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 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
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!
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 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 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.
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 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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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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