Blog I Good Travel

Saint Jean Pied de Port, France

Out and about in south-west France

A guest contribution by Janna Schwanemann

Bathing fun and long walks on the beach, hiking in the pristine mountain landscape, strolling through lively, colorful streets - all of this is possible in south-west France. In contrast to Provence or Brittany, the area on the border with Spain is still little developed for tourism and is therefore an insider tip. But anyone who thinks that the French province at the foot of the Pyrenees has nothing to offer is wrong: The Béarn and the neighboring French Basque Country are bursting with lively culture and breathtaking nature that are just waiting to be experienced.

Far away from the usual tourist routes

The Béarn, which is little known except for the nickname in the “Sauce béarnaise”, represents the center of the southwest, so to speak. From here, various excursions in all directions can be undertaken within one to two hours. A good starting point is the city of Pau, which can also be easily reached by train from Germany via Paris and offers opportunities to rent a car. Due to its proximity to the Pyrenees passes, Pau opens up a view of the extensive Pau mountain range and is often one of the stage towns of the Tour de France. The castle, the birthplace of King Henry IV, is also worth seeing and the many small boutiques, cafés and brasseries invite you to linger.

If you don't want to spend the night in the city, but a bit more quietly, you can go to Château d'Orion. In the middle of one of the gently green hills at the foot of the Pyrenees lies the charming country castle from the 17th century, which is run by a German family. Today the house not only accommodates travelers from all over the world, but is also a cultural center with events such as readings and concerts as well as the regularly held seminars, so-called "thinking weeks", with changing topics and speakers. Here tradition and modernity, spirit and enjoyment are combined: for example, over a lovingly prepared lunch made from ingredients that have grown in their own garden, people like to have lively discussions about philosophy, politics or a successful life. If you are in the mood for relaxation, you should join the castle dog Téo and take a nap in the shade under the 250-year-old plane tree.

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Try spicy cheese in the market square

The authentically French communities of Salies-de-Béarn and Sauveterre-de-Béarn are only ten minutes away. The former has a historic thermal bath and every Thursday the small market square is filled with stalls by local producers who sell colorful vegetables, spicy cheese or fragrant pastries. On the other days of the week, for example, these things can be bought in the “Épicerie Sans Fin” in Sauveterre-de-Béarn. The medieval town is rich in history, which can be explored in the Monreal tower, among other places. Right next to it, a long stone staircase leads down to the river Gave d'Oloron, whose crystal clear water is the best way to cool off on hot summer days. Named after Sauveterre's landmark - a stone bridge that ends halfway - the pretty restaurant “La Legende” offers the opportunity to enjoy legendary wines and delicacies from sustainable agriculture in the immediate vicinity. The Parisian cook Laura and her friend and sommelier Alistair were fed up with the anonymity of the big city and now spoil their guests in a cozy atmosphere with an open kitchen area.

If you drive a little further south, the landscape quickly becomes hilly and the houses change their appearance from natural stone to white plaster with the typical Basque blood-red half-timbering. A trip to Ahusquy is particularly recommended. The way there leads through a dense forest and over meadows with free grazing horses, goats and cows, wild thyme along the way, circling vultures in the air and untouched mountain landscape as far as the eye can see. Once at the top, it is best to park your car and hike a little. On the other side, at the foot of the mountain, the wonderful sweet temptations of the traditional Chocolaterie Laia await in the sleepy village of Saint-Étienne-de-Baïgorry. The neighboring town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is livelier. This is the last meeting point for the pilgrims of St. James before they set off across the Pyrenees. In summer, numerous tourists cavort in the small streets and souvenir shops; The low season is better suited for a walk over the rustic cobblestones and along the old fortress wall.


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In the bays you can find a quiet spot even in the high season

But the southwest can boast not only with mountains, but also with the sea. If the Basque coastline from Saint-Jean-de-Luz to Biarritz is rather rocky with individual bays, the Landais beaches extend further north for over 200 kilometers. One of the most beautiful Atlantic access points in Europe is the extensive beach in Seignosse. White, fine-grain sand as far as the eye can see and turquoise water with wild waves that cast a spell over surfers from all over the world. While towel after towel is lined up in many Mediterranean bays, everyone will find a quiet place to themselves, even in high season.

Those who like to go swimming also combine a city trip, go to Biarritz. During the Belle Époque it was a glamorous seaside resort popular with numerous royal families and one of the capital cities of Charleston in the 1920s, today the city is primarily a surfing stronghold, although it has hardly lost any of its former charm. You can also take a wonderful stroll in the alternative, colorful neighboring town of Bayonne, in San Sebastian or Bilbao just across the Spanish border, in Toulouse and Bordeaux. For the latter, you should take a little more time to capture their flair.

The region wants to be opened up, felt and explored

Southwest France is not a holiday destination that is served on a platter in easily digestible, nicely arranged snacks - rather, it wants to be explored, felt and explored. The little effort is the price for such untouched, fabulous nature, unvarnished culture and pure hospitality that you can hardly experience anywhere else in France.

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