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Biarritz and Bayonne are the two places people usually think about when referring to the French Basque country. But there are so many more beautiful villages and towns to discover in this magical region. Many travelers are more familiar with the Basque country across the border in Spain, and the French side feels almost like it’s a separate country from the rest of France. That’s no surprise because this region was an independent country for much of its history. 

The most beautiful village in the French basque country

The Pays Basque in the most southwestern part of France has plenty of small, picturesque villages that are worth a visit. A few were even labeled as some of the most beautiful villages in France. If you want to discover the French Basques beyond its touristic coastal side, a visit to at least a couple of these villages is an absolute must! In my article, I gathered all the most stunning and special villages to visit in the French Basque region, so you have a lot to choose from. 

This article is for travelers who plan on spending a bit of time exploring the region, but if you have very limited time in the Basque country, there are fun one-day guided trips like this one, focused on visiting the little villages. There is also this tour, where you can visit the bigger main towns of the French Basques.

The 10 most beautiful villages to visit in the Basque country 

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port

Located almost on the border with Spain and in the foothills of the magnificent Pyrenean mountain range, this beautiful little town is an important destination on the Camino de Santiago pilgrim trek. 

Religious tourists flock to the old center of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to follow the historic route. The village is known for an old tradition of having plenty of cheap hostels on the main street, offering you a bed for as little as 10 euros a night. Besides its historic importance, Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is also a picturesque village with colorful homes and a lovely old bridge crossing the river. No wonder it was labeled as one of the official plus beaux villages in France!

Saint Jean Pied de Port - a must visit in the Basque country
Saint Jean Pied de Port – by Lost in Bordeaux

What not to miss: Visit the historic Mendiguren Citadel in the town center, it is the town’s pride!
What to do nearby: Taste AOP Irouléguy wine, made in the surrounding valley. Visit the valley of  Baïgorry and the Aldudes with its amazing farms of charcuterie and cheese, many of which can be visited. I can personally recommend a visit to the farm of Pierre Oteiza.

You can also take this guided tour that combines both a guided visit to Saint Jean Pied de Port and a visit to Baïgorry for cheese tastings.

Saint-Jean-de-Luz and Ciboure

Saint-Jean-de-Luz is one of my favorite towns in the French Basque country! It’s probably the biggest town on this list but it’s still made it here due to its authentic, charming, cozy ambiance. The seaside town is sitting within the Bay of Biscay, facing the Atlantic Ocean, and is located just 15km from Biarritz.

Saint Jean de Luz - one of the best place to visit in the French Basque country
Saint Jean de Luz – by Lost in Bordeaux

Saint-Jean-de-Luz is celebrated for its distinctive Basque architecture, featuring streets adorned with vibrant half-timbered houses that characterize the charm of the old town. A visit to the historic Church of Saint-Jean-Baptiste is highly recommended, as it holds the significance of being the location where King Louis XIV and Maria Theresa of Spain exchanged vows in 1660.

Ciboure is a pretty red-and-white town that lies across the river Nivelle from the harbor of Saint-Jean-de-Luz. It’s quieter and smaller than its neighbor but just its charm is well worth a visit if you’re in that part of the Basques.  

What not to miss in Saint Jean de Luz: Be sure to pass by the tourist office for a map of the city as there are quite a few interesting houses and landmarks to see while you discover Saint Jean de Luz. The town is known for its extraordinary seafood which you can find in one of the many local restaurants or at the morning market. Enjoy a beach day and a swim in the calm bay and then have a drink on the Socoa harbor.

If you’re short in time you can take this fantastic tour to Biarritz and Saint Jean de Luz.

Espelette

Espelette is a small, colorful village in the Labourd province, about 20 km from the famous resort town of Biarritz. If the name Espelette rings a bell, it’s because Espelette red peppers (piments d’Espelette) are cultivated here. At times it feels like the whole village was built as a temple to these little red peppers! Starting late summer, thousands of peppers are hung to dry under the red shutters of traditional Basque houses. Most of the shops in the city sell red pepper products.

What to eat in Espelette
Beautifully designed restaurant with traditional Basque food (Espelette)

The scenery of houses covered with red peppers is what makes this place so unique and distinguishes it from other traditional Basque villages. In addition to the beauty of the village, visiting Espelette is also a culinary journey into the Basque country and its unique recipes. You can read more about different food-related experiences in my article about Espelette.

What not to miss: Discover the unique Basque architecture, visit the Saint-Etienne church, taste local delicacies like Espelette products, spicy chocolate, and Basque charcuterie
What to do nearby: Visit other small villages in the surrounding areas, such as Ainhoa, Ascain, la Bastide Clairence, and Sare, some of which appear in this article.
Special events: At the end of October the village celebrates La Fête Du Piment (the pepper festival), with concerts, a big market, and a parade to celebrate the end of the drying season.

