Discover Saint-Jean-de-Luz and its essentials !

Saint-Jean-de-Luz
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After weeks of confinement, the desire to take advantage of the present moment and appreciate the pleasures of life that we have missed so much is irresistible: to breathe fresh air, to walk, to contemplate the ocean. We embark you inour bubble of iodized airto discoverSaint-Jean-de-Luz, a haven of peace imbued with authenticity, almost timeless. 20 minutes fromBiarritzand a stone's throw from theSpanish border,this jewel of the Basque Country, once one of the largestfishing portsin France, alandmark for privateersand buccaneers, is a real invitation to travel. A discovery that offers impressivemaritime landscapesand a great thrill of freedom !


Saint Jean de Luz

The entrance to the port in the early morning, with the lighthouse built in 1936 by architect André Pavlovsky

Saint Jean de Luz

The first fishing boats return to port...

Saint Jean de Luz

...while others go to sea  


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Morning light on the Saint-Jean-de-Luz lighthouse

Can we dream of such a light ? In the early morning, the ballet of fishing boats entering and leaving the port creates a real visual sensation. Word of early riser ! Accompanied by the cries of the seagulls, guided by the lighthouse of Saint-Jean-de-Luz between land and sea, a historical landmark since its construction in 1936, the boats slowly move towards the port through the soft sea mist, bathed in the sea. shine in the colors of dawn and in the changing reflections of the sky. Nowadays, artisanal fishing is practiced off the coast, line hake is its specialty.  


Saint Jean de Luz

The port of Saint-Jean-de-Luz  

The scene, mystical and enchanting is set ! With a little imagination, the atmosphere of this place steeped in history easily plunges us back into the golden age of piracy in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, once nicknamed the “city of corsairs” during the reigns. of kings Louis XIV and Louis XV. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the privateers made the Bay of Biscay a veritable "nest of vipers" according to the English. Unlike the pirates who pillaged the ships for their own account, the privateers were empowered to seize enemy ships on the king's orders, provided with an official letter ! Strategic crossroads due to its border position, the city is coveted, often taken and plundered by the Spaniards through the centuries.

Historic fishing port of the Bay of Biscay

A stroll on the port of Saint-Jean-de-Luz will bring you to the heart of this historic city. This fishing port made the wealth of the city in the 15th and 16th centuries, nestled in the center of the bay which constitutes a perfect natural refuge for the largest ships. At that time, the whaling campaigns, the hunting of large cetaceans, and the cod fishing tookBasque sailors to the shores of Iceland or on the Great Banks of Newfoundland, off Canada, as far as 'in 1713 when the Treaty of Utrecht abandoned Newfoundland to Great Britain. Fishing then turned to anchovies, sardines and tuna, which made the reputation of the first sardine and tuna port in France in the 1950s.


Saint Jean de Luz

Along the quay today, many heritage remains bear witness to this prosperous maritime trade past. Cradled by the movement of the water and the swaying of the moored multicolored boats, do not miss to admire the sumptuous villas with the original architecture of ship owners and rich merchants. Far from Basque standards, some are also protected as Historical Monuments !

These true urban palaces represent the most beautiful buildings of Saint-Jean-de-Luz. Among those still intact, the “Esquerrénéa” house in rue de la République takes us back to the 16th century, with its medieval tower erected to watch for the arrival of boats. In rue Mazarin, contemplate the superb exterior facades of the villas "Ornoaga", "Grange Baïta", "Aux Trois Canons", "Alexandrenia" or "Saint Martin Baïta". On the Quai de l'Infante facing the port, you will notice the “Betbeder Baïta” house or the essential “Joanoenia” known as the House of the Infanta built in 1640 by the Basque shipowner Joannot de Haranedera. She welcomed the Infanta of Spain and future Queen of France, Marie-Thérèse of Austria, during her marriage to Louis XIV in June 1660. In the midst of piles of fishing nets, a small stopover in the port allows you to appreciate these typical houses as well as a breathtaking view of the small marina of Ciboure, just opposite, which houses charming colored half-timbered houses.

Saint Jean de Luz   Saint Jean de Luz

The port of Ciboure  

The essentials of Saint-Jean-de-Luz

Saint Jean de Luz

 The old corsair city can be discovered through its history and its heritage undoubtedly linked to the ocean, its abundant cultural life and its unique gastronomy. As you move away from the alleys of the city center, other charms are revealed on its beaches and all around its bay.  

