L’Observateur : Côte des Basques Edition


Last weekend we took advantage of a cheap train fare and went to Biarritz – a snazzy little beach community in the Basque region of southwestern France near the Spanish border.

As a matter of record, the TGV does about 320 km/h. But we covered the 783km between Paris and Biarritz in 5:10, which averages a mere 156km/h – factoring in stops, slow downs, and whatnot. Still, we covered a long distance in a short time, and were able to read, nap, and have a picnic without having to worry about steering the vehicle.

French people in the south are a lot friendlier than they are in Paris. As soon as we got off the train and were waiting at the bus stop, we felt like we had walked head-long into a French sitcom, but it wasn’t anything like “Hamburger Family.”

Our first night in Biarritz, I won 30 euros playing roulette at the casino. It was the one and only James Bond Moment of my life, and broke my 20-year streak of bad gambling luck.


The Basque language is unrelated to any other. It looks a lot like Hungarian. “Tx” is pronounced “Ch.” The Basque have a yummy aperitif called “Txapa,” which tastes like Rosato mixed with Rosé. It goes great with skewered duck hearts.

The beaches around Biarritz are gorgeous and rocky and the place is a surf mecca. Some of the waves that hit the seawall (even on a calm day) are truly amazing.

San Sebastián from Paseo de la Concha

The next morning, we took a day trip to San Sebastián, Spain. With the European Union borders wide open, it’s amazing that you can (to this day) travel a mere 50km and be in a completely new culture. Different food, beer, wine, prices, language, and attitude. To say the least, Spain is cheaper and way more laid back than France. The basic rule seems to be: more sun, more fun. When we got there, we took a stroll on the beach. There was a Saturday morning youth co-ed soccer league going on ...

... and shortly afterward we saw a naked man stroll into a snapshot some American girls were taking.

In spite of this unappetizing display, we ate tapas seven times that afternoon ...

... broken up by climbing to the top of the park on the hill that overlooks the Playa de la Concha, the Bay of Biscay, and the Atlantic Ocean. Pine trees, sailboats, blue water, blue skies, and sunshine ...

San Sebastián from the hilltop

In sum, San Sebastián is like a smaller, nicer, cheaper version of San Francisco – if it was where San Diego is, with tapas and cheap beer everywhere – but somehow much better than that. There is a ten-square-block pedestrian neighborhood, Parte Vieja, flooded with restaurants, shops, and cafes. No cars. No mopeds. I can’t do it justice.

After returning to Biarritz, we got into a dispute with a cab driver. Upon arriving at the hotel, he tried to overcharge us. We protested and he gave us the choice of paying his inflated price or taking us back to where he found us. So, we ended up walking from the train station after having been right in front of the hotel. We stand by our principles.

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