Saint Jean de Luz is a beautiful little seaside town located on the French Basque coastline, in the south-west of France. A fishing port and now a famous resort, known for its architecture, sandy bay, the quality of the light and the cuisine, the town clings to its royal 1600s royal connections with Cardinal Mazarin who was married at the town church in 1659, but in truth has seen its seventeenth century hey-day and today it clings onto its reputation as an upper-class holiday destination for French holidaymakers.
The Basque country is an autonomous region situated on the French and Spanish border and lines the Atlantic Ocean. This region is best-known for its surf spots but also for its towns, Biarritz, Hendaye, Irun, Bilbao and San Sebastian. The Bay of Saint Jean de Luz, located east of the Bay of Biscay, is the tourist hotspot in the summer, where everyone heads for sunbathing, so it can get very crowded and is to be avoided if your aim is to get away from every day crowds. Other sites in Saint Jean include the fort, which is a quaint spot to watch the sun set in the evenings. Otherwise the best thing to do when staying in the area, which is largely residential, is drive to Spain, which is a 20 minute drive away. Here you can appreciate the contrast of Spanish tapas bars, cheap beer and of course, partying, for which the Spanish, or Basques, are renowned for.
The train station is situated in the heart of Saint Jean, in Ciboure. The airport, Biarritz-Anglet, is located about half an hour away by car.
You can't pass through the Basque country without trying Basque cuisine. Rustic in style with an emphasis on fish and seafood, due to its location on the Atlantic coast, hake, sea bream, tuna and cod all feature heavily on local menus. They are often served with delicious herb or spicy 'pil pil' sauces. Ttoro, a type of Basque fricassee, is a fish stew of cod, tuna, angler fish and other fish of the day. 'Chipirons' are small stuffed squid served with tomatoes, which are a must. Otherwise you must try the Patisserie Adam's macaroons. In 1660, Monsieur Adam created the subtle and delicious masterpiece we now know as the macaroon, made from a mixture of almond paste, sugar, ground almonds and egg whites. During the wedding of Louis XIV to the Infanta of Spain, Monsieur Adam made some of his confections for the new king. Louis found the macaroons delightful, and his approval guaranteed that these delicacies became extremely popular with the Court. The Pâtisserie Adam still exists at numbers 4 and 6 of rue de la République in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, with the secrets of its recipe passed down from father to son. In 1950, Robert PARIES invented another speciality: the 'mouchou'. Mouchou, written 'muxu' is also the Basque word for kisses, giving this small, light and soft macaroon enveloped in a thin and crunchy outer layer, and prepared in twos, with one on top of the other, a rather romantic reputation. Another speciality produced by the Maison Pariès, the 'kanouga', which was invented around 1914. This soft black chocolate (or coffee) caramel can also be made with walnuts or hazelnuts.
A renowned French seaside resort since the end of the 19th century, Saint-Jean-de-Luz expanded firstly on reclaimed marshland and then to the north of the town. During the war its newest districts were embellished with hotels such as the Grand Hôtel and luxurious villas, most of which were built in neo-Basque style, thanks to the talents of respected architects of the time. The precursor was William Marcel, who built the Golf-Hôtel prior to the outbreak of the First World War. This was followed in 1930 by the La Pergola casino, designed by Robert Mallet-Stevens, which became famous in the area. The Country-Club in Chantaco, with its Hispanic-influenced Art Deco style and ochre red colour, is the work of Jean Walter. The Hôtel de Chantaco, also ochre in colour, was built by the Saint-Jean-de-Luz architect Maurice Darroquy, who was also responsible for the attractive 'Haya', 'Soro Handi' and 'Gorena' villas, as well as the restoration of Saint-Jean-de-Luz's town hall in 1960. André Pavlovski, another local architect, designed the 'Zortziko' villa for the violinist Jacques Thibaud, the 'San Firmin', 'Santa Barbara' and 'Los Escudos' villas, in addition to the motels in Sainte-Barbe for the rich Belgian industrialist Firmin Van Bree. He was also responsible for the construction of the town's two lighthouses in 1936 and 1937. Today, the tourist office organises lots of itineraries for tourist who wish to discover Saint de Luz's historical past.
Make arrangements to hire a car or you risk feeling a little isolated as there is very little public transport and even taxis in the area. Make sure you visit the area in summer too, or you risk being disappointed by the grim aspect of the town in winter. Make sure you have arranged accommodation prior to arriving though as it can get very busy in high season - you may not find anything available.
Avoid Saint de Luz in the winter as although its mysterious beauty still shines through the winter mist, the town is deserted and you'll find that the locals are in no mood to be hospitable in the colder climes of the region! All humour aside, the atmosphere is rather dull in the winter, even for keen surfers. The Atlantic isn't known to be one of the warmest of oceans, but with a good dry suit, surf aficionados will be able to appreciate the waves along with a few of the brave locals.
Explore the jagged edges of the coastline by car to truly appreciate the wilderness of the Basque coastline. In May, the town hosts the International textile Festival, in the second week of June, the town centre gets ready for Whitsun celebrations, which are worth dropping by for if you are in the area as there are lots of street picnics and games of Basque pelota take place in dedicated areas. In mid-October the Festival of Young Film Directors takes place, which is one of the most popular events in the area.
Bring back a gleaming Basque suntan and probably a pot-belly from trying Basque food, which doesn't come in a 'low-fat' option. Bring back a bottle of Manzana from Spain, and 'jambon de Bayonne', ham from the Basque country, which is one of the most expensive in other parts of Europe.