The Basque Country
Luxury Travel to the
You take a sip of the icy-cold cocktail and take in the sight in front of you. Seagulls cry overhead, waves crash on the sand where children are playing chase with the waves or building castles with the beautiful fine sand. Further away, surfers paddle out, trying to catch the next wave, calling to one another happily. And beyond them, huge rocks jut out from the water, dramatic and dangerous.
You take another sip. You are between visits and activities which the Académie des Arts de Vivre (AAV) had organized for you—they even planned for down time, the delicious moment you are enjoying right now.Tailor my trip
5 things you don’t know
about the Basque Country
The Basque Country is a small, concentrated wonderland. Located in the western Pyrenees on the coast of the Bay of Biscay, the Basque Country, like the Basque culture, straddles the border between France and Spain. You will find everything here: stunning nature, mountains, peaks, beaches, ocean, cities… as well as a strong cultural identity, history and fine culinary tradition. All within a short drive.
The Cathédrale Sainte-Marie in Bayonne, a stunning gothic masterpiece, took over 600 years to build. The spires were completed only in the 19th century.
Urdabai Nature Reserve on the Basque Coast has such a large landscape and ecological diversity that it was named a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1984.
For centuries, Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, a beautiful mountain town, is where pilgrims on the Saint Jean de Compostelle route assemble before crossing the border into Spain.
Located in Atxondo, between Bilbao and Biarritz, the restaurant Asador Etxebarri is one of the top 50 best restaurants in the world. A rare culinary experience.
Architecture in the Basque Country is surprisingly rich. You will see the traditional “Etxe”, beautiful white and red half-timbered houses, as well as sumptuous churches and cathedrals.
Basque Country travel guide
Le Régina Biarritz, 5-star hotel and spa and built in 1906, offers all the majestic elegance of the Belle Époque with an Art Deco inspired décor. You will especially enjoy the glass roof of the patio, an architectural jewel inspired by the Eiffel Tower. The rooms and suites are decorated with a mixture of contemporary and haute couture, comfortable yet luxurious, and offer stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Basque coast.
The Hôtel du Palais Biarritz, the legendary 5-star palace, was once the residence of Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie. The 142 rooms and suites are all decorated with a Napoleon III flair and offer beautiful views of the city of Biarritz or the Atlantic Ocean. The hotel features a spa with Guerlain products, indoor and outdoor pools, fitness center, a solarium with direct access to the beach, and swimming and surfing lessons for adults and children.
The Beaumanoir is a small luxury hotel with lots of charm, where everything has been thought out to
make your stay as relaxing and enjoyable as possible. The rooms and suites are large and exquisitely decorated. The Presidential Apartment, 192m2, is comprised of three full suites and can accommodate up to 12 people, so is ideal for family holidays.
The Auberge Basque is the project of chef Cédric Béchade and his wife Marion. A family pension in the 17th century, the Auberge is now a 4-star hotel whose luxurious accommodations offer views of the mountains and the Rhune. The restaurant, though, is the real luxury at the Auberge. Béchade trained with culinary greats Jean-Françoise Piège and Alain Ducasse before opening his restaurant. The cuisine is steeped in the culture and terroir of the Basque country yet modern and spontaneous. Béchade is on to something; his restaurant has been awarded one Michelin star.Tailor my trip
Best luxury experiences in the Basque Country
Trekking in the Pyrenees
A must! You will see breathtaking views and amazing panoramas of the Pyrenees, and sites such as La Rhune, the Three Crowns, the Jaizkibel, the hill of Sainte-Barbe with its unusual chapel, among others. Whether more athletic or more family-friendly, AAV can design the perfect hiking excursion for you.
Pilota, pelota vasca or pelote basque depending on whether you are Basque, Spanish or French, this traditional game is a symbol of Basque culture focusing on values such as respect, team spirit, friendliness and sharing. Learn the history of Basque pelota and how to play, and discover the handcrafts still associated with the sport.
Some like it hot
True Espelette pepper only comes from the French town of Espelette in the Basque country. Visit this town, where you can see ropes of Espelette peppers drying on the façades of farmers’ houses and try out traditional Basque recipes such as piperade, poulet basquaise and plancha of calamari and chorizo.
See the coast from a private yacht
The 176 kilometers of coastline in the Basque Country are home to spectacular beaches, from wild, windswept shores to idyllic golden crescents. AAV will organize a private yacht to take you along the coast, stopping to swim and explore the coves and sandy playgrounds of these breathtaking shores.
When is the best time to visit Basque Country?
Between the ocean and the mountains, the Basque Country is spectacular year-round, each season offering particular advantages. When is the best time to visit? It all depends on what you like to do.
Basque Country in winter:
Winter is a great time to explore the beautiful inland villages of the Basque Country: Sare, Aïnhoa, Itxassou, Cambo-les-Bains, La Bastide-Clairence, Saint-Étienne-de-Baïgorry and Larrau, to name a few. In the evening, head to a cosy bar to sample pintxos, the Basque-style tapas and the region’s traditional cider.
Basque Country in spring:
Spring brings more sunshine and blue skies, without the heat of summer, which is why it’s the preferred season for pilgrims walking the famous Saint Jean de Compostelle. During Easter week, there are the celebrations all over the Basque Country, but the best parades and religious reenactments can be seen in Balmaseda. Very authentic, very Basque!
Basque Country in summer:
Warm weather and brilliant sunshine make summer a great time to visit Basque Country, especially the beaches and fishing villages along the coast. If that weren’t enough, the famous running of the bulls takes place in Pamplona in July. And in August, Bilbao hosts the Aste Nagusia, the biggest party of the year, featuring Basque music and dancing, rural sports, and giants parading through the streets.
Basque Country in autumn:
Fewer tourists and warm weather make autumn a lovely time to visit the Basque country. You can still enjoy the coast and the region’s famous sights are easier to access. For foodies, it’s also a great time to visit the Rioja wine region, right when the grape harvests take place.
Travel tips about
the Basque Country
The Basque Country is unusual in its position: half in France, half in Spain, the western edge along the Atlantic Coast, the eastern edge firmly situated in the Pyrenées mountains, all making this region immensely rich in its history, culture and nature. To appreciate the Basque Country, visit the seaside and also go up into the mountains. See the French side and venture into the Spanish side. See the breathtaking natural sites—and also the charming historic villages. The Basque Country has it all.
The Rhune Rack railway
If you love panoramic views but aren’t a hiker, the Rhune Rack railway is for you. Built in 1924, the cogwheel railway takes you to the mountain top, 905 meters high, where you can discover breathtaking views across the Atlantic Ocean and the Pyrenées.
You’ll find some of the best surfing in the world in the Basque Country. Try Cavaliers Beach in Anglet, recognized worldwide for its powerful, tubular waves and home to several professional surfing competitions. Or Parlementia surf spot. When the tide comes in, two separate waves join to become one. It’s often compared to the Sunset wave in Hawaii.
Not for the faint of heart
The Holzarte suspension bridge is spectacular. Suspended 150 meters over the beautiful Olhaduba Canyon, it was originally built to allow loggers easy access to the forest. Today, it offers breathtaking views of the rugged landscape.
The other Guggenheim
A visit to the Guggenheim Museum is worthwhile if only to see architect Frank Gehry’s masterpiece. Chrome, metal, flowing lines cut by sharp angles… Inside, you will see a superb collection of modern and contemporary art. A must see!
The unusual geological formation of the Grottes de Sare houses huge underground rooms, a prehistoric habitation, fossils, gours and even an underground lake. You’ll even see a cave where bears hibernated—over 10,000 years ago! A great visit for kids and history buffs alike.
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