Getting Oriented

This is the southwesternmost corner of France's sprawling "Southwest." The rolling hills of the Basque provinces stretch from the Atlantic beaches of glittering Biarritz to the first Pyrenean heights: the hills and highlands of Gascony around the city of Pau. These are mere stepping-stones compared to the peaks of the Hautes-Pyrénées, which lie to the east and sit in the center of the towering barrier historically separating the Iberian Peninsula from continental Europe.

  • The Basque Coast. Colorful villages and golden-sand beaches punctuated with brightly painted fishing boats keep your eyes busy with their competing palettes on the lush Basque Coast, where world-class chefs make the most of local produce. Bayonne as the graceful French provincial city, Biarritz as the imperial beach domain, and St-Jean-de-Luz as the vibrant fishing port all play their parts to perfection along this southwestern coastline backed by the soft green pastures of the Basque hills.
  • The Atlantic Pyrénées and Gascony. From the first important height at La Rhune, towering 2,969 feet over the edge of the Atlantic, the Basque Pyrénées rise eastward through picturesque valleys and villages to the Iparla Ridge above Bidarrai and the range's first major peak, the 6,617-foot Orhi. The hills cosset cozy villages like Sare and Ainhoa. Colorful architecture and flower-festooned balconies help preserve St-Jean-Pied-de-Port's charm. Gateway to the Pyrénées, Pau is the most culturally vibrant city in Gascony, with elegant hôtels particuliers and a royal château.
  • The Hautes-Pyrénées. The Hautes-Pyrénées include the most spectacular natural wonders in the cordillera. Although mountains soar in this region, making travel difficult, the area has always attracted cultural luminaries including Victor Hugo, Montaigne, and Rossini, who came to marvel at the Cirque de Gavarnie, a natural mountain amphitheater. Millions of others are lured here by the healing holy waters of Lourdes.

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