Basque Country

Impromptu road trips.  A thing of younger days, perhaps no longer feasible with life responsibilities that ultimately come with age.  Conceivably, but I think spontaneity helps to keep us young and road trips are a category all their own.  After driving cross-country from California to Florida and back again at the end of last year, I have a completely new outlook on the road trip.  Having now made several crossing the US, for me each one has been an amazing experience, spiritual, enriching and eye-opening on many different levels.  So coming upon a long weekend in France and not yet having seen friends who live on the west coast, we decided very impulsively at 6pm the night before leaving, to head out to Basque country, via our car and our first European road trip.  Mini voyage, about 700 km to be exact, but nonetheless a great way to see parts of France unknown to me. 

After a 7-hour drive from Provence, following the Mediterranean coast to the Pyrenees, we arrived at the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, Biarritz.  The sight of the blue ocean with all its familiar sounds, birds fluttering, waves crashing into the shore, a gentle sea breeze carrying the smell of salt water, made us feel as though we were back in California.  A weekend of sea, sun, sand and hopefully surf for Eric.

Neither the weather nor the waves really cooperated.  Greeted with rainy, gray days and flat surf on and off all weekend, beach days were not an option, which meant our adventure turned to exploring land side.  We stayed in in Bidart, a tiny beach town unheard of to me, just south of Biarritz.  Sitting on a cliff over the ocean, it is inclusive of a small main square, a few shops and restaurants and an old chapel, it overlooks the Atlantic surf below.  Wild beaches surrounded by hidden trails made for lovely covert hikes with the dogs and the early misty mornings were spent wandering the paths alone with Loulou and Kismet happily sniffing all the new scents of the beach.

We meandered south driving through Guethary, making our way from one small beach town to the next, following the coast and the seagulls carrying us ever onward.  We arrived at St. Jean de Luz, just a few kilometers from Spain, a seaside port town full of shops and restaurants, a great place to scavenge for traditional espadrilles and regional textiles.  Our final visit, Ondarraitz beach in Hendaye, a surf spot known by long-boarders, is a long enclosed, crescent shaped beach which beautifully showcase “les deux jumeaux” or twin rocks, situated slightly offshore.  The rock "monuments", weathered by endless ocean tides causing them to slowly chisel away from the adjacent sea cliff, now sit as emblematic symbols to Hendaye, statuesquely watching over the countless vacation beach goers.

With our weekend getaway coming to an end, we spent our final day in Biarritz.  A beautiful beach town, full of grand homes tightly knit together with a buzzing center, elegantly entwined with the sea.  A combination of ritzy mixed with beach chic but with what seems to be a more laid back style.  Known for its thriving surfing scene, there is a beautiful blend of upscale with a fresh, casual surf culture, forming a varied contrast that lends to the overall vibe of this town.  Fully entrenched in its history, surfing is famous in Biarritz with numerous spots attracting countless wave seekers, who dot the beaches with their boards, very reminiscent of home.  It seems to me this town has the most similar feel to our west coast, I would even venture to say that Biarritz is the California of France.

Endless beaches, a juxtaposition of old with new, of traditional architecture with art deco, the city hosts its light house in the distance and a casino on the sand with a multitude of shops and restaurants scattered throughout the center and along the beach.  Les halles, meaning market, is a local hot spot bustling daily with all fresh, local produce, breads, cakes, cheese and probably anything else you might desire to purchase or eat on location.  At day’s end the city turns into a happy hour mecca with tapas being a vital part of the culture and food scene, influenced by neighboring Spain.  Crowds of people gather outdoors to eat, drink and socialize the evening away.  We enjoyed tapas and bubbly sitting outside of the cathedral while the sun slowly set, followed by an alfresco dinner in a nearby alley.  A beautiful evening and a great introduction to Biarritz and Euskadi, Basque for Basque country.  I look forward to the next visit, a must return…