Last Updated on 10th September 2022 by Sophie Nadeau
A glittering jewel of the French Basque coastline, the town of Saint Jean de Luz is a charming fishing port which boasts charm and history in equal measure. Best visited over the course of at least a day (with an overnight stay preferable), here’s your guide to the best things to do in Saint Jean de Luz, as well as what to know before you go.
Saint Jean de Luz is often referred to as St Jean de Luz for short. In the local language of Basque, the town is known as Donibane Lohizune. For more inspiration, be sure to check out our French Basque Country itinerary.
- Where is Saint Jean de Luz?
- What is St Jean de Luz known for?
- Best things to do in Saint Jean de Luz
- The beach (Grande Plage)
- Stroll along the sea wall
- Buy local products
- Enjoy local food and drink
- See the lighthouses
- Les Halles
- Wander the town
- Walk to the Fort de Socoa
- Church of St. John the Baptist
- Place Louis XIV painters and bars
- Maison Louis XIV
- Enjoy the view from La Colline Sainte-Barbe
- Walk to Ciboure
- Where to eat in Saint Jean de Luz
- How to get to St Jean de Luz
Where is Saint Jean de Luz?
Saint Jean de Luz is located in the region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, as well as in the Basque province of Labourd. Located within the Bay of Biscay, facing the Atlantic Ocean, the town boasts the unique claim of being the only sheltered bay between Arcachon and Spain.
Nearby towns of note include the resort town of Biarritz and the fishing port of Guéthary. The town of Ciboure (famous for its fish, which is still served in local restaurants to this day) is located just across the River Nivelle and can easily be walked to from Saint Jean de Luz.
What is St Jean de Luz known for?
The town is most famous for its association with French corsairs during the 17th-century, with ‘corsair’ being a fancy word for pirate. The 17th-century is still considered to be the ‘golden age’ of Saint Jean de Luz, and it was at this time that the town had a population that was only a little bit smaller than that of Bayonne (the biggest city in the region to this day).
During the Middle Ages, St Jean de Luz had the largest whaling port in the world. Centuries later, Louis XIV became enthralled by the town and was married there. Princess Eugenie and Napoleon III also fell for St Jean de Luz and visited during their stays in the nearby Biarritz (which is around 20 km away).
Best things to do in Saint Jean de Luz
The beach (Grande Plage)
If there’s one thing that the town is particularly known for, it’s the fine sand beach. Located on the seashore on the fringes of town, the beach holds the distinction of the last beach in France before the Spanish border. The great beach of the town is known as the ‘Grande Plage,’ which translates to ‘big beach’ in English.
Stroll along the sea wall
Truth be told, one of the best ways to enjoy many of Saint Jean de Luz’s charms is to simply wander around the place and let your feet guide you to points that look interesting. A walk along the promenade will reward you with both views of the sea and of the Basque town. The promenade is also where the casino is located.
Buy local products
Particular things to buy from the French Basque region include espadrilles (the woven and canvas shoe actually originates in the region), chilli pepper products, local hams, Basque fabrics (there are stores dedicated entirely to linen sprinkled all over town), and woven baskets and bags.
Enjoy local food and drink
The French Basque Country is particularly well known for its food and drink, and Saint Jean de Luz is no exception. Local specialities include sheep’s milk cheese (brebis in French), ham from the region, and tapas style plates in some restaurants.
See the lighthouses
There is not just one lighthouse but several lighthouses dotted around St Jean de Luz and its neighbouring town of Ciboure. The most famous of the lighthouses is the Phare of Saint Jean de Luz, which was built in the 1930s and designed by André Pavlovsky. Just across the River’s mouth, the lighthouse of Ciboure was built around the same time and looks similar in appearance.
Like many French towns, St Jean boasts its very own covered market hall which is known in French as ‘Les Halles’. Wander in during opening hours and you’ll be greeted by vendors selling everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to local souvenirs and cold cuts. If you’re looking for picnic supplies, then Les Halles is the place to head to.
