Saint Jean de Luz Travel Guide, French Basque Country


Overview of Saint Jean de Luz, France

What was once the center for Basque corsairs in the 17th century has now become an easy going beach resort town. Saint Jean de Luz sits on a gentle, crescent-shaped bay with fine sand and has an old town that is filled with colorful timbered Basque houses. It is the perfect place for families or couples who are seeking to relax in the sun while experiencing the charm of a gone-by era.

Although Saint Jean de Luz is located a mere 20 minutes away from Biarritz and both are famous beach resorts, the atmosphere in St Jean de Luz is completely different, somehow more relaxed. It is busy but not overcrowded, beautiful but not overly luxurious. There are large beautiful Basque houses that form the old part of the town. Many of the buildings date back to the 17th century, a time when Saint Jean de Luz was one of the most important fishing ports of France.

The 17th century was also a time of transition in St Jean de Luz, when the main economic activity changed from fishing to what was essential piracy, when it became a base for Basque corsairs. These corsairs would hunt down France’s enemies at sea, looting and plundering them with the blessing of the French king. The corsairs were feared by both the British and the Spanish, who were the unwilling donors of the riches that were brought back to little Saint Jean de Luz. This was the golden age of the town and the wealth from that era can still be seen today.

It was also during the 17th century that the Treaty of the Pyrenees was signed on the nearby Pheasant Island, putting an end to a long conflict between France and Spain. As a result of that treaty, King Louis XIV of France married the King of Spain’s daughter, Maria Theresa, in St Jean de Luz in June 1660. This royal wedding is one of the most important political marriages in history. The fact that the marriage took place in St Jean de Luz is something that locals are still proud of today.


St Jean de Luz's Top Things to Do & See

Top Things to Do & See
We have hand-selected the best things to do and see in Saint Jean de Luz. Everything from the beach and its promenade to the Church of St. John Baptist – if it deals with Saint Jean de Luz tourism, we’ve got you covered.

The beach and its promenade

A gentle and relaxing bay.
Saint Jean de Luz Tourism
La Grande Plage
Things to Do in Saint Jean de Luz
Bay of Saint Jean de Luz

The main highlight of St Jean de Luz is, without a doubt, its beautiful beach and the promenade along it. The main beach is known simple as the “big beach” (“la grande plage” in French). It is a beautiful crescent-shaped beach that is protected from waves by three huge dikes, which makes it the perfect place for families with children. Furthermore, there are many activities and games that are hosted on shore.

A walk along the elevated promenade of the “big beach” is a must. There, it is possible to enjoy the beautiful views – the Cantabrian Sea on one side and the Basque architecture on the other. The houses that line the beach are probably the most iconic symbol of St Jean de Luz. Many of these houses are connected to the promenade via a bridge, which adds to their charm.

Moreover, “la grande plage” is not the only beach in town. There are actually four more sandy beaches that belong to the municipality of St Jean de Luz: Erromardi, Mayarco, Lafiténia and Cénitz. All of them are close to camp sites and are popular among surfers. If you are an expert surfer, you can head to Lafiténia, while if you are a beginner, Cénitz is probably a better choice.

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Grand Hôtel & Casino La Pergola

Symbols of the Belle Epoque.
Grand Hôtel, Saint Jean de Luz, France
Grand Hôtel

When walking along the beach promenade, there are two buildings that stand out. The first is the number icon Grand Hôtel. This majestic building from 1909 was constructed in neo-romantic style. Today, it is still a 5 star hotel with spa facilities (Loreamar Thalasso Spa), maintaining the atmosphere of the Belle Epoque.

Not so far and right in front of the water is the number icon Casino La Pergola that was built in art deco style. Apart from a casino, it also houses a hotel and spa (Hélianthal spa center).

