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3 weeks - Paris, Bordeaux, Basque Country, and Barcelona

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Hi everyone! I'm in the process of planning a summer vacation to these places and need some advice. First of all, am I giving myself enough time (3 weeks), and second of all, do you have any recommendations of things I should add/delete from the trip or any better places I should go along this route?

I'm planning to fly into Paris and stay there for around 6 nights. From there, I'll likely hop a train to Bordeaux and stay for a couple of days and then head to Biarritz and stay there for around 3 days. After that, I'll probably hit up San Sebastian and possibly Bilbao for the next two days and then catch a flight or train to Barcelona. I'd spend around 3 or 4 days in Barcelona, maybe take a day trip to Cadaques and then fly back home.

How does that sound? Thanks!

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    I've never been a big fan of the city Bordeaux. They've made many civic improvements in the last several years - and it's more interesting than it was 15 years ago - but I still think that there are about a dozen of similarly-sized cities in France that I like more than Bordeaux. Toulouse, just a short train trip from Bordeaux, is our second favorite city in France (tied with Dijon) after Paris. If you want to slow down your trip a tad and spend some time in the countryside, I would consider dropping Bordeaux and adding some days to the Pays Basque area - or substitute Toulouse.

    Here is something I write & posted to Fodors for another person who wanted to visit the Pays Basque.

    Basque Area
    Maps & Books needed
    Michelin Map #342 – Haute Pyrenees, Pyrenees Atlantiques
    Michelin Map # 335 - to get you from Bordeaux to the Basque region - but you could print something from instead
    Michelin Map #573 Pais Vasco, Euskadi, Navarra, La Rioja
    Michelin Green Guide to the Atlantic Coast
    Michelin Green Guide to Spain

    I don't know whether you want to spend all your time in the Basque area in Spain - or some time in the French part. Or both. We've only visited the French Pays Basque - two trips for 2 weeks each. The first trip, we stayed near St Jean Pied du Port - inland. On the second trip we stayed in Sare, closer to the coast.

    Perhaps if you want to "split" your time, start in the French section for 2-3 nights and then in the Spanish side for 2-3 nights.

    We found that navigating in Spain is a lot more difficult than in France. We even had a GPS - and got lost quite often in Spain. The signage in Spain is not as good as in France. There are two names for most cities - Spanish & Basque - which makes things confusing (same 2 name thing in France too) There's lots of ugly sprawl around San Sebastian - which adds to the difficulty.

    French Pays Basque.
    We stayed in a gite near Sare. I think Sare is a little "over rated". Our two favorite non-coastal villages were Espelette and Ainoa.

    One of our "top 2" restaurants on the French side was L'Auberge Basque just outside of St Pee - surrounded by pretty countryside. It also has rooms - so I would consider staying there. The restaurant is a Michelin 1 star.

    Here is what I would do for 2 full days in this French area. See chapter 5 starting on pg 197 in the Atlantic coast Green Guide for info on this area.

    Day 1
    Do this on a clear sunny day, and get to La Rhune rack railway as early in the morning as possible (10:00) so the sun will not be in your face for the view of Bayonne, Biarritz, & St Jean de Luz. Don’t do this on a Sun or Mon morning when shops close.
    - La Rhune*** – rack railway – plan on 2 ½ hrs – 45 mins up, & 1 hr on top.
    - Then drive to Sare for a visit.
    - Then take the D4 to Ainhoa* TMBVoF & visit
    - Then the D20 to Espelette* & visit. You really can't park in town, so look for parking lots at either end of town. Everything is well marked.
    - Then take the D918 to St Pee & visit.
    - Take the road west to Ascain (over-rated, IMO) and then to St Jean de Luz**. Spend an hour or two visiting St Jean. We toured the Maison Louis XIV* museum. Tours are at 11,3, & 4 - but call to confirm at 05 59 26 01 56 Closed Tuesday.

    Day 2
    Visit Bayonne** in the AM. This is an interesting city - but we were surprised at how "dead" it was in the evenings (late June), and during lunch also. Perhaps get there at 10:00. Parking is a tad difficult. Follow the walking itinerary in the Michelin Green Guide. We visited the Musee Basque** - but I don't recall much about it (which might tell you something)

    Next visit Biarritz**. It's quite different from Bayonne. Lots of “Grande Dame” hotels & mansions. Take lots of walks around the coastal points, Rocher de la Vierge* & along La Perspective**.

    Take a tour of a typical Basque house

    In addition to l'Auberge Basque, our other "top 2" restaurant was Table et Hostellerie des Freres Ibarbourne in Bidart - in fact, this was #1 on both of our trips to the Basque area. We also dined at Les Rosiers in Biarritz, le Moulin de Ulia in Arcangues, and Auberge du Cheval Blanc in Bayonne.

    Spanish Basque
    We really enjoyed the town of Hondarribia*. There are pictures of it in the Shutterfly book I sent you.

    We did not visit San Sebastian** - except for dinner one night (pics in book).

    We also visited the Bidasoa Valley - many cute villages (pics in book). Use the 342 map for this. Bera wasn't that interesting, but we enjoyed Sunbilla, Extalar, and Lesaka. Pics in Book.

    We dined at three restaurants in Spain. Our two favorites were Alameda in Hondarribia, and Zuberoa in Oiartzun. Both are Michelin 1 star restaurants. We dined at Kokotxa too - it was fine - but not as good as the others. there are pictures of all these restaurants in the Shutterfly book.

    Deeper into the Pyrenees and on to your next location
    Leave the Basque area and head east to St Jean Pied du Port* in France. St Jean is a major stop on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Campestela. You'll see lots of "shell" signs everywhere. St Jean is a tad touristy. It has one of our favorite restaurants in France - Les Pyrenees - which is also a hotel if you decide to spend the night. It's a quite an interesting village.

    Stu Dudley

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    Bordeaux has some interest. If without a car, there is wine tasting in the city itself; I saw some wine tasting establishments near the opera house. The city itself is a pleasant late 18th early 19th century city.

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    I spent one night in Biarritz to sample how the well-off used to summer. That was enough time. Bilbao, on the other hand, has plenty to do beyond the startling Guggenheim art museum and deserves your consideration. It also has the Basque area's busiest international airport.

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