A trip to pretty Saint-Jean-de-Luz can combine a swim in the calm ocean waters, cultural visits to the homes of former kings and meals of traditional Basque food with local cider.
Located at the mouth of the River Nivelle and set beneath the green Pyrenean foothills, Saint-Jean-de-Luz has the beaches, restaurants and charming authenticity expected from all towns on this coast. It somehow avoided the heavy tourism of other resorts farther north.
The town is one of France’s busiest fisheries. Look for colorful boats coming into the large natural harbor every morning and evening. Get up early and watch fishermen bring their catch ashore or join one of the crews on a deep-sea fishing trip. These run throughout the summer and leave from the port.
On shore, relax on the golden sands of St.-Jean-de-Luz Beach. It is the most protected bay on the coast, making it a great spot for a gentle swim.
The town is small enough that it can easily be covered on foot in an hour or 2. Walk along the charming streets and you’ll see why King Louis XIV decided to make Saint-Jean-de-Luz his temporary home before his marriage to Maria Teresa of Spain. Find out more about his stay with a visit to Maison Louis XIV near the port. Inside, examine the fine 17th-century artwork and antique furniture in many of the rooms. Nearby is the Maison de l’Infante, the former temporary home of Louis’s future wife. Admire the building’s brick and stone exterior and step inside to view oil paintings and rare jewelry.
Just east of the two mansions is France’s largest Basque church, the Church of St. John the Baptist. The façade is fairly simple but the interior features exquisite Baroque design. Marvel at the grand altar where Louis and Teresa married in 1660.
Stroll along the seafront to find the best of the town’s restaurants. Unsurprisingly, the menus are heavily seafood oriented. You’ll find other Basque specialties, such as stewed lamb, too.
The proximity of the snow-covered Pyrenees means that winters in Saint-Jean-de-Luz can be wet. Expect warm, sunny days from March until October.