Boat trip on the Basque coast

Saint-Jean-de-Luz
Boat trip on the Basq ...

What if we took to the open sea when the fine weather arrived? To satisfy your cravings for adventure, nothing beats a sea trip, a boat trip from Saint-Jean-de-Luz, to discover the emblematic Basque coast! Its coastline is dotted with small marinas, coves, rock formations and impressive cliffs with the Pyrenees as a backdrop. From Saint-Jean-de-Luz to Hendaye, this succession of bays also conceals a remarkable historical heritage. Immediate boarding aboard the Nivelle V for a sea trip full of good humor, fascinating anecdotes and extraordinary panoramas. Here's a great program!


A cruise from Saint-Jean-de Luz to the Spanish border

Basque country boat trip
Basque country boat trip
Saint-Jean-de-Luz and its port where small trawlers pitch


If the Basque Country is mainly known for its beaches, its mountains and its gastronomy, a sea trip reveals its completely different face, maritime and wild. In Saint-Jean-de-Luz, the picturesque and colorful port has preserved all its charm and the elegant seafront is lined with old historic buildings. The pier located on the Quai Maréchal Leclerc is the starting point for cruises aboard the ship “Nivelle 5” which has been sailing on the Basque coast since 1969!


Read our article on Saint-Jean-de-Luz, to learn more about this pretty coastal town.


Basque country boat trip


We are warmly welcomed by the captain on the quay and take place on board the boat of approximately 100 places. The walk is accompanied by live commentary and explanations of everything we can observe. It left for an unexpected journey of 1h45 towards the Spanish border. Heading south!

The Basque coast is very attractive to discover from the water, a string of small ports, generous beaches and fishing villages await the budding sailor or amateur who would like to hire a boat in the Basque Country to set off on an adventure in complete autonomy. With or without a licence, a multitude of possibilities exist, from small pleasure boats to cruising sailboats!


Basque country boat trip
Basque country boat trip
Basque country boat trip


We leave the port of Saint-Jean-de-Luz passing in front of the charming town of Ciboure with its artisanal fishing anchorage and its pleasure boats. The Nivelle V bridge offers a breathtaking view of the city. We follow the channel to reach the bay. At present, the port of Saint Jean de Luz is ranked 6th French port with 11,000 tonnes of fish landed per year. To leave the bay of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, we take the Ilarguita pass to the west, admiring the three dikes – Socoa, Artha and Sainte Barde – which protect the town from winter storms. The majestic fort of Socoa stands before us. A rare opportunity to contemplate it from the sea! The captain mentions the important role that the village and port of Socoa played in the 11th century, famous for whaling. Behind Ciboure looms the silhouette of the Rhune, the region's most famous mountain with its summit reaching 905m above sea level.


Basque country boat trip
Basque country boat trip

An exceptional panoramic view of the Basque Corniche

Barely out of the bay of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, an impression of the end of the world envelops us facing the immensity of the ocean. We contemplate on the cornice the magnificent cliffs of Flysch which descend towards the sea by drawing rock formations in vertical strata: a curiosity of nature unique in Europe. At the top of the hill, we see two towers: the smaller is the Socoa lighthouse, built in 1844. The second tower is none other than the Socoa semaphore managed by the French Navy in charge of maritime traffic and weather information.


Read our article on the Flysch, to understand this amazing geological feature!


Basque country boat trip
Basque country boat trip
Basque country boat trip

Flysch cliffs


In the grip of strong erosion by the swell which comes up against it, this part of the coast remains wild and preserved by the steep cliffs which make access to the beaches impossible. What a privilege to discover the unsuspected beauty of this coastal strip with your hair in the wind, lulled by the lapping of the water! We follow a few rocky plateaus marked with white foam: small paradises for many species of fish that find refuge there (bass, bonito, sea bream, etc.)


Flysch cliffs


We pass the sumptuous little bay of Loia, accessible only by boat. Above it, perched on the hill in a green setting facing the ocean, an architectural masterpiece is revealed: the extravagant Château d'Abbadia and its estate overlooking the cliffs. This neo- Gothic fortress-like palace was built between 1864 and 1884 for Antoine d'Abbadie, scientist and great traveler with a passion for the Orient.


Basque country boat trip
Abbadia Castle in the distance
Basque country boat trip
Hendaye and its iconic "Twins"


A few moments later, we reach the seaside resort of Hendaye at the gates of Spain, recognizable by its majestic seafront lined with neo-Basque villas but above all by two huge rocks that stand out from the cliff, rightly nicknamed"the Two Twins”.



Another look at the Basque Country

We are now entering Txingudi Bay to discover the city and the beach of Hendaye more closely. It is the longest beach on the Basque coast with 3 km of fine sand at low tide! The Spanish border is very close, delimited by the river “La Bidasoa”. In the distance, the city of Irun seems to emerge from the mist.


Click to read our report on Hondarribia and Irun, two border towns to discover during your stay in the Basque Country.


Basque country by boat


We then enter the fishing port of Hondarribia, one of the largest on the Spanish Basque coast, specializing in sardine, mackerel, tuna and anchovy fishing depending on the season. There is a certain sweetness of life in this peaceful little port and you can guess a few tapas bars on the quays.

However, it's time to turn around after more than an hour of sailing since leaving Saint-Jean-de-Luz! The captain is heading due north. Fabulous landscapes await us on the way back. Only the gentle sound of the waves disturbs the silence. What a pleasure to visit the Basque Country in a different way, for a stroll along the water. This escape to the open sea offers exceptional views of the coast and a real moment of escape, whether you are with friends, as a couple or as a family! You will undoubtedly come back delighted with your cruise on the Nivelle V.


Boat cruise in the basque country
Unique landscapes to contemplate from the boat
Basque coast boat trip
Return to the bay of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, with a view of the beach

Practical info:

Cruises on the boat Le Nivelle V available between April and October.

Departure is from the Nivelle cabin in the port of Saint-Jean-de-Luz. You are asked to arrive at the cabin 15 minutes before departure.

Note that in addition to this classic 1 hour 45 minute trip, the shipping company operating the Nivelle offers fishing trips, 2 hour 15 minute cruises to Biarritz and trips to San Sebastian in Spain during the International Fireworks Competition. fireworks the week of August 15.


Did you like this report? Find more on the Basque Country Guide blog. Discover others by subscribing to the Facebook page of the Basque Country Guide. We also have an Instagram page @guidedupaysbasque


Article and photos prepared by Lesley Williamson for the Basque Country Guide


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