Cambo-les-Bains

Cambo-les-Bains is located just 15 minutes’ drive from Bayonne and the spa town is the perfect place to relax and enjoy a thermal spa treatment. Head up to the upper part of town where you’ll find plenty of bars and restaurants with views over the River Nive and the old town below. The village is less known than most of the other villages on this list, but if you’re looking for a tranquil and scenic designation, it is the perfect place!

Cambo-les-Bains - one of the most beautiful villages in the French Basque country
Cambo-les-Bains – by Lost in Bordeaux

What not to miss: Visit La Villa Argana, a museum dedicated to the life and works of famous author, Edmond Rostand; taste delicious chocolate at the Chocolaterie Puyodebat; take a walk through the beautiful and calm Jardin des Thermes.

Ainhoa

Ainhoa is another gorgeous, typical Basque village located on the Spanish border. It’s much smaller than other villages on this list – just one main street, to be exact! But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a visit. You can pop over for a very quick visit on a market day, when things get lively and fun! 

Ainhoa too is listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France and visited by many Basque country fans. It’s one of the villages you will visit on this private tour that takes you through some of the highlights of the Basque country. 

Ainhoa - most of the most beuatiful villages in France
A house in Ainhoa – by Lost in Bordeaux

What not to miss: Visit the Pierre Orteza shop. It is one of the most famous charcuterie producers in the Basque, and this is one of his biggest shops. What to do nearby: From Ainhoa you can also take a beautiful walking trail of about 12 km to Sare and the grottes.

Sare

Neighboring Ainhoa, Sare is a charming village that was listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France. You’ll be able to visit the whole village in one hour. But besides the beautiful houses, it’s also a village from where you can go to some of the best attractions in the area. 

What not to miss: Visit the beautiful old Saint-Martin church and take some time to stroll the village’s cobbled streets. If you’d like to visit a Basque museum, Sare has one of the most interesting ones: Le Musée du Gâteau Basque. A museum dedicated to the iconic Basque cake where you get to explore the history, craftsmanship, and flavors of this traditional pastry.

The train on the way to La Rhune
The train on the way to La Rhune – by Lost in Bordeaux

What to do nearby: Just a few minutes from Sare you can take a train to La Rhune and see a breathtaking 360-degree view of the forest and almost the entire French Atlantic coast. If you have more time, you will also enjoy the caves of Sare.

LaBastide-Clairence

Another charming spot that’s on France’s official list of most beautiful villages is La Bastide-Clairence where you can see the lovely red-and-white architecture so typical of the region. You can do some shopping in the charming, locally-owned boutiques in Rue Notre Dame.

LaBastide-Clairence is located a bit farther away from the rest of the villages on this list, about 25km east of Bayonne.

What not to miss: La Bastide-Clairence is renowned for its artisanal shops, showcasing local crafts and traditional Basque products. The village hosts various events and markets throughout the year, providing an opportunity to immerse oneself in the vibrant local culture. One such event is the pottery fair in September.

What to do nearby: Head to the dairy farm Ferme et Fromagerie Bethanoun, where you can taste local sheep milk cheese.

Guéthary

Guéthary is one of my only choices on the coastline as it’s still got that cozy vibe I was looking for when compiling my list. The tiny village boasts distinctive architecture that reflects its rich cultural and maritime heritage, quite different from the other villages on this list. 

What not to miss: Have a sunset drink with sweeping views at the seaside bar, Hétéroclito, and visit the old port where you’ll also find plenty of cute terrace restaurants.

What to do nearby: Take a stunning stroll to the village of Bidart, which is especially loved by the surfing community. 

The beautiful path along the beach from Guéthary to Bidard

Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle

Slightly off the beaten path, Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle is a charming village with a beautiful little center. Take a walk around the village and stop for a pastry or coffee while you admire the 17th-century church and classic red-and-white architecture.

What not to miss: Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle is home to a great market every Saturday morning for fresh produce and delicious delicacies from the region.

Taste the best Basque produce
Taste the best Basque produce

What to do nearby: The Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle lake is beautiful and fun for kids and adults alike. It’s the perfect place to cool off in summer and has an inflatable water park, a few cute restaurants, and lovely beaches.

Saint-Etienne-de-Baïgorry

Our last village is located right on the Spanish border and in the breathtaking Aldudes Valley. Saint-Etienne-de-Baïgorry is a quaint, charming village with beautiful Basque architecture set on either side of the River Nive and among the sweeping green views of the valley. 

What not to miss: Visit the stunning, 12th-century Saint Etienne church and its beautiful Baroque altarpiece and take a walk from the Roman-style bridge, built in 1661, to the Château d’Etxauz, a castle listed as a historic monument.

