Not so long ago I found myself here in this eccentric, slightly rainy region that covers chunks of both France and Spain, by the end I couldn’t help but wonder why on earth I hadn’t visited here before.
The Basque country is proud to be different, that much is obvious the minute you touch down in Biarritz. In the town itself, you will see the Red, Green and White colours of the national flag emblazoned throughout the city. There is a basque language (a language unlike any other, thank you translates as ‘eskerrik asko’!) and they even have their own sport, ‘Pelota’, courts for which you see in most towns. Don’t let the proud individuality of this place turn you off however, this is a very friendly area as I found in the following experiences, a must on any ‘obligatory cultural activity’ list should one exist. region that covers chunks of both France and Spain, by the end I couldn’t help but wonder why on earth I hadn’t visited here before.
Watch Biarritz Olympique play rugby
Not a sports fan? So what!? The whole experience of going to watch this famous sports side is what makes any time Biarritz play at home a very special event, with the action on the pitch a mere contribution to a special day. To say the French part of the Basque country has a passion for the oval balled game would be an understatement, and Biarritz are the representatives of this pride.
To make the most of the day perhaps start things off with lunch at Le Pim’pi, where your hostess Nathalie will combine her excellent hospitality skills with some fine, affordable local delicacies. As you make your way to the game you realise that nothing is done at fast pace here, running late for kick off? No worries! Finish your patxaran (locally produced sloe-flavoured liquor) and make your way to your seat. Once inside the stadium, the contrast with the relaxed way of life with the action on the pitch is emphasised as the noise in the stands rises. Even the most cynical amongst you will find yourself getting sucked in as the fans sing their traditional songs (The Basques are renowned throughout Europe for their singing skills) and wave the Basque flag. You will find yourself having one heck of an authentic experience.
Crossover from Hendaye to Hondarrabia
Bring yourself to Hendaye and you will encounter a tidy, ‘chic’ yet relaxed town renowned as a surfer’s paradise with its enormous beach and beautiful promenade. It is the final town before the Spanish border, and the easiest way to get over to Spain is to cross the Bidassoa River on one of the water taxis at the marina. Once you step off after the five minute journey the difference is astonishing. Exit the pretty and relaxed Hendaye, enter the craziness of Hondarribia and you will be amazed at the site that greets your eyes. A buzzing market runs through the middle of the town most days supplemented by various small bars and cafes packed to the rafters serving tapas. On my first visit here I was confronted by crowds surrounding a stage as a beret clad man announced a cheese eating contest on his megaphone to a rapturous audience. Both of these bordering towns are great tourism venues and well worth a visit, but in completely different ways.
Tapas Crawl through San Sebastian
A little further along the Spanish-Basque coast you will find the beautiful city of San Sebastian, which is perhaps most famous for being the traditional home of Tapas or Pintxos (to use the local translation).
When planning your evening, forget about going to a restaurant at dinner or eating at the hotel, the Pintxos bars of San Sebastian will provide. Make your way over to La Parte Vieja (the Old Town) with its beautiful narrow and winding streets, I suggest you start at Bar La Viña and just go with the flow from there. The bars are filled with people, their surfaces crammed with an enormous variety of small tapas selections. Go ahead and let the barman know which one takes your fancy, and you will be presented with a plate and napkin with your chosen Pintxos, accompany this with a glass of wine (Measures tend to be on the small side, for very good reason! This stops the phrase tapas crawl from being taken to its literal definition!) and just marvel at the scenes around you. Dishes range from the traditional (Marinated anchovies fresh from the market and specially prepared Spanish omelette being two of my favourites) to the creative, where for instance you may take delight in Morcilla en Brick or txangurro, a basque style stuffed spider crab. Go from bar to bar until you can take no more. On a side note, do not be alarmed when people drop their napkins on the floor once used, it’s supposed to be a sign of appreciation!
These are just some of the things you can enjoy in this friendly, beautiful and yet not over-promoted region. Come expecting fish ‘n’ chips covered in gravy and you may be disappointed, however if you have a sense of adventure, and enjoy large beaches, delicious food and friendly people then you will not be disappointed by Biarritz and its surroundings!