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Biarrtiz, St. Jean de Luz, (France) San Sebastion, Bilbao (Spain)

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Searching for travel information and opinions regarding the southwest corner of France. We are thinking about visiting this area at the end of July - we want a few beach days but also love sightseeing experiences. One of our reasons to visit this corner of France is its proximity to Bilbao and the Guggenheim museum in Spain...this seems like a spectacular museum and I have been curious about it for years. However, it is quite a detour from our itinerary and I have been able to find very little information regarding the area of St Jean de Luz. We will be coming from Paris (either by TGV or Air - depending on transportation prices and schedules.) We can devote 5-7 days of our trip if warranted. Would love to hear responses from travellers who have visited this area and hear about your recommendations or concerns. Many thanks

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    I think San Sebastian is the gem of the region, and if you like to eat, the Spanish basque country is one of Europe's most wonderful (and beautiful) destinations. I would spend the majority of my time on the Basque coast in Spain. The French basque coast immediately over the border is almost as pretty. I found St Jean de Luz excessively touristy, and preferred for ambience the pin-speck of a port across the bridge, Ciboure. I've not been to Biarritz.

    I am not a fan of the Guggenheim in Bilbao except for the Richard Serra installations inside (and don't eat in the museum cafeteria when so many wonderful options are in town). If you come by air, it's an easy flight to Bilbao, so it would be easy to see the museum if it intrigues you and then move on to San Sebastian, one hour by bus. (Don't use the trains. They are twice as long).

    For 7 days, I would be tempted to rent a car and go exploring, but again I would stick to the gorgeous Spanish coast. If I wanted France, I'd head up into the Pyrenees rather than the coast.

    I could easily spend all my time in San Sebastian!

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    I just returned Sunday from a week in San Sebastian with day trips to Bilbao, St. Jean de Luz and Bayonne and would HIGHLY recommend visiting this area...I LOVED it.

    I will eventually get around to a trip report...but here are a few brief observations.

    Spent 8 nights based in San Sebastian, the first 2 nights on my own the last 6 with a small group (10 people) tour. The tour did a day trip to Bilbao and we did go to the Guggenheim, I will admit I am not much of a modern art fan, so the exhibits, although interesting didn't "wow" me, the buidling however, is really something to look at. I found the old town of Bilbao a bit more interesting with winding streets and little shops.

    We also did a day trip to Bayonne, which I highly recommend...really nice little town with a fantastic Basque Culture of the best in the region I've been told.

    Also spent an afternoon in St. Jean de Luz and thought it was a delightful seaside town...had a great dinner there, but can't recall the name of the restaurant off the top of my head right now.

    I really liked basing myself in San Sebastain. If you are into food this is the place to be. I did a bit of pintxos hoping and some of the pintxos bars are fantastic...don't be afraid to just order off the chalk board menus...some of the hot pintxos are incredible.

    I thought it was an unbelievably beautiful region and would not hesitate to ever go back there again.

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    We spend quite a bit of time each year in both the Pays Basque and País Vasco. There are slight differences in the countryside, the Pays Basque being a little more pastoral in the interior, but both are worth the time to explore and enjoy the culture of the Basque people. And of course the food is some of the best in the world, especially when you add Navarra and Cantabria to the mix. There are a few guides worth reading, Cadogan’s Bilbao and the Basque Lands, Footprint Guides and Rough Guide to France, etc, but most of the better guides on the Pays Basque region are generally only available in France and Spain. I do recommend downloading Maribel's Guide to the Pays Basque and País Vasco. They will help in planning your trip.

    Flying from Paris to Biarritz is probably the quickest as far as actual travel time, but the TGV is an excellent way to travel south. The station in Biarritz is only a few minutes from the beach by taxi and 30 minutes from San Sebastian-Donostia. You can also take the train to Hendaye and then take the TOPO (EUSKOTREN), the small commuter train, into San Sebastian. The TOPO stop is right outside of the station in Hendaye.

    The Basque coast from north of Bayonne to well past Zarautz will be busy at the end of July, with the 30th being the busiest traffic day. The toll station at the old border crossing will be backed up for miles, but there are ways to avoid most of the traffic if you study a map.

    If you do plan of visiting this year, then make your reservations now.

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    I just returned from a trip to that region and agree that San Seb is a beautiful city with fabulous food -- pintxo bar hopping is really fun and such delicious offerings. If u have a car, take a drive into the hills outside San Seb -- some charming little villages and really nice scenery. I didn't fall in love with any of the many seaside villages but Getaria and Leikito are very nice. The museum in Guernika I thought somewhat interesting. The Guggenheim musuem is spectacular architecturally. Its always been on my destination wish list and very glad to finally see it. Didn't love the art inside, but the building is well worth the visit. I though Bilbao quite a nice city and would have enjoyed spending more than 1 night 2 days there. Further West towards Santander and beyond is also pretty, but that would not be my first choice of destinations.

    If u rent a car, I would check out the Pyrennes and the Pays Basque area in France which is really beautiful countryside.

    Loved Bayonne, as mentioned great musuem, and a very nice city. Didn't check out St Jean de Luz, but did go into Biarritz and it was just okay. Dobut that I would ever go back there.

    Going back and forth between Spain and France we were really struck by how much more expensive everything was in France. So if u want to save some money stick to the Spanish side.

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