Thursday, 23 April 2015

Finding Home on the Basque Coast of France

Have you ever heard of Guethary? We hadn't either. It is a small coastal town between the two tourist and surfing beaches of St Jean de Luz and Biarritz on the Atlantic coast of France.  It is in the fiercely proud Basque region which is greener than anywhere else we have seen in France. It feels a little bit like New Zealand. Those hot days turn into warm evenings, with the smell of pine sap and the ever-present sound of the sea. It is a laid-back and friendly place and the locals are into barbecues "a la plancha" and rugby (the owners of our accommodation have a dog called Haka).


First barbie of the season

We spent a day in Biarritz working on our sunglasses marks and restoring our Vitamin D levels. Made famous by Napoleon in the 19th century, Biarritz is deservedly well-known and oozes old school glamour. The city was the first place in France where people tried the new sport of surfing in the 1960's. The Grande Plage (main beach) is expansive and beautiful with the Palais hotel (which once was an actual palace) spilling out onto the sand. The aquarium is well worth a visit too (it wasn't cheap) as there is a massive main tank of sharks and a seal enclosure on the roof. The kids got their hands wet in the tactile basin, where you can touch sea urchins, sea cucumbers, starfish and more.


Grande Plage, Biarritz
View of the light house in Biarritz

Locals enjoying the sun

Another short car ride from the coast is the town of Sare, with its gorgeous red and white Basque houses. From there, we caught a rack and pinion train up the mountain La Rhune in the Western end of the Pyrenees. The cable cars are quaint and creaky and take you nine hundred metres up in about half an hour with a cog system. The ascent gives you a view of a natural, lush part of France complete with wild ponies (called Pottok). A foal was trotting along behind the carriage in front. At the top, we were right on the border with Spain and the view all around is incredible. At the top, there are rock cairns and a few restaurants. A short drive from there were the 'Grottes de Sare'. A guided tour through the caves described the uses of the cave system over time, from a shelter for prehistoric man to an ammunitions store in World War Two. A movie projected on the cave wall at the end drew the tour to a spooky, atmospheric close. Mr Seven was in awe of the (apparently) 3000 bats that lived in the cave.

View from La Rhune over St Jean de Luz and Guethary on the coast

Guethary itself is a great base for a holiday if you like sleepy, beach towns. It is not quite as glitzy as its neighbours but has a casual and friendly feel about it which suits us (and it's just a short hop to Spain). The main beach is fine pebbly sand with the rough seas of the Atlantic; a surf spot but also fine for a dip with the kids. We have had fantastic weather while we have been here (mid-twenties every day). Summer can triple the people here so spring is a great time to come.


We have also visited the beautiful town of Bayonne in the Basque country. Read about it here.
 


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