What to do nearby: Visit farms in the valley and buy some local treats including sheep milk cheese, wines, cured meats, and artisanal soaps.

visiting farms in the stunning Aldudes Valley in the French Basque country
visiting farms in the stunning Aldudes Valley

You can also get plenty of tips on things to do in the Southwest of France via Lost in Bordeaux’s social media accounts and email list, check them out here:

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There are plenty of charming villages in the French Basque country, but if I had to choose only one it would probably be Espellete. Espellete is a small village in the Labourd province, about 20 km from the famous resort town of Biarritz. If the name Espelette rings a bell it’s because of the Espelette red peppers (piments d’Espelette) that are cultivated here. At times it feels like the whole village was built as a temple to these little red peppers. Starting late summer, thousands of peppers are hanged to dry under the red shutters of traditional Basque houses. Most of the shops in the city sell red peppers or products that contain it in some way or another. At the end of October the village celebrates La Fête Du Piment (the pepper festival), with concerts, a big market and a parade to celebrate the end of the drying season. The scenery of houses covered with red peppers is what makes this place so unique and distinguishes it from other traditional Basque villages. In addition to the beauty of the village, visiting Espelette is also a culinary journey into the Basque country and its unique recipes. Hopefully after reading this article you will want to put Espelette on your “places I must visit” list. So let’s get to it!

Piments d'Espelette
Piments d’Espelette

Mind you, I’m not the only one who loves Espelette. The picturesque village is extremely popular and can get overcrowded on some summer days. On the positive side, due to the regular flow of tourists, all the shops are open seven days a week on the touristic season. My advice, however, would be to try to get there in September – October or at least try to arrive early if you’re visiting Espelette during the summer. It’s a small village without many attractions but you can easily spend there at least half a day, just wandering the charming streets and visiting the boutiques scattered around the village.

What to see when you visit Espelette

Discover the unique Basque architecture

Every region in France has a unique architectural style, but in my opinion, nothing feels as different as the Basque region. In most traditional Basque villages, the white houses are all decorated in red and green shatters, giving it a very cute and fairytale-like look. In Espelette, you’ll find that most shatters are red, which perfectly compliments the main hero of the village, the Espelette pepper.

The streets of Espelette
The streets of Espelette

You can start your day at the tourist office located at the beautiful Chateau des Barons d’Espelette. They can equip you with a little map with the main points of attraction to see and visit. However, don’t expect to get a long list of monuments to visit here, the charm of this village is in its decorated houses and the red beautiful peppers that appear everywhere from the food to the souvenirs to the decor of the city. Just get lost in the streets of the city, taste charcuterie and sip a glass of Basque Sangria. There’s no better way to absorb the beauty of the village. 

Church of Saint-Etienne

If you already had the chance to visit other towns in the Basque country you probably noticed that the traditional Basque churches differ in their interior style from most French churches. Instead of several aisles, you have one single-aisle and several wooden galleries covering the walls in front of the Bema. Back in the days, it used to separate men, who prayed on the balconies from the women on the ground floor of the church. The Saint Etienne church that is located just a few minutes walk from the city center is one of the more beautiful Basque churches in my humble opinion. The church was built in the 17th century and is decorated with a Baroque altarpiece from the 18th-century made from gilded wood. This church is not to be missed when visiting Espelette. 

eglise saint etienne espelette
Eglise Saint Etienne in Espelette

Visit other magical villages around Espellete

While Espelette is one of the most famous Basque villages in the French Basque country, there are several other beautiful villages nearby. These include Ainhoa, Ascain, la Bastide Clairence and Sare which is a very small village with plenty of activities around it. All of them are incredibly beautiful and special but visiting all is a bit redundant as they look quite the same. So if you have time to visit more villages, just choose one or two that are on your way. If the weather is good you can also continue to the coastline and visit one of the more attractive sea resorts in the area, the beautiful little town named Saint Jean de Luz. 

Ainhoa
Ainhoa – a beautiful village next to Espelette

What to taste in Espelette – discover the ‘Piment’ (red pepper) 

The Espellete peppers appear in practically every food in the French Basque country, whether it’ll be charcuterie, cheese, jam, alcohol and even chocolate. This is by far the most dominant spice in the Basque cuisine. In a workshop I participated while visiting Espelette, we were told that the Espelette pepper replaces black pepper in the Basque country so everything is spiced with it. Even the local Ketchup for kids is made from peppers instead of tomatoes. That can explain the abundance of shops in the city center, selling a huge variety of Espelette products. Let me suggest a few that I found interesting to visit. 