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Grand Hôtel Loreamar Thalasso Spa
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Hélianthal Thalasso & Spa

Rue Gambetta

The street for shopping & eating.
Saint Jean de Luz Tourism
Rue Gambetta

The main pedestrian street in Saint Jean de Luz is called the Rue Gambetta. There you will find many stores, most of them cute boutiques selling chocolate & sweets, local produce, clothes and shoes.

Many stores sell what is referred to as “Linge Basque,” which are solid fabrics that feature brightly striped patterns. Linge Basque is a deep-rooted tradition from the Basque Country and there are several stores selling napkins, kitchen towels and other cotton and linen products.

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Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste

Setting of a historic wedding.
Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste - Saint Jean de Luz, France
Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste

The most important building on the Rue Gambetta is, without a doubt, the Church of St. John Baptist. It was built between the 15th and 17th centuries and is considered to be one of the most representative churches of the Basque Country.

Its austere exterior hides a large single nave that features a monumental baroque altarpiece from the 17th century. Typical from churches of the French Basque Country, wooden galleries stretch along the side and back walls of the building. These galleries were originally used by men attending mass, while women sat separately on the bottom level.

This church is especially important in St Jean de Luz because of the royal wedding of June 9th, 1660 between Louis XIV and Maria Theresa of Spain. The marriage is one of the most important political marriages in history and brought an end to a bitter war.

Although it is not proven, it has been said that the door the couple passed through was later bricked-up to represent the closing of the troubles between France and Spain.

10am - 12pm & 2pm - 6pm
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Place Louis XIV & Maison Louis XIV

The meeting point of the town.
Place Louis XIV & Maison Louis XIV - Saint Jean de Luz, France
Place Louis XIV & Maison Louis XIV

At the western most end of the Rue Gambetta is where the main square of the town, number icon Place Louis XIV can be found. The two most prominent buildings in the tree-lined square are the number icon town hall (“Mairie” in French) and the number icon Maison Louis XIV.

The maison is just one of the many homes, located between the church and the port, that was funded by the wealth brought back by Basque corsairs. It was built in 1643 by Johan de Lohobiague, a shipowner and mayor of Saint Jean de Luz. The Maison Louis XIV is of course named in honor of Louis XIV, who stayed in the house for 40 days while he waited for his bride, Maria Theresa to arrive from Spain.

The exterior of the maison is elegant and a good example of the style of the time. It is both symmetric and well proportionated. The interior decoration has a more traditional Basque style and gives visitors a view into the way rich families lived in Saint Jean de Luz during the 17th century.

In the summer, there are several restaurants with terraces in the Place Louis XIV. Artisans and painters also fill into the square, making for a very cozy atmosphere. Moreover, there is a music bandstand located in the middle of the square where traditional Basque music is often played.

Maison Louis XIV
July & August:
10:30am - 12:30pm & 2:30pm - 6:30pm
June, Sep-mid Oct:
11:30am, 3pm, 4pm & 5pm
Rest of the time: 11:30am, 3pm & 4pm
From the beginning of November to the beginning of April: closed
Adults: 7€
Children (12 to 18) & students: 4€
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Base of the Basque Corsairs.
Entry to the port via the Nivelle River, Saint Jean de Luz - France
Entry to the port via the Nivelle River
Port, Saint Jean de Luz - France
Port of Saint Jean de Luz
Rue de la Republique, Saint Jean de Luz - France
Rue de la Republique

From the Place Louis XIV, you can walk to the port, which is located right beside the square and where you can see fishing boats coming and going. Although difficult to imagine today, this was once one of France’s largest fishing ports.

In the past, fishermen lived in the surroundings of the port, such as the street called Rue de la Republique. Today, that street is lined with seafood restaurants and, if you want to eat seafood or fish, it is a great place to check out.

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Joanoenia, la Maison de l’Infante

A touch of Venice.
Maison de l’Infante - Saint Jean de Luz, France
Maison de l’Infante

Another elegant building from the 17th century is the Maison Joanoenia, which is named after the wealthy corsair, Joannot de Haraneder, who ordered its construction in 1640.