Wander the town
When wandering through any town in this part of the French Basque country, you’ll soon notice one distinctive style feature: the extea. These are whitewashed houses adorned with burgundy red timber trim and matching shutters. The port itself is also incredibly picturesque and is easily one of the most beautiful ports in France.
Walk to the Fort de Socoa
If you feel like an extra long walk along the seafront, then you must head along the coastline towards Socoa. It’s easy to spot as it’s a 17th-century military fort which still juts out to sea to this day. Unfortunately, you can’t actually enter the fort, but you can still enjoy sweeping views of the Biscay Bay from nearby.
Church of St. John the Baptist
The main church of the town is imposing, grand, dates back to the 13th-century, and is dedicated to St John the Baptist. Constructed in the local style (meaning that it features wooden galleries and a single nave), this is where Louis XIV married Marie-Thérèse of Austria in 1660.
Place Louis XIV painters and bars
One of the most picturesque squares in town is that of Louis XIV. Located just a stone’s throw away from the River Nivelle, the lively square boasts plenty of bars, as well as painters who are creating their art ‘en plein air’ (outside). If you want to grab a drink and watch the world go by, then this is the place to visit.
Maison Louis XIV
Located on the corner of Place Louis XIV, the illustrious mansion of Maison Louis XIV was built in 1643 and today houses a museum of waxworks. Classified as a historic monument, it was here in 1660 where Louis XIV resided for several months when he married Marie Therese and signed the Treaty des Pyrénées.
Enjoy the view from La Colline Sainte-Barbe
If you’re looking for one of the best bird’s eye views in town, then you simply have to head up La Colline Sainte-Barbe, the hill of Saint Barbe. Visitors who climb to the top will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the town and beach below, and will also be able to visit the little chapel dedicated to Saint Barbe.
Walk to Ciboure
Located just across the river from Saint Jean de Luz, Ciboure has little by way of attractions but offers a quieter pace of life and just as stunning views as its more lively neighbour. You can walk across the bridge from St Jean de Luz to Ciboure in just under ten minutes. While in Ciboure, be sure not to miss the amazing church in the heart of town.
Where to eat in Saint Jean de Luz
Of course, it wouldn’t be a trip to the seaside without eating at least an ice cream or two! Hands down, the best ice cream in town is from Glaces Bargeton. The ice cream store is located along rue Joseph Garat and serves up ice cream and sorbets in a homemade waffle cone or a cup. The ice cream is so good that the vanilla flavour won best vanilla ice cream in France in 2019!
One of the freshest poké bowls I’ve ever enjoyed was actually in St Jean de Luz at Mia Poké, which is on the road leading between the main church of the town and the seafront. There are a variety of healthy options available, as well as a vegan bowl where you can choose the fruits and vegetables you want.
Dunes Blanches Chez Pascal Saint Jean de Luz
One of the best cream puffs in all of France is to be found at the chain of stores ‘Dunes Blanches Chez Pascal’. The only thing sold in the store is a cream puff, which is sold in two flavours. There is the classic Chantilly cream flavour, as well as a tourist flavour that changes every so often.
How to get to St Jean de Luz
Whether you’re looking to head to the town for a day, a weekend, or longer still, it’s worth noting that there are a plethora of transportation options to enable you to reach the town. The best way to get to Saint Jean de Luz is from Biarritz.
You don’t need to rent a car from Biarritz but can instead take the local bus system. In order to get from Biarritz to Saint Jean de Luz, you’ll need to take two different buses. You can purchase an unlimited transport card for €5,20 at the chronoplus Biarritz bus office, which is located close to the tourist office.
You can take the 44 bus from the Mairie of Biarritz to the Church at Bidart (Eglise). Then, you just need to take the 03 bus towards Saint Jean de Luz. Once in St Jean de Luz, it’s a five to ten minute walk to reach the promenade overlooking the sea.
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