To Bayonne and beyond: Aquitaine, France

By Liam McDonagh, a Travel Enthusiast

Read more on Bayonne.

Overall rating:3.5 out of 5 (based on 2 votes)
Recommended for:
Cultural, Food and Drink, Short Break, Budget, Expensive, Mid-range

The Basque capital city of Bayonne offers you a fantastic location with great food, drink, architecture and culture; and probably one of the best parties you are ever likely to experience

It was eleven in the morning and the town had that hangover look about it. Lots of people dressed oddly. Well to be precise, the same. White T shirts, white trousers/shorts, red neck scarfs and red belts. At first I instinctively thought football, until I spotted the first of many sound stages dotted around the town. We had cruised into one of France’s biggest festivals the Fete de Bayonne, which takes place every year on the last Wednesday of July for five days. Our two days of immense enjoyment, laughter and merriment were about to commence.

Bayonne is a beautiful town with a wonderful culture and history. From its Roman occupation to the present day, it has been on the ‘must visit’ list of multitudes. It is not only famous for its chocolate but also for the invention of the bayonet and the surrender of Napoleons forces to Wellington that occurred in a local village. I just happened to stumble across it while on a camping holiday. As our two car convoy drove into the small city we were totally unaware of what lay in store.

The city

Bayonne is divided into two quarters by the river Nive - Grand Bayonne and Petit Bayonne. It has five bridges that connect the two. Along the Nive you will find many of the city’s best restaurants and the market place. You will also find some great examples of colourful Basque architecture and columbage houses, quaint shops and curiosities. The Pont St-Esprit connects Petit with the Quartier St-Esprit across the Adour, Bayonne's second river, where the impressive Citadelle is located as is the railway station.

Grand Bayonne is the commercial quarter, with small and narrow pedestrian only streets containing a great selection of shops offering their famous tasty hams, chocolates, Basque linen and books that inspire. The Cathedrale Sainte-Marie graces the district with its grandeur. It is an elegant building constructed in the gothic style in the 14th century, much of which was destroyed during the Revolution. The Chateau-Vieux, where the governors of the city once resided, is also located in the quarter.

Petit Bayonne has beautiful small bars and restaurants that radiate with Basque ambience and charm. Young and old, locals and tourist mix in a potpourri of music, song and dance. The Chateau-Neuf is among the ramparts of the Petit Bayonne. These walls and an exhibition are open to the public. The Musée Basque is the ethnographic museum. It is here that you learn of the Basque people, their history and culture. The Musée Bonnat is one of the best galleries in this region of France and has paintings by Goya, El Greco and Botticelli, to name but a few. A guided tour is highly recommended to experience the rich history and culture of the city. 

The Fete de Bayonne

Having purchased our red and white attire and amazingly found and booked a hotel, we were ready to hit the town. Little did we realise just what we were about to participate in. From world record breaking events, involving thousands of people, to participating in some kind of animal therapy! The Fete is the biggest outdoor party in Europe and can attract as many as 500,000 people from all over France and beyond. It consists of cultural events, music, pageants, regattas, bull racing, dancing, a children's day, fireworks, grand balls and the greatest competition of all; who can stay awake the longest. Yes, this festival is as non stop in its fun as it is in its staying power. The party is opened from the balcony of the impressive Hotel de Ville (Place de la Liberte) by King Leon with his huge alarm clock in front of thousands of his subjects and one and all are invited to his public ball. Fireworks thunder high into the night sky which illuminate the town's facades and the smiling faces of the young and old alike. Bands strike up the music and the dancing, the singing and the fun begins.

All was well, as we walked into the pretty Place Paul Bert, groups of young men were trying to outdo each other in the art of human pyramid building, a brass band bellowed out traditional tunes and people gathered around the squares cafés drinking. The area was cordoned off and a large seated area occupied one side. That’s odd, I thought as I spotted the large tent with an equally large red cross painted on its side. But was quickly forgotten as a beer was thrust into my hand.

The band played into a sort of frenzy and with accompanying yelps of laughter and applauds a young bull suddenly charged into the square, some gave chase but most fled. I stood amazed, at the sight of people being flung to the ground as the stampeding beast navigated its way in our direction. All beer was discarded as the horned beast headed straight into the bar forcing some speedy and accurate body dives, mainly over the counter top. The partying continues, and as the crowd becomes more intoxicated and courageous, the bulls get bigger and nastier, definitely not for the weak or more to the point; the sane.

Whether it be for a long weekend break, taking in the Fete de Bayonne, or holidaying in the hotels and campsites of the nearby seaside town of Biarritz or the surfers' paradise of Anglet: you will definitely not regret paying this wonderful city a visit.

