Revisiting St Jean de Luz in France’s Basque Country
devoured finished all the sweets I brought back from France’s Basque country, I am now savoring each and every one of my hundreds of photos taken during my recent trip there. And already planning my next trip back. So many villages visited (Aïnhoa, Espelette, St Jean Pied de Port, Itxassou, Sare…), many that I can’t wait to revisit, and yet so many more to discover (Guéthary, St Pée sur Nivelle, Bidart, St Etienne de Baigorry…). My favorite, which will always be on the list, no matter how many times I’ve been back… is St Jean de Luz.
Right at the border with Spain, St Jean de Luz lies on the Bay of Biscay on France’s Atlantic Coast. For me, no trip to the Pays Basque would be complete without a stop there. As well as a visit to its fantastic covered market, especially on Tuesday and Saturday mornings, when the stalls are spilling out on to the sidewalks, and there is hardly a space unmanned by a passionate vendor, selling his or her seasonal produce or homemade Gâteau Basque with a smile and a story or two. Around every corner, there are men in black berets, the colors of the Basque flag (red, green and white) and the makings of an outrageous picnic to take to the beach, port or shady square. (Just don’t forget some of this for your picnic !)
Walking around the market with my family became quite a challenge; losing them among the overflowing crates of tempting produce happened on more than one occasion. It was always easiest to locate my husband… predictably found chatting with the fromagers, tasting various ages of the region’s renowned sheep’s milk cheese (to pair perfectly with the black cherry jam that I was busy tasting). I joined him and even tried a local cheese with a crust made from the famous Espelette pepper (below, bottom left). Who says this pepper isn’t spicy ?! Piment d’Espelette also showed up in my favorite salted butter by Breton Jean Yves Bordier, sold at Maison Adam (above left).
There are so many things to love about St Jean de Luz – and I don’t just mean Maison Adam’s macarons and Pariès’ caramels. The charming and impeccably clean streets, colorful fishing boats lined up at the port, endless shops with 101 options for espadrilles and Basque striped linens, as well as surfing shops and restaurants tempting you inside with their daily specials of freshly caught fish and seafood, especially hake, sea bream, chipirones and tuna (anyone go to the annual Fête du Thon on July 9th ?).
Indecisive shoppers, you have been warned:
While the rain continues to fall and summer is often hiding behind the clouds here in Zürich, I’ll continue to revisit the beach in St Jean de Luz, photo by photo, until I can once again feel the sand beneath my feet, with picnic basket in hand, slice into a Gâteau Basque or unwrap a Pariès caramel. Then head back into town to a fronton (court) to watch a game of pelota (euskal pilota), roam the streets searching for more Basque sweets to bring home to Switzerland, and start the process all over again…