The Maison Joanoenia stands out in Saint Jean de Luz due to its style. Inspired by palaces in Venice, its facade is covered with pink bricks and adorned with golden stones. The building is located right next to the number icon port and has a watch tower from which the owner could see the movement of the ships.

The Maison Joanoenia is also known as the House of the Infanta (“Maison de l’Infante” in French) because the Infanta of Spain, Maria Teresa stayed there when she came to Saint Jean de Luz in 1660 to get married to Louis XIV.

Only a couple of rooms are open to the public (the visit time is estimated at 20 minutes). The building holds temporary exhibitions.
1st June to 15th October & 25th October to 11th November:
10:30am - 12:30pm & 2:30pm - 6:30pm
Sundays and monday morning:
Adults: €2.5
Children: €2

Market - Les Halles

The source for outstanding gastronomy.
Market, Saint Jean de Luz - France
Market of Saint Jean de Luz

The market of St Jean de Luz is very popular in the region and is open all year round, every day of the week. With the stands selling fish, horse meat, vegetables, baked goods and much more, it is the perfect place to discover the fresh ingredients that make the Basque gastronomy so famous.

There is always a nice atmosphere at the market, and the variety of local produce, such as cheese, is quite impressive. If you decide to try some cheese, look for the Ardi Gasna, which actually means “sheep cheese” in Basque. This is a typical cheese from the Nive Valley which is uncooked, pressed and matured for about 6 months before being sold.

Moreover, the market is surrounded by small bars with terraces.

Although a visit to this market is always recommended, if possible, visit on a Tuesday or a Friday since those are the busiest days with more local farmers gathering to sell their local produce.

Every day of the year: 6am - 1pm
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Where the most popular of Basque sports are played.
Trinquet Maitena, Saint Jean de Luz - France
Trinquet Maitena
Trinquet Maitena, Saint Jean de Luz - France
Game at Trinquet Maitena

Basque pelota is quite a popular sport in St Jean de Luz and is played by people of all ages. It has the status here equal to that of baseball in the US or cricket in the UK and it is typical for a dad or grandpa to take the children out to “hit the ball.”

Although there are several varieties of Basque pelota, the most common in St Jean de Luz are pelota mano, cesta punta and paleta.

July and August are some of the best months to catch a game of cesta punta. During this time, it is played every Tuesday and Thursday at 9 pm at the Jai Alai Fronton (located at Avenue André-Ithurralde). You can also ask at the Tourism Office for more information.

You may also see some locals playing while wandering through the town, since there are multiple frontons around. For example, the number icon Trinquet Maitena is a covered fronton located in the center of St Jean de Luz (at 42 Rue du Midi). The cool thing about the Trinquet Maitena is that there is also a normal bar attached to it and it is possible to grab a drink while watching locals play a game of pelota.

If you would like a more hands-on experience and want to try the sport out yourself, then St Jean de Luz also has you covered. Check out the following activities.

Introduction to Basque pelota
During the school holidays: Mondays and Thursdays at 10 am
Adults: €8
Children (8 - 12 years): €5
Registration: at the Tourism Office
Introduction to cesta punta
From late June to late August: Wednesdays & Fridays at 9:30am, 10:30am & 11:30am
Admission (min 8 years): €10
Registration: at the Tourism Office
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Ciboure & Fortress of Socoa

The other side of the river.
Fortress of Socoa, Ciboure - France
Fortress of Socoa
View of the dike from the Fortress of Socoa, Ciboure - France
View of the dike from the Fortress of Socoa
Lighthouse of Ciboure - France
Lighthouse of Ciboure

The bay on which St Jean de Luz sits is divided in two by the mouth of the Nivelle River. On the opposite side of St Jean de Luz, you find the town of Ciboure (“Ziburu” in Basque).

Ciboure is a nice town, smaller and quieter than its neighbor across the river. It also has a couple of sandy beaches. At the end of the bay stands the Fortress of Socoa (“Fort de Socoa” in French).

