Basque is best: Four stops in France that are a must-see

It is no small coincidence that travelers, when asked their favorite destination, all reply the southwestern coast of France. There are many reasons the region possesses much appeal. Cannes, St. Jean de Luz, San Sebastian (technically a part of Spain, but still considered part of the Pays Basque), and Biarritz are a few of the multifaceted cities to take an interest in.

First stop, Cannes, home to one of the world’s most prestigious film festivals. Travel Channel calls it “The jewel in France’s crown.” According to Yahoo Travel, Cannes enjoys both a glittery image of yachts, glamorous events, and exclusive hotels, but also boasts public appeal with seaside resorts away from the hubbub. Todd Sheffer, a veteran who spent much time abroad, made a visit to Cannes, and declares it a favorite destination. He calls it “France’s LA.” Nearby Cannes is a high-tech center similar to Silicon Valley. Cannes caters to adults, with its many casinos and surplus of bars and inexpensive wine. Meals are expensive, but the dining is exquisite. If you’re driving a rental car, you may want to stop by the artichoke fields or vineyards. You may also dine in castles, or visit one of the many perfumeries.  There’s no doubt that a trip to Cannes might put a small hole in your pocket, but it is well worth saving.

Patricia Lopez, who lived in France for a year, describes St. Jean de Luz as “A sleepy fishing community.” St. Jean is a diverse and historic city that combines both French and Spanish culture. While it doesn’t sound too thrilling, St. Jean de Luz has a lot to offer. Predominantly, St. Jean is used by Germans and English as a getaway. The small town is little known to Americans. The appeal of St. Jean lies in the fact that there are not many hotels, and rather than feeling like a tourist, you feel like a local.

Lopez describes the town as perfectly situated. “Your front yard is the beach and your backyard is the Pyrenees Mountains.” The best way to get around is by walking, taxi, or train. Most of the locals do not have need for a car. St. Jean is great for families. Although Lopez adds, “You’re not going to experience a lot of nightlife,” it’s a perfect location for outdoorsy people who love hiking and fishing. If you aren’t the outdoorsman, the small shops and boutiques are fairly inexpensive and there are cafes everywhere to enjoy fresh seafood. The people are warm and friendly, making it a perfect place to relax.

Third stop, San Sebastian, technically a city in Spain, but still considered to be a part of the Basque region. Travel Channel declares San Sebastian to be “Europe’s most beautiful urban beach, backed by a dining scene that’s the stuff of any foodie’s fantasies, the seaside resort city of San Sebastian appeals to the most decadent senses.” Popular tapas bars line the wide streets of this metropolis. Two beaches, La Concha, and La Zurriola, are the main attraction.

At the base of Mount Igeldo is another beach. The lush headland has a long trail that tourists can walk. You can count on a day’s worth of exercise, hiking up the stairs, but the view is well worth it. While standing next to a large statue of Saint Sebastian, you overlook the entire city. Lopez describes it as “Very religious, but with a pretty good nightlife. You can take a beautiful drive along the coast, which is nice, especially for those who feel the need for speed.” San Sebastian is a prime location for the young, and the young at heart.

One of the most popular southern cities is Biarritz, a surf community with beautiful, young people and a thriving nightlife. The prestige of Biarritz means more tourism. Yahoo Travel calls it “The Monte Carlo of the Atlantic coast.” In the nineteenth century, Biarritz was home to monarchs and aristocrats. In the 1960s it fell into a slump with the rising popularity of the Cote d’Azur. The town was rediscovered by surfers and Parisians, and once again rose to fame.

Travel Channel notes that during the winter months pensioners populate Biarritz, but come summer, the beach bustles with “topless supermodel types.” The Biarritz Surf Festival is a huge event in July. Runners dominate the long promenade while others enjoy the rejuvenating salt-water therapy offered by most of the resorts.

 Pays Basque appeals to everyone, whether old or young, rich or poor.  Cannes, St. Jean de Luz, San Sebastian, and Biarritz are just four of the many cities that are worth visiting. There’s always something to do and interesting people to meet. The culture is fascinating and the scenery is nearly indescribable.

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Basque is best: Four stops in France that are a must-see