Bilbao to Bayonne

Hi, does anyone have any recommendations for the Basque country, restaurants, hotels, whatever? I’m thinking of Bilbao, San Sebastian, Biarritz and Bayonne, before heading to Paris. But I’ll happily change plans for anything really good.

Are you wanting to stay in a medium/large city or smaller towns? To me San Sebastian is a must. If you’re planning on dipping into France, the French Basque countryside and seaside is also beautiful. What time of year are you planning on?

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We’ll be going at the beginning of November. This trip is a prelude to our visit to Paris. We go to Paris each year, since we have good friends there, and I like to visit something we haven’t seen each time.

I know the first three quite well and the are all worth some time for different reasons - Bayonne also has a good reputation. Journey times between them are reasonable so it’s not a hassle to spend a few days in each before moving on.

Bilbao has some very good tapas bars - very old and traditional and far less frantic than San Sebastian. Visit both the old and new towns for variety. Azurmendi is a very very good 3* on the outskirts - innovative and not too expensive. Plus there are a few good 1*'s. And obviously the Guggenheim is worth a visit.

On the way to San Sebastian you can visit Amador Extraberri - the BBQ restaurant. Lots of people love it although for me it was interesting but one dimensional. Plus if you drop down to the coastal road there are a few towns with fantastic fish restaurants - I would need to research the names.

San Sebastian is obviously the culinary jewel with an amazing tapas bar scene, ;its of great Michelin star places including a range of very good 3*'s ranging from bleeding edge modern to a bit more traditional. I tend to do lunch in the starred places then snack on tapas strolling from bar to bar in the evening.

Biarritz is much quieter, refined and elegant. There are still some tapas bars as the cuisine spills across the border - a nice funky one on the edge of the covered market. There are also some decent restaurants scattered across town although I think the pick of them are in St Jean de Luz. If you head up into the hills there are some very nice villages with little hotels and low key restaurants with decent Basque/French food - a good contrast to Basque/Spanish.

As for three star choices, lunch over dinner at Martin Berasategui because its location suits a daylight meal, and stepping onto the street into the night light after dinner at Arzak seemed right too.

Thanks for the input. I was originally planning to rent a car and drive, but then I decided, who needs the headaches of parking and driving in restricted zones, so we’ll take public transportation. This rules out places in between, like Amador Extraberri. I’m looking forward to tapas/pintxos in most places. Some friends of ours who love Biarritz have recommended L’Impertinant and Le Kaiku in St Jean de Luz. Know them?

The train is a good option - which we did - local train runs along the coast from Biarritz to Bilbao and taxis out to the top restaurants in the country are not to expensive and worth doing - they are used to coming out and collecting you.

A few years since we were in St Jean de Luz but Chez Mattin was a great meal - no stars but very local and memorable for rustic simplicity. Its a pretty hot area for food so difficult to go wrong - but good to mix and match starred places with the down and dirty.

Good to know about the taxis. That gives us some extra flexibility.

In the end we just stayed in the towns we visited, and didn’t take the effort to go to Azurmendi or Asador Extebarri. Since we had never been in the area before, there was enough to explore and discover in the main towns in the short time we were there. We found some really good pintxos in Bilbao. They were quite unlike anything we came across in San Sebastian, where the pintxos are all over the place. Most of them were very good, though some places, such as Zeruko, were a cut above the others. A lot of the pintxos looked like they could have come from “central casting.” But even in bars where everything looked standard, there were usually a couple of stand-out specialties.

In Biarritz our meal at l’Impertinent was fabulous, but otherwise we were not too impressed. We were extremely impressed with the beauty of the location. But on a future trip I think it would be wise to rent a car and see some of the surrounding villages.

Bayonne was interesting, but was a bit of a let-down after Bilbao, San Sebastian and Biarritz. But we had some good meals at Dame Jeanne, a wine bar, and at Chez l’Ours.

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Glad you liked Zeruko. I still think about that place. Sounds like a fun trip!

We went to Zeruko on a Thursday night, and liked it so much we wanted to go back on Friday. On that Friday evening it was closed! Did you get to La Cuchara de San Telmo? We didn’t feel like waiting, because the line was fairly long, but it’s supposed to be great.

I agree a few decent places but the better food is found in St Jean de Luz or up in the hills. That said after SS and Bilbao its always a hard act to follow.

Interesting observation - when I first went about 20 years ago they were quite similar but I think both have developed. On my last visit to SS I thought it had got too touristy and lots of the bars were far too popular with hordes of tourists clutching their “must try” lists. Some of the artistry and creativity seemed to have been lost although it may still be there in the New Town which is out of the tourist scene.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold