Beautiful Basque Country: Enjoying the Charms of Saint Jean de Luz - Al Fresco Holidays
The town of Saint Jean de Luz, nestled on the South West Coast of France and deep within Basque country, is one of the most idyllic coastal locations for a family holiday.
The quaint fishing port, which remains very much a working port to this day, and the distant peaks of the Pyrenees, serve as a picturesque backdrop for the sparkling Atlantic waters and long stretches of golden sand that make up the beach itself; and the warm ochre and stone buildings that line the seafront are refreshingly traditional in style.
In fact, despite its popularity with holiday-makers, Saint Jean de Luz has remained refreshingly true to its roots, and the taint of mass tourism has, to date, not affected the region. It’s the ideal place to go with the family, and offers a huge amount of local interest and fascinating sights, in addition to the impressive beach.
What to Expect in Saint Jean de Luz
Saint Jean de Luz is definitely a location for the whole family to enjoy. One of the most appealing aspects about the town is that it boasts five beaches, each with its own distinct personality.
The Grand Plage (main beach) is a firm favourite for families with young children, and three sea walls ensure that the waters are relatively calm throughout the year, making it perfect for little paddlers! It’s impressively sized, which means you’re sure to find a spot to stay for the day, regardless of the time of year.
The other beaches are all within walking distance, and keen surfers will want to head to the Plage de Lafiténia, which offers plenty of huge, crashing waves. Beginners may want to head to the Plage de Cénitz, where the waves are a little easier going.
Saint Jean de Luz is also excellent for golfers, and has eight golf courses in the vicinity, suitable for either complete novices or seasoned golfing experts.
There are plenty of bars and restaurants in the area, and it’s highly recommended to sample some of the traditional Basque dishes during your stay, especially the freshly caught fish, grilled over hot coals, which is delicious!
Some of Saint Jean de Luz’s Most Interesting Sights
Saint Jean de Luz has a rich and interesting history; it enjoyed considerable wealth in the 16th century thanks to its fishing port (not to mention a little bit of piracy, which was backed by the king himself!). As a result, there are plenty of historical attractions in the area to explore on the days when you’re looking for a break from the beach.
The Church of St John the Baptist
This is the town’s most famous attraction, mainly due to the fact that Louis XIV married Marie Thérèse of Spain here, in 1660. It’s an excellent example of a typically Basque church, and was originally constructed in the 15th century. The heavily gilded 17th-century altar is particularly impressive, and whilst there, make sure you locate the blocked up door on one of the external walls of the church. This was blocked after Louis XIV’s wedding, to ensure that nobody could ever enter through the door which they themselves had left the church by!
Maison Louis XIV
This fascinating, well-preserved 17th-century house, where Louis XIV stayed before his wedding, offers a vivid insight into life at the time in Saint Jean de Luz. Tours of the house are available, and visitors can see the rooms brought to life with wax models and displays.
Ecomusee Basque Jean-Vier
Situated on the outskirts of Saint Jean de Luz, the Ecomusee is an excellent museum, which provides a detailed and informative history of Basque tradition, including the cuisine, music, dancing and clothing. An English guided tour is available, and there are 3D videos to keep younger guests entertained. On site, there is also a shop selling some of the traditional linens of the area, which make the perfect souvenir to take home.
Maison de l’Infante Joanoenia
The beautiful 17th-century house, with uninterrupted views of the pretty harbour below, is most famous for having once housed Louis XIV’s child bride before her wedding day. Now, the house is used to house various art exhibitions.
Where to Stay?
As you might expect, there is a wealth of choice for travellers looking for somewhere to stay in the region, though if you are travelling with children, it’s recommended to stay somewhere that offers a lot of freedom. The Yelloh! Village Ilbarritz provides an excellent location, close to Saint Jean de Luz, and also only a kilometre outside the surfing mecca of Biarritz. It has an impressive swimming pool with water-slide, play area and entertainment running throughout the year, making it an excellent place to return to after a day spent enjoying the atmosphere at Saint Jean de Luz.