Pyrenees-France, Spain or Both?

Old May 7th, 2024, 04:53 PM
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Pyrenees-France, Spain or Both?

Hi All,
Have heard the Pyrenees and the villages around them are charming and relaxing. We are planning a trip in September to Madrid/Bilbao,a bit along the coast and want to include a route through (perhaps) both French & Spanish Pyrenees and most importantly a visit through Basque country-not so keen on mountain hiking, but some easy walks with some elevation would be grand. Is the Basque country a separate entity from the Pyrenees, or do they overlap?
Can you recommend a route for us or itinerary, perhaps with your favorite Basque or villages in the Pyrenees along the way? Can you recommend any towns (and b&bs) that could serve as a base for day trips?
We will be driving and will require some maps (gps great, but we like to know big picture of location). I was recommended Michelin Map 342-but that is sadly out of print, and it may have focused more on the high mountains. What maps would suit for driving routes?
We've traveled France extensively but never got to the Pyrenees, looking for memorable sights and relaxing experiences, especially local restaurants that exemplify the Basque experience.
Would love to hear of your special travels through this amazing region.
Thank you!
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Old May 7th, 2024, 05:29 PM
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The Basque country is divided by the Pyrenees. My impression is that the French villages are more attractive than the Spanish ones.





On the French side, do not miss the cog La Rhune RR.


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Old May 7th, 2024, 08:15 PM
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I agree that the villages in the French Basque area are more charming than those on the Spanish side- Ascain, Saré, Ainhoa, Espelette. But I did enjoy Bilbao, San Sebastián and Hondarribia on the Spanish side.
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Old May 8th, 2024, 01:58 AM
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An excellent and really essential map for a driving route is the Michelin green zoom map 144, just invaluable, as these many backroads roads can be very confusing, and signage in Basque, often using the Basque names of villages rather than the Spanish or French (more prevalent on the Spain side).

Amazon Amazon

With this excellent map, you can trace a very nice driving route of the towns I love below.

We spend time every summer in the French Basque lands, with their highly picturesque, postcard pretty villages, as seen from Michael's photos.

We love Ascain, Ainhoa, Cambo-les-Bains, Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle, Sare (with its Pottoka horses and La Rhune train--essential to book online!), tiny itxassou (the black cherry town), busy & touristy but very pretty Espelette (the red pepper town).
Each village has its own charm and beautiful, ancient half-timbered homes, all endowed with a salmon-colored pelota court or two, and each has wonderful country dining.

This part of the French Basque Country, Labourd, consists more of rolling hill rather than high peaks.
For higher peaks, they begin to become higher south of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, the major staging area for the pilgrimage Route to St James, in Basse-Navarre, The drive from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port down the Les Aldudes valley via the D948 and the D58 is stunning, all the way to the border with Navarra.

For our this year's base of operations, we're staying this year in Ainhoa, which has two outstanding hotel-restaurants, the Ithurria and the Argi Eder.

We've also stayed at a B&B in Espelette (very busy town, a bit now a victim of its own beauty in summer)
and at the charming Hotel Arraya in Sare (excellent dining)
The Hotel Arc in Sainte-Étienne-de-Baïgorry, further south, is a haven of peace and tranquility sitting by the river with an acclaimed restaurant, if you find yourselves in that area, surrounded by vineyards producing Irouléguy wines (France's smallest appellation).

We've never based in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port because of the constant traffic, but.. we try never to miss the wonderful Monday morning outdoor market from 8 until 1, and then lunch at one of the French Basque Country's finest restaurants, the Hotel les Pyrénées, belonging to the Arrambide family.

Here are the Pays Basque market days:
https://www.barnes-cotebasque.com/ac...ays-basque-333

There are plenty of lodging options, of course, on the coast: in Guéthary, very busy in summer Saint-Jean-de-Luz and in Biarritz, where we've stayed at the Hotel Edouard VII, but car free as street parking there is impossible.
We've often used the very Basque city of Bayonne as our base at the Hotel des Basses Pyrénées.

This time, we're going back to the countryside. We alternate between French Basque cities and inland villages every July.

For something in between as a base, very close to the coast but yet in the countryside with a splash of luxury and fabulous meals, I would consider Frères Ibarboure in inland Bidart.
https://freresibarboure.com/en

The far less explored section of the French Basque Country is to the east, Soule and its main town, Mauléon-Licharre (home of espadrille factories), whose dwellings are of the grey stone variety, not nearly as picturesque.

As to our bases in the Spanish Basque Country villages, we've used Hondarribia to the east of San Sebastián and this year, again, Getaria, to the west.

Last edited by Maribel; May 8th, 2024 at 02:24 AM.
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Old May 8th, 2024, 04:11 AM
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Walks
https://www.basquecountry-tourism.co...ks-in-euskadi/

Hikes
https://www.basquecountry-tourism.co...ng-in-euskadi/
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Old May 9th, 2024, 11:01 AM
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Pyrenees-France

Maribel, Do you think Hotel Arce in Sainte-Étienne-de-Baïgorry could be a good home base to see all of this, or is it too far south?
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Old May 9th, 2024, 11:04 AM
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It's a bit too far south for the other villages (Ainhoa, Sare, Espelette) and so close to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, where you'll be spending 3 days (do you have confirmed reservations there?), but I LOVE the family-run Arcé, so peaceful and so lovely. I would certainly plan to stop there for coffee on the terrace next to the river or for a great meal. Could you switch your Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port lodgings for the Arcé?

