Our5 essentials

In red and white

At the foot of the mountains and 25 kilometres from the Basque coastline, the typical village of Espelette intrigues holidaymakers who come for walks there: alleyways comprised of red and white houses, proudly display garlands of red peppers, which hang on their façades. Open a shop door to sample chocolate with Espelette pepper (either with confectionery or desserts)…a real delight!

Detour off any given road and you will be certain to pass players of Basque pelota. Feel free to stop for a few moments to understand the rules of this game, which is a feature of the south-west of France. Take a few photos outside the former feudal château which is today the town hall, and if you wish to learn more about the history of peppers worldwide, the establishment houses a permanent exhibition on the subject.

Slow Train

Climb aboard a rack-railway train dating from 1924 to link the Sainte Ignace Pass to the summit of the Rhune, reaching its highest point at 1,000 metres. Its typical wooden wagons with large windows, enable you to enjoy an exceptional panorama during the ascent. Once you have arrived, you have to do no more than make the most of the view over the Basque coast, the Pyrenees mountain range and the Bidassoa valley. On the slopes of the massifs you even risk glimpsing the Pottoks (a semi-feral breed of Basque pony), the Manech red-head sheep and even tawny vultures. Get out your cameras!

It is possible to climb the pass on foot in 2 hours 30 minutes for the most athletic amongst you, and to come back down by train. Think to take a jumper as, at the top, the air is fresher and the mist often hangs in the air. A final piece of advice, when you book your tickets online pay great attention to the weather, as the tickets are non-refundable and non-exchangeable.

Natural wonder

Once you have braved the steep footpaths, punctuated with climbs and descents, it will only remain for you to cross the stone bridge and climb the 241 steps hollowed into the flank of the rock to reach the summit of the wild island. Legend has it that every visitor to climb the crest should ring the bell 3 times and make a wish.

Nestling at the very top, San Juan church is only open in July and August and for some annual celebrations. Perhaps you won’t have the opportunity to go inside, but the sight of the waves breaking on the cliffs is likely to delight you in equal measure. At low tide, the sea steals away, allowing the appearance of the sculptured rocks which run alongside the island. If yours is a good memory, Game of Thrones enthusiasts may well recognise images from season 7.

A real treat!

At the end of the day tapas is served! To choose a bar where you can enjoy these Basque specialities, nothing could be simpler: if you pass an empty bar flee! If, on the contrary, the bar is full then you can return - with your eyes closed! The ideal thing is to start your “tapas tour” in the old town, for the delight of both your eyes and your stomach.

Accompanied by a glass of sangria, only order a few pintxos (small individual snacks) during your first stop. This will enable you to try out other bars during the evening. We recommend that you try specialities of the town based around anchovies, brochettes de gambas (prawn brochettes), a “ration” of mushroom risotto, and do not miss the langoustine ravioli from Borda Berri.

Into the Wild

The 4-kilometre return hike takes you into the depths of the forest, offering you a magical landscape, slightly beyond reality. The journey is scattered with footbridges built alongside the rock, themselves several metres high. You will also pass through a tunnel hollowed out within a mountain which is not lit up, therefore do not forget to hold onto the guardrail to guide you.

All along the route, you will be able to contemplate superb natural pools of crystalline water. Towards the end of the footpath, you will find yourself face to face with a vast waterfall 20 metres high, which gushes forth from a mysterious cavity hollowed into the rock face. A little further on, the lake cave offers you an astonishing sight, comprised of stalagmites and stalactites.

The small +


Having a length of 54 kilometres, the Coastline footpath covers the Basque coast from Bidart to San Sébastian via Saint Jean de Luz. A friendly word of advice, walk in the Guétary-Hendaye direction, as the panorama is even more amazing. For the return leg, waste no time in taking the train or the bus, as 54 kilometres wears out your trainers!

The Pays Basque (Basque Country) it’s:

170producersof Espelette red peppers
20,974metres squaredof Franco-Spanish territory
150kilometresof wild coast

And if this were your nextBest holiday memory?