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“Basque”ing in the Culture of Saint-Jean-de-Luz and San Sébastian


Saint-Jean-de-Luz in the Southwest corner of France and San Sebastian just across the border in Spain are both located in the area known as Basque country.  Strikingly similar in layout and architecture, these cities offer some of the best Basque beaches, sights and food.

San Sebastian from Igeldo

Getting to the Basque Region

It is possible, though quite spendy, to fly into the Biarritz, France airport (just 15 miles or so outside of St. Jean de Luz). I’ve also known a few people who have found more reasonable flights into Bordeaux, Pau or Bilbao and taken the train into Saint-Jean-de-Luz or San Sébastian. Of course, it is also possible to take the TGV from Paris to the Saint- Jean- de- Luz/Cibourne Station (see SCNF for schedules and to purchase tickets). My husband and I did this several years ago and the ride down was beautiful.


Because I travel with a surfer, I happen to know that Saint-Jean-de-Luz and various smaller ports around the area are home to some of the best surf in Europe. There are several surf schools located in Saint-Jean-de-Luz that also rent equipment and provide rides to other breaks for experienced surfers. Of course, Saint-Jean-de-Luz’s beaches are equally well suited for lounging with a good book, which is typically my maritime activity of choice.

Typical Basque architecture in St Jean de Luz

Saint- Jean- de- Luz’s town center is an amalgamation of medieval and Moorish architecture. It is home to one of the oldest and most prosperous fishing ports in France. Wind up any of the narrow, cobblestone streets from the main square to find charming shops and top notch eateries such as Le Kaïku . Saint-Jean-de-Luz has a unique culinary culture. Not only can one get some of the best seafood in Europe in this region, it is also the birthplace of the macaroon- small meringue-like cookies filled with a thick layer of cream.

Le Kaiku in St Jean de Luz

San Sébastian

Just like Saint-Jean-de-Luz, San Sébastian is the perfect place to stroll, soak in the beautiful weather and listen to the waves roll in. Located just south of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, the Spanish city of San Sébastian is just on the other side of the border. It is conveniently divided into four districts:

City Center–  located at Plaza del Buen, the city center offers some of the best shopping and dining in the city.
Old Quarter– history buffs will love the medieval and Moorish architecture in this part of the city, and foodies will enjoy the myriad pintxo (the Basque equivalent of tapas, pronounced “peencho”) bars with generous happy hours.
Gros District– the beautiful Zurriola beach is located in this affluent part of the city.
Zona Romantica– reminiscent of Paris, this area is the perfect place for an early or late evening stroll.

San Sebastian …Ayuntamiento

What to eat in the Basque Region

Buying Macarons In St Jean de Luz

Unpretentious, fresh, and informed by local products, Basque cuisine, in my opinion, offers some of the most unique plates in Europe. While you’re there, try:
Hake cheeks or cod jaw (Kokotxas)
Hake with parsley sauce (Merluza en sala verde)
Salt cod cooked in garlic sauce (Bacalao al pil-pil)
Tuna with peppers and potatoes (Marmitako)
Sheep’s cheese (Idiazabal)
Stuffed peppers (Pimientos rellenos)

Written By Jen Westmoreland Bouchard for

Paula Aiello

Monday 22nd of February 2010

I love San Sebastiàn! Was there in '78 and would love to go back. It's not the same "little place" it was then!

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