Last edited by Maribel; May 9th, 2024 at 11:23 AM.
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Old May 9th, 2024, 11:53 AM
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Still waiting to hear back from b&b in st pee sur nivelle. The Arce said 5 night minimum so it would be all or nothing I think. But if too far South, and thanks for that info. Then I can just go for lunch. And I will keep looking up north in Ainhoa or in any of those other nearby towns you recommended. I thought I was booking early ha!
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Old May 9th, 2024, 11:54 AM
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Sorry about the 5-night minimum during super high season. We booked our hotel in Anihoa in February!

There are the 2 or 3 hotels in Sare, or look at Ascain or Arcangues or the Maison Bonnet in Itxassou as it's midway, and lovely with pool and gourmet restaurant.

Guéthary, Saint-Jean-de-Luz, Bidart and Biarritz all on the coast will be very expensive and probably already booked. That's why this year we're going inland.

Last edited by Maribel; May 9th, 2024 at 12:19 PM.
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Old May 9th, 2024, 01:35 PM
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Wow! Our first time there hence was not sure when to start. But rushing to secure a spot soon! Thank you checking all of those now.
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Old May 10th, 2024, 09:44 AM
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pepperment,
Are you still following your thread?
In the Spanish Basque Country there is a Parador in Hondarribia, close to the border (I believe you asked about Paradors on another forum).

There are also many inexpensive B&Bs in the Spanish Basque Country and a series of casas rurales or in Basque, landetxea primarily found in the countryside. We just stayed in one east of Bilbao, the Oar Cottage.

When driving in Spain you must have, by law, an IDP, International Driver's Permit. You can obtain this at any AAA office for $20.

There is more info on the Spanish and French Basque lands here:
2 week Spain and French Basque Country

Last edited by Maribel; May 10th, 2024 at 10:42 AM.
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Old May 10th, 2024, 04:38 PM
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Yes we went back to our threas, and we are all set for lodging. Great info on Internacional drivers license will make sure to get one
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Old May 11th, 2024, 12:03 AM
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The French Basque Country, especially the city of Bayonne, is well known for its chocolate production and ham production. And it's chock-a-block with delightful places to dine.
The Pays Basque, in general, is a gourmet shopping paradise:
Kintoa pork from Les Aldudes (the pink & black Basque pig or Euskal Txerria), cured ham from Bayonne, gâteaux basques (either black cherry or cream-filled), chocolates, black cherry confiture from Itxassou, Espelette red pepper products galore, taloak (filled Basque pancakes made with corn flour), Basque sheep cheese (ardi gasna), Banka trout and on and on.

There's yet another wonderful chocolate atelier, Puyodebat, on the D19 highway just outside of the spa town of Cambo-les-Bains, where you might want to stop. They have beautiful, elegantly packaged chocolates that make nice gifts.



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Old May 11th, 2024, 11:33 AM
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Car rental travel in the Pyrenees- France-Spain

We too will be in the Pyrenees Spain and France. We will be flying in to Bilbao, Is there any advice on picking up a rental car in Bilbao or San Sebastian? f
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Old May 11th, 2024, 11:43 AM
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We have always picked up our rentals at the Bilbao airport. From there we've traveled on to San Sebastián/Donostia in our rental car. In the past, we've always rented through the consolidator Auto Europe, which arranges our rental through a local supplier. At the Bilbao airport, you have as suppliers the choice of all the 'biggies", Aviz, National, Europcar, Hertz or Sixt.

Last edited by Maribel; May 11th, 2024 at 12:27 PM.
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Old May 18th, 2024, 07:48 PM
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Enjoyed St. Jean Pied de Port very much, though I was there to begin a Camino de Santiago walk. I had stayed in Bayonne the night before traveling to St.JeanPDP and was glad I stopped there.

St. Jean Pied De Port
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Old May 25th, 2024, 12:21 PM
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(responding to Maribel's detailed description of French Basque country: thank you for all these details! We are doing a bike ride in that area, staying in Biarritz, Hondarribia, Ainhoa (at the Argi Eder) , St Jean Pied de Port, and Itxassou so it looks like it will be a scenic trip. I am noting your restaurant recommendations - a couple are pre-reserved but we can choose what we want to do the other nights.
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Old May 26th, 2024, 05:46 AM
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Enjoy the Argi Eder! We’ll be there in July.
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Old May 29th, 2024, 01:08 PM
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Annw, I am typing this on a computer situated below a shot that I once took of that same historic bridge in St. Jean Pied de Port back in '88. It was arguably the first travel picture that I ever took worthy of enlarging - I was still um, learning the art of photography back then. The image is matted and framed and is on our bedroom wall.
We'll be visiting both sides of the Pyrenees this fall.

I am done. the mountains
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Old May 30th, 2024, 10:41 AM
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Originally Posted by palatino82
We are doing a bike ride in that area, staying in ... Itxassou so it looks like it will be a scenic trip
Don't miss the climb to Artzamendi. It is very very difficult but you will be rewarded with fantastic views (if you make it!)

Last edited by rouelan; May 30th, 2024 at 10:46 AM.
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