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Bayonne A City That Tastes of Chocolate and Ham

Bayonne, capital of the French Basque Country, is one of the most surprising cities in the new French region of Aquitaine-Lemosín-Poitou-Charentes. Basque from head to toe, this city located at the confluence of the rivers Nive and Adour is well worth strolling through, as you will discover buildings that stand out for their colourful facades and traditional half-timbering. This reveals the Basque influence and indeed Bayonne is part of the historical territory of Labourd – Lapurdi, in Basque. One of the most widely visited spots in the city is the Basque Museum, which features one of the most important ethnographic collections in southern France. Their culture is present in some local businesses, such as the shops selling typical Basque fabric, in such sports as pelota – very popular among the Bayonnais – and in the language, as French and Basque coexist in Bayonne.

Bayonne, in the department of Pyrénées-Atlantiques, has long been unjustly upstaged by the thermal baths and glitter of neighbouring Biarritz, located less than 10 kilometres away. The historic centre of this locality in Aquitaine is made up of three quarters – Grand Bayonne, Petit Bayonne and Saint-Esprit. Prominent in the first of these is the Cathedral of Sainte-Marie de Bayonne, with its wonderful 13th-century cloister, the Château-Vieux (Old Castle), built in the 12th century by the Viscounts of Lapurdi, and the Spanish Gate, which the old main road leading to the border once passed through. In the Grand Bayonne you can also make out the three walls that encircled the city in former times – one, of Roman origin, a second from the period of King Francis I (early 16th century) and the last one designed by Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban in the second half of the 17th century.

Petit Bayonne, for its part, is a secluded quarter presided over by the Château-Neuf (New Castle), built by Charles IV in the 15th century. Sited in this area is the aforementioned Basque Museum, on the Nive riverbank, housed in a 16th-century palace known as the Maison Dagourette. Inaugurated in 1922, it is a veritable ethnographic gem, boasting displays ranging from traditional burial sites to houses, furniture and craftwork. Lastly, on the far side of the river lies Saint-Esprit, with the citadel and train station as its major landmarks. That is where Spanish and Portuguese immigrant Jews lived after fleeing from the Inquisition.

Gastronomy in Bayonne

Bayonne market is an ideal place for trying the city’s typical dishes, like the tasty Gâteau Basque,in addition to cured ham, accompanied by peppers from the neighbouring town of Espelette, and chocolate, brought here by the Jews from the Iberian Peninsula who settled in Bayonne. Apart from the market, one of the streets treasured by lovers of the cocoa derivative is Rue Port Neuf,home to a number of craft workshops such as L’Atelier du Chocolat, where a delightful spicy chocolate is made, and Chocolats Cazenave, an establishment which has been running for one and a half centuries and counts among its specialities water-based chocolate and mousse.

Bayonne Mini-Guide

Sleep at…

The Hôtel & Restaurant Les Basses Pyrénées, a central hotel located just a few minutes from the Cathedral and Spanish Gate.

For a meal, be sure to visit…

La Karafe (25, Quai Jaureguiberry), with typicalpinchosand sausage.

Brasserie du Trinquet (4, Rue du Jeu de Paume), sited next to a court where Basque pelota is played on Thursdays.

You can shop at…

Tissage de Luz (3, rue Port de Castets) who sell tablecloths, bags and bedclothes bearing the typical Basque hallmark, as well as other more modern types in bright colours.

The airport of San Sebastián lies 40 kilometres from Bayonne. Book your Vueling here and discover it for yourself!

Text by Tus Destinos

Images by B. BLOCH - CRTA y tuvemafoto-OT Bayonne 

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