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Tentative Spain/France Basque region itinerary

Tentative Spain/France Basque region itinerary

Nov 15th, 2017, 12:58 PM
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Tentative Spain/France Basque region itinerary

Looking into using some frequent flyer miles to visit this area (first time in area, have been to other parts of Spain and France)). We'll have 10-11 nights. The plan is to fly into Biarritz and out of Bilboa. We plan on having a car for at least part of the trip.

I'm trying to figure out overnight spots. On arrival, I'm thinking either Bayonne or Biarritz, and on the Spain side definitely San Sebastian and Bilboa. Thinking 3 nights San Sebastian, 2 Bilboa (enough?).

Where else between Biarritz and San Sebastian is a good place for overnights? Hondarribia has been recommended. We are not planning on major beach time, but would like to see scenic coastal areas for some good photo ops.

From what I understand, since we're crossing a border, it's best to return the car before leaving France, take a bus/train then pickup another car in Spain (warned of high cost to dropoff car in another country).

This trip will either be in late May or September/October.
MFNYC is offline  
Nov 15th, 2017, 02:06 PM
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St-Jean-de-Luz should go on your list. It and Bayonne are more charming and interesting than Biarritz, IMO.

Yes, drop the car off in France and pick up another in Spain (or just use trains).
StCirq is offline  
Nov 15th, 2017, 03:37 PM
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it's best to return the car before leaving France, take a bus/train then pickup another car in Spain>

If so and often is a great way to do that is to return car in Biarritz or Bayonne or wherever and then take train to Hendaye, border station in France (or return car there if possible) and take right from the station the delightful cheap narrow-gauge commuter Tren Eusko to San Sebastian (Donsotia in Basque, preferred by many locals over Spanish name) - arriving right in heart of Donostia's old town - train trundles right down streets of some Basque towns.

This is easier often than taking mainline trains with a change of trains always at border due to track gauge (width) differences in France to larger-spaced tracks in Spain. And there is a lot of gaps in services in Spain to get to Donostia.


For lots on trains and this area check www.seat61.com; www.budgeteuropetravel.com and www.ricksteves.com.

I stayed in St-Jean-de-Luz and agree with St-Cirq (an area expert who lives not far away) that it is a nice base -superb beach - great walks- and nice town.
PalenQ is offline  
Nov 15th, 2017, 06:15 PM
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I loved Bilbao; enjoyed, but was not enamored, of San Sebastian, and didn’t see the appeal to Hondarribia.

You might find some useful information in my trip report:
kja is offline  
Nov 15th, 2017, 08:24 PM
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I preferred Biarritz to St Jean de Luz, but sleeping in Bayonne may well be cheaper and it is a good transport hub. I have stayed there without a car:


I haven't been to Bilbao, but was not enchanted by San Sebastian - I actually preferred Pamplona. If you want to stay in a parador Hondarribia is not a bad place to do it.
thursdaysd is offline  
Nov 16th, 2017, 03:01 AM
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St Jean de Luz is really touristy for my tastes, lots of coach tours and souvenir shops. I escaped to the periphery to get away from it, was sorry I'd bothered to do it as a day trip from Basque Spain.

Since going to St Jean de Luz consumed the time I now think would otherwise have been better spent inland, I can't say for sure I would have more enjoyed inland towns like Espellette or Sare -- maybe they all full of tourists too. Or maybe that doesn't affect your enjoyment. But taking a small detour to see Basque culture inland would be my recommendation, since you will have plenty of lovely seaside for the rest of your trip.

massimop is offline  
Nov 16th, 2017, 03:05 AM
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The place to where I escaped the touristy-ness of St Jean de Luz was Ciboure, and it was pleasant with an interesting quiet history in its own right. If you think you'd like to stick to the waterside but don't want to be in tourist central, it might work for you

massimop is offline  
Nov 16th, 2017, 03:41 AM
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Bayonne over Biarritz, definitely. St Jean de Luz, off season (great market, though, as well as Biarritz). Espelette, just off season, as Ainhoa. Cambo Les Bains and any other towns inland will be very nice, but not lots of things to do. The Larrun /LaRhune train may also be a good option, as is Sare (off season too).
mikelg is offline  
Nov 16th, 2017, 07:49 AM
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Thanks. There's a lot to think about. I would like to explore some more inland places as well as seaside, since this is not meant to be a beach vacation. Seems like the distances are all pretty close so lots of opportunity for day trips from a home base.

