Suggestions for France/Spain border stay

Jan 11th, 2009, 09:28 AM
  #1  
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Suggestions for France/Spain border stay

My husband and I have had two marvellous vacations in France in the last few years - the first time Paris to Sarlat, with a gite in the Dordogne, and the second in the Perpignan to Montpellier area, with a two week gite outside of Narbonne. We love having a home base from which we can travel each day.

This summer, we'd like to bring our children to France for the first time. They will be 12 and 14, and have been in French Immersion school since kindergarten. This will be their first opportunity to actually spend time in a french environment.

My husband is interested in spending some of our two weeks in Spain as well, even if as day trips from our home base. We're particularly interested in seeing Gaudi's work.

So my questions is this: with two weeks, two children and two countries, would you suggest that we find a home base on the Med side and visit Barcelona, or stay on the Atlantic side, and venture around Bilboa?

As always, many thanks in advance for the tremendously useful advice offered by generous Fodorites.
mcburja is offline  
Jan 11th, 2009, 09:42 AM
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We've spent 2 weeks in a Gite near Ceret on the Med side in France, and 2 weeks in the Pays Basque side near St Jean Pied du Port.

If you've already spent 2 weeks on the Med side - why not try Pays Basque?

The weather might be better on the Med Side. One of my travel books said that the Pays Basque gets as much rain as Ireland - that's why it si so green. We had several days of rain in early Sept in the Pays basque. No rain at all in Roussillon in early June.

No Gaudi in the Spain area of Pays Basque, however (and no Dali either). We did not venture into Spain in the Pays Basque, but took several trip to Spain from Roussillon. The Pyrenees are perhaps a little more dramatic from the Pays Basque area.

Stu Dudley
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Jan 11th, 2009, 11:28 AM
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mcburja,
How important to all of you is Gaudí? I ask because if you do base on the French Basque side, that is what you'll miss.

If Gaudí and Moderniste architecture isn't a "deal breaker" for your family, then, like Stu, I also recommend the Atlantic side, since you've already experienced Languedoc-Roussillon.

I also spend summer vacations on the France/Spain border, on the Med and Atlantic and am headed there again for June-July.
With your two children, I'd suggest a base on or near the coast, such as around St.Jean-de-Luz. The town itself gets extremely crowded from July 15 on, with accompanying traffic jams in and out (stay off the autoroute 68 in and around the 1st and 15th of the month). But St. Jean itself in June sees fewer tourists.

You might choose a village close by, such as Guéthary or Bidart, on the coast, or go a bit inland to the area between Ascain and St. Pée-sur-Nivelle. There you'll find some lovely properties yet still be within easy access to the A 63 which takes you down to San Sebastián/Donostia and Bilbao. And the Navarran Pirineos Atlánticos and beautiful Baztán valley lie a short drive away.

Your children would enjoy the train ride up to the top of La Rhune mountain (at Sare), the triangle of caves at Sare-Zugarramurdi-Urdax, and a visit to the Pottoka horse sanctuary. In addition you have dining in a typical Basque cider house, sampling gateau basque at a working mill and chocolates at the factory in Espelette, and a visit to the extraordinary Museum of Basque Culture in Bayonne.

During the summer you can attend festivals of Basque music, dance, rural sports or a pelota game virtually every day. And each town will hold its weekly outdoor market.
Sare, Ainhoa and La Bastide-Clairence boast the "les plus beaux villages de France" designation, like Beynac and La Roque-Gageac in Dordogne.

The beaches of St. Jean, Biarritz, Hendaye plus Hondarribia and Zarautz on the Spain side are very family friendly. Plus La Concha in San Sebastián you'll find to be one of Europe's great urban beaches.

