Monday, 10 December 2012

The French Basque Country: Saint Jean De Luz #travelblogger #travel #France

The only sign that we had crossed the border into France came from all the phones on the bus. A chorus of beeps and tunes rang out as we all received notifications that our phones were now operating on different mobile phone networks. The scenery was still green and hilly, the weather was still wet and grey. Not long after at around 9:30, we arrived into a small town, our first destination of the day. Saint Jean De Luz. If it hadn't been for the signs in French, I might not have believed that I'd left the country at all for of course I was still very much in the Basque Country. Or Euskadi Norte (North Basque Country)

Saint Jean de luz, French Basque Country, Plane trees

The typical Basque architecture was everywhere - white houses with exposed stone edgings, red or green frames and shutters topped with reddish brown slates on the roof. The other familiar feature were the trees, the knobbly and misshapen Plane trees which fascinated me so much when I first arrived in Getxo. In the summer, these sycamores look pretty normal but in the winter they are 'pollarded' (heavily pruned) in order to keep them at a reasonable height. (as a side note I met an American artist on the bus who read a passage to us about the trees and this can be found along with more information on this blog:

Brioche, French coffee, saint jean de luz, san juan de luz, French Basque country

With my two new friends, Rachel from New York City and Elena from Munich, we headed straight for a cute cafe-cum-chocolate shop where I enjoyed a cup of coffee and a large slice of a fruity and nutty Brioche which was delicious. With our energy renewed we set off to the port and decided to walk along the promenade and along the beach front. The Port was part of a dramatic event during World War Two when locals helped the Polish Army and refugees escape on to two large ships which had docked in the harbour. A large stone memorial commemorates this event. The river feeds into the port area and in the distance you can see hills and mountains so it reminded me a lot of a smaller and older version of Getxo. 
Saint Jean De Luz, San Juan de Luz, Port, world war two, dramatic event, polish army

We followed the water round before climbing some stares and then collectively gasped. We hadn't known quite what to expect when we went up and were now greeted with the sight of a lovely beach and blue skies which contrasted with the grey cloudy skies over the port area. We walked the length of the beach and up to a green park on the far West corner of the beach, which had a nice look out point. The Atlantic ocean was truly battering the cliffs next to us but it was really nice to get some sea air.

Saint Jean de luz, san juan de luz, beach, playa, plage, French Basque Country, Pays Basque, France

In the town, we noticed a lot of little shops and cafes were closed which was a little frustrating as we'd hoped to kill some time in the shops. Later we asked someone who said this was normal for a Saturday in this town. The main shopping streets boasted independent delicatessens, chocolatier's, touristy souvineer shops, flower stalls, kitch gift shops, tiny art galleries and various cafes. Some of them were open on the main stretch and I was able to do a bit of Christmas shopping. The independent shops, combined with the Basque architecture and the delightful Christmas decorations in the street and I was won over by this charming albeit sleepy little town. I'd like to come back and do a proper coastal hike as we could see another part of the town to the East and a different beach in the distance with a pretty looking headland. 

foie gras, French Basque Country, French Deli, Pays Basque, Saint Jean De Luz, San Juan de luz

Something that really struck me about Saint Jean De Luz was the amount of products on display proudly labeled 'Pays Basque'. Even in the little supermarket, I noticed various flavours of 'Pays Basque Pate' among the more common brands. In Bilbao, I've seen a few shops that sell products from the Basque Country for tourists but I never usually notice it in the widespread way I did in this town. In an art shop, I purchased a gorgeous Basque Country poster and in the deli's, lots of the meat and cheese on display was from the Basque Country. I think it might actually have been the one of the most Basque places I've been to in fact, but from the patisseries to the slightly rude customer service, there was a decidedly French feel as well.

San Juan De Luz, Saint Jean de Luz, Pays Basque, The French Basque Country,

To be continued...