The Fortress was originally built by Louis XIII at the beginning of the 17th century to protect the port of Ciboure from Spanish invaders. It was destroyed and rebuilt many times during the Spanish and British occupations. However, in some ways this adds to the buildings appeal, since it is responsible for the mixture of different military architecture styles.

Although the building itself is closed and is actually starting to fall apart, it still has a lot of charm. You can walk around it, admire the building itself and imagine the battles that took place there. It is also a great place to enjoy the nice views of the bay, the waves breaking against the Socoa dike and the Basque coast where flysch rock formations can be seen.

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Hotels in Saint Jean de Luz

Hotels in Saint Jean de Luz

Local Products & Local Dishes

Local Products & Local Dishes

Fish & Seafood

Saint Jean de Luz, like the rest of the Basque Country, has high quality local produce and cuisine. The town is of course located next to the ocean, and it is no surprise that the fish and seafood are both fresh and delicious. A very typical and special dish from St Jean de Luz is the ttoro (fish soup). However, this is not the only speciality in town.

Other dishes include tuna fish cooked the luzienne way, koskera hake and grilled sardines.

One of the most famous seafood & fish restaurants, number icon Chez Mattin, is located just across the river in Ciboure. Their signature dish is ttoro.

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As in the rest of the French Basque Country, Basque Cake (“gâteau basque” in French) is also very popular in St Jean de Luz. However, the most typical sweets are macarons.

Macarons are a special type of cookie, made of almonds, egg and sugar. Their history can be traced back all the way to 1160 when Mr. Adam of St Jean de Luz first began making them. Later in the 17th century, the Infanta Maria Theresa gave some macarons to his husband Louis XIV, who loved them and after that, macarons became very popular among the bourgeoisie. Their popularity has lasted throughout the centuries and continues even until today.

The patisserie Adam, called “Maison Adam,” still exists and can be found at 49 Rue Gambetta and 4-6 Place Louis XIV. The recipe used at Maison Adam remains a secret, passed from father to son since the 12th century.

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Get In & Around

Get In & Around

Once you are in Saint Jean de Luz, most places are reachable by foot. However, it may be useful to know that there is a shuttle bus, called Hegobus, that connects Saint Jean de Luz with the neighbor town of Ciboure all year around. The ticket costs €1.

During summer, there is also a free shuttle that connects the parking lots in the outskirts of the town with the center. From the beginning of July to the end of August, from 8:45 am to 8:30 pm there are two bus lines every 30 minutes: one leaving from the parking Chantaco (road d’Ascain) and the other one leaving from the parking Parc des Sports (for the visitors arriving from Bayonne or Biarritz).

Arriving to St Jean de Luz

PLANE – There are two airports located less than 20 minutes drive from Saint Jean de Luz. The airport of Biarritz is 15 km away. From there, you can take a taxi to Saint Jean de Luz (around €35) or take the bus 816 from the company transports64 interurbains, which connects the airport with the city center.

The next closest airports are the one of San Sebastián/Hondarribia (20 km away) and the one of Bilbao is (130 km away).

CAR – Saint Jean de Luz is only 20 minutes away from Biarritz and 30 from San Sebastián. It is located right off the highway A-63. Also, the road D-810 (previously called N-10) crosses the city.

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BUS – The bus companies ATCRB, Ouibus and Basque Bondissant connect St. Jean de Luz with the neighbor towns of the coast such as Bayonne, Biarritz or Hendaye as well as other towns in the interior such as Sare.

TRAIN – There is a train station shared by Saint Jean de Luz and Ciboure. Although the station is quite small, a lot of train lines stop at it. A few worth mentioning are the train line SNCF Bordeaux - Irun and the high speed train line TGV from Paris to Madrid (5 a day).

Other Places of Interest in the Surroundings

In the Surroundings

Map – Things to Do in Saint Jean de Luz

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