Walking the Basque Coastal Path
Stretching more than 50km from Bidart over the border to San Sebastian in Spain, the Basque coastal path packs some fabulously dramatic landscapes into a relatively straightforward walk, with breath-taking views and plenty of places to stop for a drink or a swim along the way. Copywriter Heather Moore and her husband opted to walk the first stage from Bidart to St Jean (13km) last summer; here's how they got on.
"The local market was in full swing as we left Bidart in the relative cool of the morning, so we stocked up on crunchy baguettes, creamy goats cheese, buttery gateau Basque and cushiony ripe peaches for the path ahead. The first and slightly unexpected highlight was the War Memorial above the main beach of Bidart, which illustrates the key events of WWII that most impacted the Pays Basque. It’s quite quirky and arty in comparison to the sombre monoliths with tragic lists of names that grace almost every French town and village, but none the less thought-provoking, and we spent a while piecing together what each stone might represent. Both the stunning setting and the inscriptions left us quietly moved and glad to be alive.
From Bidart we continued south along the coast, checking out beach bars and menus with a view to a return visit. The path snakes along the seaside into charming Guéthary, where fishing boats line up beside surf boards and those in the know are booking their lunchtime tables before most holiday makers have had breakfast.
"The route rises and falls past golden beaches, up and down steps and along crumbling cliffs, with the mighty Atlantic always at your feet. There are a few diversions here and there where coastal erosion has toppled entire headlands back into the foaming turquoise water below, so you many end up on the main road for short sections, but the path is constantly being restored. We saw lots of locals taking hair-raising shortcuts but it’s important to respect diversions if you see them!
"After a couple of hours and a cliff-top picnic, picturesque St Jean appeared, shimmering in the distance. At the northern end of the bay is the Pointe de Sainte-Barbe, with a tiny chapel and plenty of shady green spaces and benches to rest tired legs. You get a really wonderful perspective of the whole sweep of the coast from this angle; it’s like the best of all things Basque in one fabulous view, with St Jean’s three beaches below, surfers in the bay and the mountains rising protectively behind. Cold beer was calling loudly at this point, and following the path down into town brought plenty of choices for a drink in the shade. Had it not been so madly hot (walking in a July heatwave turned out to be not ideal!) there were lots of cute boutiques and sparkly jewellery shops to perfect that effortless beach chic the French excel at, but we settled for luscious ice cream and the blissfully air-conditioned bus back to Bidart.
Whilst this is not a major hike with the reputation of say the Camino de Santiago, it's a really beautiful way to experience the coastline without any complicated logistics or too much physical effort. Highly recommended."