One thing I have noticed about these touristy places, especially the ones that get bombarded with day trippers, is that when the day trippers leave in the evening they can become quite delightful. We noticed this in a recent Italy trip in both Pisa and CT (Manarola).
MFNYC is offline  
Nov 16th, 2017, 07:57 AM
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I based in Bayonne and did day trips to Biarritz, St Jean de Luz and St Jean Pied du Port. I could see basing in either Biarritz or St Jean de Luz in stead of Bayonne - any of the three would work but you don't need more than one of them.

On the Spain side definitely San Sebastian. I did a day trip to Hondarribia and am glad I did but also glad I stayed in San Sebatian.

Here's my trip report with link to blog and photos
isabel is offline  
Nov 16th, 2017, 07:59 AM
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Late May and Sept or Oct should not see overwhelming tourists in that area as in mid-summer.
PalenQ is offline  
Nov 16th, 2017, 08:14 AM
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St. Jean de Luz is a bad base if you don't have a car, it is not part of the very cheap regional bus system, and you would have to change in Bayonne to take the train to St. Jean Pied du Port.

I was in San Sebastian in October a couple of years back and it was absolutely jam packed. It turned out to be a holiday weekend, so check holidays.
thursdaysd is offline  
Nov 16th, 2017, 08:51 AM
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Yes, it's a fact, a lot of people (mostly Parisians) love the Southwest, so you will find it busy over any holiday and all summer long. So get used to it and plan accordingly.
Robert2016 is offline  
Nov 16th, 2017, 09:28 AM
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Take the La Rhune cog railway up the mountain. If you have the time and inclination, you can walk down, otherwise take the train down again. But you it will give some nice photo opportunities.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca...7627163616289/ and the next pictures
Michael is offline  
Nov 16th, 2017, 10:29 AM
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Michael, I love the photos!
MFNYC is offline  
Nov 16th, 2017, 03:29 PM
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One reason to stay in St-Jean-de-Luz if doing this which I had never heard of for some weird reason - Michael thanks for posting and photos.
PalenQ is offline  
Nov 16th, 2017, 03:49 PM
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Do not miss the French Basque villages in the foothills of the Pyrenees above St-Jean de Luz, not far from Hondaribbia.. Saré, Ascain, Ainhoa, Espellette, etc. Traditional villages, Basque architecture, pelota court in town centers. We visited them twice from Hondaribbia and would stay in one of these villages if we return. Beautiful Basque linens in Saré and famous peppers of Espellette, ground to a spice. Some of the most villages of France.
HappyTrvlr is online now  
Nov 16th, 2017, 05:52 PM
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We stayed in a rental apartment in Ciboure next to St Jean de Luz and loved it. Its location on the harbor was wonderful for watching fishing boats coming and going day and night. From there it was an easy drive to Espellette and some of the other French Basque villages. We also thought San Sebastián was a beautiful city and were sorry we only had budgeted one night there.
Candace is offline  
Nov 17th, 2017, 12:54 AM
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We stayed in Sare for a week in the first week of October last year and it was not overrun with tourists. I do have a report here -scroll through to the relevant week.
rhon is online now  
Feb 14th, 2019, 12:49 PM
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I'm bringing this thread back to life. I never did do this trip, but it's now coming back to life, most likely for late September/early October, so hopefully not too touristy.

I'm looking at flying into Barritz, and departing from Bilbao, for a total of 9 nights. We'll probably rent cars in each country (bus in between).

La Rhune cog railway looks great (thanks Michael for the photo link). Do we need to book that in advance, or can we just get tickets day of?

As far as accommodations, we tend to be "bang for your buck" travellers, and frequently stay in small hotels, or B&Bs. We like to keep our hotel budget at around $150 average, but willing to go a little higher if we have to. Location is really important to me, I like to have restaurants and maybe some shops within walking distance. Any recommendations for San Sebastian, Bilbao and the french side (maybe Bayonne, Ciboure, ???).. Also do we need a/c that time of the year?

Any recs on walking tours in any of these places as well, would be appreciated. We do like to walk, as much as 10 miles/day when on vacation.
MFNYC is offline  

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