We travel in the Basque Lands with the wonderful Hachette guide to the (entire) Basque Country in hand, along with the Gallimard guide to the Pays Basque (in French). I've written a file with suggestions on both sides of the border that you can download in pdf from my travel page.
www.maribelsguides.com

But if Moderniste (Art Nouveau) architecture of Gaudí and contemporaries will be the primary goal for your Spain portion, you should find a base within easy striking distance of Barcelona, where you'll find the majority of those works. The environs of Ceret, which is a delightfully picturesque town, would be perfect, and not far from the beaches and even within striking distance of Villefranche-le-Confluent for a delightful open air train ride through the Pyrenees on Le Petit Train Jaune.
http://tinyurl.com/9konq2

Just some thoughts...
Maribel is offline  
Jan 11th, 2009, 01:05 PM
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Been to both the Atlantic and Med sides several times, and I prefer the Med side for France and the Atlantic side for Spain, so that doesn't help you much....but I do think a base around St-Jean-de-Luz would be wonderful with two kids. Bayonne and Biarritz and the Basque towns inland would provide you with plenty to do and see, and St-Jean is just a wonderful town!
StCirq is online now  
Jan 11th, 2009, 01:40 PM
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mcburja, If you do choose to spend your time based on the Atlantic side of France, I would recommend St. Jean de Luz as your base rather than Guethary. We stayed May 2008 for a week in Guethary and while we loved the location for us as a couple, I would find it very limiting for a family with children, even in the high season of summer. Deborah
DeborahAnn is offline  
Jan 11th, 2009, 01:55 PM
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If you want to see Gaudi, go see the Gaudi. I would especially recommend it if your kids share your interest, because that's always great to match up with their cultural interests. I think Girona is worthwhile in that area, too. I'm actually a fan of Dali (or Gaudi!) but I wonder if your children would find Dali tremendously amusing. But do remember that surrealisme can have sexual commentary.

I think St Jean de Luz is terribly touristy. I would head straight for San Sebastian. I think your children are too old for train rides. I find the Guggenheim in Bilbao mainly a tourist trap, but the especially region, especially the coast, is gorgeous. And the food is divine.
zeppole is offline  
Jan 11th, 2009, 01:57 PM
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I meant to write I'm actually NOT a fan of Gaudi or Dali.

If you get to Barcelona, do tour the Palau de la Musica Cataluyna, the city's most stunning architectural sight.
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Jan 11th, 2009, 02:22 PM
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I've heard good comments from a variety of sources about Collioure, south of Perpignan on the Med.

Might be worth checking as a base. It's perhaps 2 1/2 hours from Barcelona, maybe less.
Cathinjoetown is offline  
Jan 11th, 2009, 02:30 PM
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Collioure is gorgeous, but incredibly jammed in summertime - way worse than St-Jean-de-Luz, IME, partly because it's so small.
StCirq is online now  
Jan 11th, 2009, 02:36 PM
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Have you ever been to Collioure? I really was so disappointed. Mind you, I live on the Italian riviera

http://www.jndstravelog.com/Europe/C...es/Camogli.jpg

and Collioure not only less colorful (if more nakedly and charmingly penile)

http://trip.weburger.com/img/france/collioure_jpg.jpg

it's just tricked up for tourism in a way that leaves you almost nothing to do but wander around staring at the tourist "attraction." They've managed to make the fact that real artists of some note have based themselves look inauthentic.

I worked up a bit more affection for the slightly funkier, anchovy port town of Banyuls-sul-Mer, which is right next door, across a patch of vertiginous vinyards, but the town is actually most famous for producing an almost undrinkable sweet wine.

I would never make these places destinations or bases. They are just tourist hops.

I would move onto into the Costa Brava. Cadaques is wonderfully preserved and has a sweet eccentric air,

http://utazas-nyaralas.info/spanyolorszag/cadaques.jpg

is wonderfully preserved and has a sweet eccentric air, but it's not great if your planning to do day trips all the time. I liked Calella da Palafrugell above all,

http://www.naciodigital.cat/blocdefo...ugell33040.jpg

but it's a fairly limited place and I'm not sure if there's enough to do for a family or easy for day trips.

