This past summer, I enjoyed a fabulous summer holiday to France’s Basque region (Pays basque). It was my first visit to this corner of southwestern France, bordering the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the border of Spain to the south.
It was easy to fill my three weeks here with interesting places to visit, even if the weather didn’t always cooperate.
One of the activities on my must-do checklist was to follow the 25-kilometer sentier littoral (coastal path) that follows the coast from Bidart-Guéthary all the way down to France’s last outpost before the Spanish border – Hendaye.
We were incredibly lucky to enjoy beautiful weather on the day we undertook this hike. This isn’t a given in the region, where weather conditions can change rapidly, but on our day we enjoyed sunny skies and warm temperatures, but often with gentle sea breezes.
The path is well-marked with yellow trail markings and – when it cuts through towns- clear indications for the sentier littoral. We already knew the round-trip 14 km path between Guéthary and neighboring Saint Jean-de-Luz, which we’d already taken, so this part of the journey was familiar.
The path itself has quite a few ups and downs, but it is relatively easy – just ensure you have good walking shoes … and take water along with you.
The path takes you through the towns of Saint Jean-de-Luz (where King Louis XIV married), Ciboure (where the composer Ravel was born and where Matisse spent time painting), Socoa, and finally on to Hendaye.
The views over the coastline are breathtaking, and we took many opportunities to pause and enjoy the surroundings. In the distance, you can see the Spanish coast, and we enjoyed watching it appear closer and closer, as our point of departure shrank in the distance.
We finally reached Hendaye, with legs pleasantly sore and our stomachs grumbling and eager to sit down for a hearty lunch. We stopped off at the extremely helpful tourist information office to get information on the return voyage.
As enjoyable as the walk was, we had no intention of making a round-trip for a total of 50 kilometers in one day. Sadly, on a Sunday, the choice of buses and trains were far fewer than we imagined, so we had to shorten our trip and come back with a train earlier than we would have liked.
This meant that we had to give up our plans to take the ferry over to the Spanish side to enjoy a walk in Hondarribia – only a fifteen minute ferry ride away, with frequent ferries departing from Hendaye’s port. That will have to be for next time.
Instead, we cooled off and relaxed our sore muscles with a pleasant swim in the gentle waves off Hendaye’s long, sandy beach. As we packed up to get to the train station, we had a great time watching high tide transform the Hendaye beach, the waves devouring all that golden sand as the water reached the rock barrier reaching up to the promenade.
We took our last (brief) hike of the day – up to the train station where we caught the evening’s last train up to Guéthary.
Needless to say, the quick train ride back was much easier than the 25-kilometer hike, but like my youngest son, who never shies away from an athletic challenge, there was a part of me that wanted to make the return hike and enjoy the full 50-kilometers of that Basque trail.
That will also be for next time.
When you’re in the Pays Basque, be sure to pack along your trekking shoes and enjoy the spectacular views as you hike the length of the French Basque Country all the way to Spain. Happy hiking!