Stroll on the promenade of the Grande Plage  

Saint Jean de Luz   Saint Jean de Luz

To stroll without ever leaving the sea in view, head for the promenade de la Grande Plage. This tongue of fine sand, topped by superb Basque houses, is the longest of the 6 beaches in Saint-Jean-de-Luz. Between the end of the 19th century and the middle of the 20th century, the popularity of sea bathing provoked, like Biarritz, an unprecedented craze for the city among the French bourgeoisie. The nascent practice of sea cures supposed to cure many ailments began to develop in 1843 in Saint-Jean-de-Luz. Favored by the arrival of the railway in 1864, this new seaside era led to the construction of impressive villas with very diverse architectures facing the ocean. Connected to the promenade by small red footbridges , the magnificent neo-Basque-style villas reinterpret the traditional half-timbered house. Anchored in the spirit of the times, they have kept all the charm of the Belle Epoque and transport us to the memory of this historic promenade also equipped with the first large hotels (including the Hotel d'Angleterre, built in 1881), the Casino and the Baths at the current location of the Pergola.  


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Head for the Fort of Socoa

Saint Jean de Luz   Saint Jean de Luz

At the southern end of the bay, the imposing fort of Socoa in Ciboure is an integral part of the Luzian heritage and is certainly worth a detour. Located at the mouth of the Nivelle, this military building was erected in 1621, fortified by Vauban in 1686, to defend the bay from Spanish invasions. Protected by the dike of the Artha, the fort is connected to the mainland by a road accessible on foot, along a small picturesque port sheltering wooden fishing boats. The view over the bay of Saint-Jean-de-Luz and the Pointe Sainte-Barbe opposite is breathtaking !

Take to the skies on the coastal path

Saint Jean de Luz

Whether you are a hiker or a simple walker for a stroll, come and take in your eyes along the vertiginous Chemin des Douaniers which connects Bidart to Hendaye, with its plunging views over the ocean. Between Socoa and Hendaye, steep cliffs, natural promontories, and disproportionate geological formations offer an idyllic setting for a great breath of fresh air. The coast alternates cliffs plunging into the sea and small inaccessible coves nestled between the rocky points. The opportunity to capture behind the lens the beauty of these wild landscapes , laden with spray, worthy of the most beautiful postcards ! Before arriving in Hendaye, with a bit of luck, you can shiver in front of the mythical wave of Belharra during the winter swells.  

Stroll through the Paul Jovet Littoral Botanical Garden

Lovers of plants and bucolic walks, awaken your senses during an exotic visit to discover the most beautiful plant species native to five continents. At the edge of the coastal path overlooking the ocean, perched on the Archilua cliff north of Pointe Sainte-Barbe, this green oasis of 2.5 ha, with exceptional botanical richness, presents the typical flora of the coast of the Coast Basque, a labyrinth of botanical families as well as collections of exotic plants from around the world ! A fascinating place to end an excursion along the coast and admire the panoramic view of the bay, the Rhune mountains and the entire Pyrenean chain.  

Take to the open sea to observe marine life !  

Saint Jean de Luz

Nature lovers, sail off the magnificent bay on a catamaran with Explore Océan, to meet dolphins and whales in their natural environment alongside a team of biologists. From the spring, expeditions are organized aboard the Atalaya, a 16-meter-long catamaran anchored in Saint-Jean-de-Luz to observe bottlenose dolphins, pilot whales or even great migrants such as sperm whales and whales. Magical moments to live with family, couple or friends !

Savor the specialties of a gourmet city

It's hard to resist the traditional seafood from the Atlantic coast and the succulent fish from this fishing port ! You will find line hake, the local specialty, at the fishmongers of the covered market open every morning. Under these halls, the delicacies of the sea and local products such as cheese, ham, cold meats and Basque cakes are in the spotlight. Outside the halls, a multitude of small local producers gather on Tuesday and Friday mornings to favor the short and fresh food circuit. In town, the most gourmets will find other specialties from Lucerne to taste. Treat your taste buds to essential sweets such as macaroons from Maison Adam or Muxus and kanougas from Pariès, real institutions of the corsair city !

Saint Jean de Luz
The Pariès House  

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Feel the soul of the city through its typical bars

Saint Jean de Luz   Saint Jean de Luz

Notice to night owls ! Through the prism of a nocturnal wandering, the bay of Saint-Jean-de-Luz displays a very special beauty at dusk, magnified by light coverings. Saint-Jean-de-Luz is a city of sailors and its typical bars reflect its warm atmosphere. Between happy hour and festive evening, the many bars and cafes of Saint-Jean-de-Luz promise memorable evenings while savoring delicious local products !

Nice walk in Saint-Jean-de-Luz !  


Saint Jean de Luz


Did you like this report ? Consult the Blog of the Guide of the Basque countryFind out more by subscribing to the Basque Country Guide Facebook page. We also have an Instagram page @guidedupaysbasque.  

Photos and Article prepared by Lesley Williamson for the Guide du Pays Basque


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