Where to eat

El Asador (19 rue Vieille Boucherie; 33 5 59590857) - located in the historic quarter this restaurant offers the taste of the Basque country, with a fantastic staff and setting. Serving dishes of the region that include stuffed cabbage with lamb chops, fish a la plancha and hake koska. An average three courses can cost as little as 20 euros.

Ibaia (45 quai A. Jaureguiberry; 33 5 59598666) - one of the oldest bodegas in Bayonne, it offers a fantastic variety of regional delights as well as fantastic tapas from the bar. Great wines and atmosphere makes for a great night out. 

Where to stay

Hotel Loustau (1 Place de la République) - this 3* hotel offers a very central location close to the train station and on the banks of the river Adour. It commands great views of Grand Bayonne and the Hotel de Ville. The rooms are small and basic but are suitable for that short break experience. The staff, although small in number, are polite and helpful. It's location ensures that you are never too far away from the action.  All in all, it has everything that you would require for a short enjoyable stay.
Price double room from 92 euros per night.

Hotel Des Arceaux (26 Rue Port Neuf) - a small 2* establishment, it offers you a homely stay. Sited in a building that dates back three centuries, it is more a bed and breakfast than a hotel. It presents rooms that are nice and cosy, with simple eye pleasing décor and furnishings. The staff are excellent and only too willing to assist your every request. It is located in the historical pedestrian quarter and has all that you would want for a city break on its doorstep. Price double room from 40/80 euros per night.

Best Western Le Grand Hotel (21 Rue Thiers) - beautiful and elegant, this 3* hotel will cater for all your needs. Located in a very central position in the historic quarter, it is within easy walking distance of restaurants, cafes and places of interest. The rooms are well presented, comfortable and airy as is the entire hotel.  The staff are well versed in their knowledge of Bayonne and beyond and are more than happy to ensure your stay is an enjoyable one. Price double room from 100/153 euros per night.

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More information on To Bayonne and beyond: Aquitaine, France:

Liam McDonagh
Traveller type:
Travel Enthusiast
Guide rating:
Average: 3.5 (2 votes)
Total views:
First uploaded:
1 December 2009
Last updated:
5 years 34 weeks 6 days 4 hours 13 min 50 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Budget level:
Budget, Mid-range, Expensive

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Community comments (5)

1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

Very good coverage of a city I know well. I thought it caught the verve and anarchy of the festival with great panache. Only two points: I'd love to know whether you thought the Musée Basque as boring and ill-laid out as I did.

Also ... I'd have started the piece with the 2nd paragraph. It's much more 'grabby' than the slightly flat opening lines you have used. But, overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it: a fine introduction to a great city.

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Thank you Anthony for your feedback, it is most welcome. Upon reading my first two paragraphs again I do tend to agree with your findings and I am going to edit accordingly. As for museums, art galleries etc, I find them all a bit of a 'must do, for do sake'. I tend to focus on exhibits that interest me and generally ignore the rest. A bit shallow and narrow minded, but nonetheless, true.

1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

Thanks Liam, this was an enjoyable read and the pictures were great. Did you take them all? All writers must credit any photographs they haven't taken to the relevant copyright owner.
There were a few spelling errors to tidy (always worth using an external programme such as word to perform a spell check) and I didn't feel the hotel recommendations were personal enough. But otherwise this is an entertaining guide and I'm sure many readers will enjoy it.

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Jeanette thank you for your helpful feedback. I do wish all my photographs were as good as seen in this guide but I am afraid, as like many others, I do need to copy some. Once again my spelling lets me down. I do my rough guide on Word, use spell check and then copy and paste. But because I type quickly I sometimes use words that are not necessarily spelling errors, (puree)( pourri) meaning spell check does not pick up on them......and I did notice this error, I but forgot to edit it.
I have added some detail to the hotel reviews as you requested and hopefully my guides will continue to inspire the few, but enchant the many. While I'm in the flow, as one would say, is it possible to inform me why my first review about the ski resort of Obergurgl had no editors feedback. Once again thank you.


Thanks for the changes Liam, it's also nice to see a local expert getting involved and offering feedback.
Please make sure you give credit to any photographs that you do not own copyright of. Put an appropriate caption on the pic and then label it "courtesy of...." or "Source: ....". Thanks.
Regarding your first guide; we introduced a new editorial policy in the days after this was published (read more here We are currently beginning the process of rating and commenting on ALL older guides, but I'm sure you'll appreciate that this will take a while. It's a pretty big task, but we think it will be worth it.
Thanks again for your ongoing contribution to Simonseeks.