Atelier du Piment d’Espelette

The Atelier du Piment d’Espelette is a big shop that offers free visits and tastings allowing you to discover the Espelette pepper in all its stages, from cultivation to cooking suggestions. The Atelier is located about one kilometer from the city center, and it’s the best place to go to if you really want to learn about the heritage of the Espelette pepper. The visit starts with a tour of the plantations of Espelette and continues with a tasting workshop where you are taught about the different Espelette products and the Basque way to eat them. The place is open daily from 9:00 to 19:00. Check out their website for more details. 
Address: Elizaldeko Bidea, 64250 Espelette

Atelier du Piment d'Espelette
Atelier du Piment d’Espelette

Taste spicy chocolate

Antton Chocolatier is a traditional basque chocolate shop that specializes in chocolate spiced with piment d’Espelette. Many of their products incorporate the famous red pepper or black cherries (another Basque staple). Most of the chocolate they offer is excellent and pleasantly mild but some are surprisingly spicy, especially the white one. But you still want to continue eating them as they are so good. While they have several shops in the Basque country, the one in Espelette is where they actually produce the chocolate. It’s also a great opportunity to discover how the chocolate is made as the shop offers free tours every day, between April and the end of October. The tour starts every half an hour and includes a visit to the workshop and a chocolate tasting in the end. The visit is not recommended on Sundays as the chocolatiers are not there so you won’t really see them working. You can join the visit without prior reservation from 10:30 to 12:00 and from 14:00 to 18:00. 
Address: Place du Marché, Espelette

Basque charcuterie

charcuterie tasting in Espelette
charcuterie tasting in Espelette

If you like Charcuterie (cured meats) don’t miss Maison Gastellou, a family business specialized in Basque charcuterie since 1966. They produce everything on their farm next to the beautiful village of Saint Jean Pied de Port and have four shops, one of which is located in the center of Espelette. Their shop offers a fun tasting experience, with all the employees dressed as basque shepherds with the traditional black beret. Everything we tasted there was delicious and we got some interesting explanations during the tastings. This is one of the best places to buy charcuterie to take home with you.
Address: 376 Karrika Nagusia, 64250 Espelette

Don’t miss the spices shops 

The shops in Espelette offer a great variety of spices you won’t find outside of the Basque country, making it a good place to fill your spices supply. They have very interesting mixes like salt with Espelpette and Espelette mustard, so even if you don’t buy a full branch of Espelette peppers (like my husband did) you can still enrich your cooking with different spices from the region. One of my favorite shops for spices and other Basque products is called Ezpeletako Izarra. 
Address: 375 Karrika Nagusia, 64250 Espelette

spices-shops to visit in Espelette

 Basque cheese 

If you’re coming with kids there’s a very cute place where they can learn about Basque cheese. Ossau Iraty is the most famous cheese coming from the Basque country. It’s a sheep cheese produced in between the Basque country and the Béarn province. Centre d’interprétation de l’AOP Ossau Iraty is a nice little shop in the center of Espelette dedicated to educating people about how this traditional cheese is made. You will learn about the specific sheep races they are allowed to use, and about the whole process of making and maturing the cheese. It is very interactive and something kids will enjoy doing while the parents are busy tasting the cheese. The opening hours may change depending on the season so check it out here before you go. 
Address: 390 Karrika Nagusia, 64250 Espelette

Ossau-Iraty in Espelette
learn about Ossau-Iraty in Espelette

Where to eat in Espelette?

Although it’s a small village, there are quite a few restaurants in the city center, most offering traditional Basque food. The most famous restaurant in Espelette is located at the beautiful Euzkadi hotel. The elegant restaurant is designed in a Basque traditional style with red peppers decorating the walls. It’s a popular restaurant so be sure to book ahead, especially during the summer. The address is 285 Karrika Nagusia, 64250 Espelette. Aintzina is another great restaurant in the village center offering all the traditional Basque dishes at decent prices. Don’t miss the Axoa de Veau, the traditional veal dish with Espelette peppers, of course :). Aintzina is located at 440 Karrika Nagusia, 64250 Espelette.

What to eat in Espelette
Beautifully designed restaurant with traditional Basque food

Where to stay in Espelette?

Most chances are that you will spend just a few hours in this village but if you decide to spend the night, you have several options to stay in the city center. The Euzkadi hotel is a rather simple but beautiful hotel with a pool. Another cute and cozy guesthouse is le Moulin de Pascale located very close to the church. 

Le Moulin de Pascale
Le Moulin de Pascale

Espelette is only a pinpoint for all the things the French Basque country has to offer. In a pretty 2-3 hours drive from Bordeaux (avoid toll roads to enjoy the scenery), you get to see plenty of beautiful villages, taste amazing food and surf the Atlantic ocean. But for me, Espelette is definitely one of the highlights of the Frech Basque and is a must-visit for those who are intrigued by the Basque architecture and food. If you’re also visiting Biarritz, don’t miss my article about things to do and eat in Biarritz. If you’re also visiting Bordeaux on your way back home, be sure to check out my One Day in Bordeaux guide
That’s it for now, 
Have a great trip to the Basque country!