museum, courtesy of the Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle Tourist Office

Anglet Beach

There are miles of surfing beach in the Pays Basque, but for the genuine experience you need to head for Anglet and its 11 different beaches. No wonder they call Anglet ‘Little California’. Website: www.anglet-tourisme.com/en/do-see/sports-leisure/beaches

Petit Train de la Rhune

Open from March to November, the train route up and down this 905-metre Pyrenean peak (something of a patriotic symbol among Basque people both sides of the border) is impressive. And the views from the top are astounding. Website: www.rhune.com

Petit train de La Rhune. Photo: PTR

Bayonne’s Cathedral 

Work on Bayonne’s stunning Gothic Cathédrale Sainte-Marie, with its two grand spires, started back in the 13th century, and wasn’t completed for hundreds of years. In fact, the spires weren’t finished until the 19th century. The results are suitably impressive. Website: www.cathedrale-bayonne.fr

Bayonne’s Cathedral

Taste Chocolate

At Laia, in the little town of Saint-Étienne-de-Baïgorry, they make chocolate the ancient way. Watch head chocolatier Olivier Casenave demonstrate his craft to visitors, then see if you can avoid the temptation to buy some of his product. Website: www.laia.fr

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port

This beautiful mountain town is where pilgrims on the Santiago de Compostela route assembled before crossing the border into Spain. Sights include the Rue de la Citadelle, the Gothic church, and the citadel. Website: www.saintjeanpieddeportpaysbasque-tourisme.com

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. Photo: CDT64

Musée Basque et de L’Histoire de Bayonne 

Learn all about the history and lifestyle of the region’s traditional residents who, even nowadays, aren’t shy of demonstrating a bit of Basque dancing and singing. The museum section on rugby and pelota is especially vibrant. Website: www.musee-basque.com

courtesy of the Musée Basque et de L’Histoire de Bayonne

Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste 

With its tiered oak galleries and stunning retable, this church rightly claims to be one of the Pays Basque’s finest. Louis XIV married here in 1660, and then church door was sealed up. Website: www.saint-jean-de-luz.com/fr/18303-eglise-saint-jean-baptiste

Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste

Chili in Espelette 

It turns out the hills of the Pays Basque are perfect for growing chili. At certain times of year you’ll see piment d’Espelette (AOP-protected and present in much of the region’s cuisine) hanging by their thousands from the façades of farmers’ houses. Website: www.espelette.fr

Piment d’Espelette hanging from a Basque house. Photo: Philippe Laplace

Culture in Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle

Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle isn’t a large town but in terms of culture it punches well above its weight thanks to Espace Culturel Larreko. Circus, dance, music and theatre are among the various art forms on offer. Website: www.larreko.fr

From France Today magazine

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