I would look for someplace on the coast closer into Barcelona, maybe, with possibilties day trips to Girona and some other inland, foothill destinations, but not a concrete zoo of British ex-pats (I'm sure they have the same reaction to me!).

zeppole is offline  
Jan 11th, 2009, 02:39 PM
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No, never been to Collioure, which is why I said I had heard good things, which I have.
Cathinjoetown is offline  
Jan 11th, 2009, 02:42 PM
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Our posts crossed, StCirq. I was responding to the post above yours.

Come to the Italian some time. You can stay on the side between Nice and Genova and still get a lot gorgeous beach towns

http://marchetting.files.wordpress.c...8/05/cervo.jpg
zeppole is offline  
Jan 11th, 2009, 02:44 PM
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I definitely went there because I'd heard so many people praise it. It's just not a destination. Certainly not a base.
zeppole is offline  
Jan 11th, 2009, 02:48 PM
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I have been to the Italian Riviera several times, zeppole. Frankly, it doesn't do much for me. Ventimiglia is a horror. San Remo is downright shabby. OK, there are a few bright spots, and inland up in the hills is fascinating, but I don't think there's anyplace on the shoreline as pleasing to the eye as Collioure (course you gotta go in, say, March, or end of October, not in July, when it's swarming with visitors and pushy artists).

I agree about Banyuls. And about that wine - I stopped for a dégustation there a few years ago and just had to spit it out (and not because I was following protocol, either). Godawful brew!
StCirq is online now  
Jan 11th, 2009, 05:34 PM
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I thought Collioure was a little touristy too. We visited it several times in early June. I had a birthday dinner there!!! The weekley farmer's market (I think it was on Sunday), was one of the poorest we've ever visited in France. While we stayed near Ceret there, we drive into Girona (nice city), but took the train to Barcelona for an overnight visit.

I think we enjoyed St Jean du Luz more than Collioure for a beach town to visit. However, I don't think there were any real good beach days in St Jean while we were there for 2 weeks in early Sept. We never dined outside while in the Pays Basque. This was Sept '03.

Stu Dudley
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Jan 12th, 2009, 10:53 AM
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Thanks to all for your colourful responses. Based on your feedback, and discussion with DH and kids, I think we're leaning toward a stay on the Med side.

Likely fly to BCN, spend a couple of days near there (and maybe a day to the south - say Setges?), then find a gite near Coulliere/Perpignan for a week. Day trips from the gite, and somehow fit in Figeures and that neighbourhood.

Showed the kids some of Dali's work last night, and as you suggested, Zeppole, they were captivated and amused.

For what it's worth, during our last stay, we went through a full bottle of Banylus, poured into very ripe canteloupe halves - thought it was quite lovely.

Mirabel - thanks for your specific recommendations in this area. Any other recommendations for must-do's within driving distance of the French/Spanish border?

mcburja is offline  
Jan 12th, 2009, 11:38 AM
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Well, if you can drink Banyuls, the rest falls into place.

Have a great trip!
zeppole is offline  
Jan 12th, 2009, 12:10 PM
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Biarritz or Saint Jean-de-Luz
kerouac is offline  
Jan 12th, 2009, 12:28 PM
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If you have decided on a week around Perpignan, you might like to take a look at our place at Claira.

http://www.users.tpg.com.au/adsl8fbu/clairanew.html

I know that advertising is not permitted in this forum but this is in response to your direct question. mcburja, you will see on the website that we have made a number of suggestions for places to visit in the area. Greg
GregY2 is offline  
Jan 12th, 2009, 12:37 PM
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St Cirq,

Ventimiglia and San Remo are shabby, and not the prize jewels of the Italian riviera in anyone's estimation. In general, the pristine areas are between Genova and La Spezia, but if you pick your fishing villages between the border and Genova with care, they can be marvelous.

All that said, there is just an enormous difference in sensibility between French beach culture and Italian beach culture, and I'm not sure the gap can ever be bridge by some people. But if you are ever traveling down the Italian coast, you might want to see Camogli some time.

As for St Jean de Luz, I preferred hanging out in its of adjacent, laid back port of Ciboure. I felt had taken a big step away from being the kind of souvenir-shop mecca of St Jean de Luz.

http://www.ciboure.fr/pages/fr/

zeppole is offline  

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