Charming Villages in Basque Country

Basque Country - known as the Pays Basque in French - is full of a certain charm that can't be found anywhere else. In the southwestern most point of France, this region offers an amazing view of the ocean and the Pyrénées from its mountains. Get to know the locals, who are proud of their language and culture; watch a pelota ball match from a village pediment; enjoy grilled calamari and Basque cakes on a sunny terrace. French Basque Country is waiting for you.

Espelette, the World Capital of Peppers

The village of Espelette is located at the foot of the Pyrénées mountains, just twenty minutes from the Atlantic Coast. Its postcard-like setting makes a visit irrisistable. In just a few steps you can appreciate the little streets, its white houses with red wood timbering, façades decorated with vines of red peppers glistening in the sun, its church, its recently-restored château, its outdoor bath and the reassuring silhouette of Mont Mondarrain on the horizon. It's here that the famous Espelette peppers are produced, a flavorful spice that's known phenomenal success in recent years. A key ingredient in Basque cooking, it seasons everyday local dishes as well as refined menus of the world's top chefs.

Guéthary, the Little Coastal Gem

The smallest village on the Basque coast has developed a reputation as a great beach destinaton over the past few years, while still preserving its authenticity and its traditional charm. A point of departure for whale hunters in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and thereafter a haven for writers and artists, Guéthary is a truly Basque seaside village. Life is pleasant, between surf sessions, pelota ball parties, contemporary art exhibits in the village's museum and walks towards the local port, full of colorful boats.

Ainhoa, an Authentically Basque Village

Officially classified on France's list of Most Beautiful Villages, Ainhoa is a one-street village surrounded by hills, established in the Middle Ages to welcome pilgrims along the Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle route. Its main street is bordered by a pelota court, a fourteenth century church, disc-shaped headstones and a series of maghnificent red-timber-framed Labourdine houses. Aihoa is a great departure point for different hiking paths of the nearby mountain. It is also the last French village before crossing the Spanish boarder into Dancharia.

By Christine Vignau Balency

Pays basque