3 days, 3 gorgeous coastal cities, and 3 unique Basque cultures: Biarritz, Hendaye, San Sebastian...
Forget Nice & Cannes and come to the original Cote d'Azur for surfing, delcious food & pinxtos, fabulous inexpensive wine, and happening nightlife. From Paris catch the TGV to Biarritz and the local trains between cities, each within 18 kilometers of each other.
Biarritz, prized for it's natural beauty and healing waters, was popularized by Napoleon III who built a palace for his wife Eugenie upon the gorgeous coastline. Now us "little people" can enjoy the same luxury at Eugenie's palace which was converted into the famous Hotel Palais. The hotel is famous for more than just hosting Emperor's and Empresses, it was turned into an American army college after World War II to re-educate war veterans so that they could earn degrees and enter back into American society with new skills.
Biarritz is by no means a sleepy surf town, there is still a glitzy french feel to the seaside cafe's and nightclubs. However, one can easily tell that it's hay day has come and gone. New construction and spa hotels are attempting to bring it back to it's former glory, but I hope it remains as is.
Take the train to Hendaye for a more unique Basque experience. Here, most of the population still speaks Basque, but you can get by with Spanish or French. Our friend's just bought a house by the beach, so we spent the day walking the coastline and the night eating delicious home cooked food: potato tortilla, rabbit stew, cider, Basque wine, jambon – cut from the leg itself (which, they actually have in their house!!!). I was really impressed by the potato tortilla which is also called a Spanish omelet, a mixture of potatoes and eggs. Simple and delicious (recipe to follow)
If you're a fan of Spanish tapas, then you'll appreciate the Basque version called pinxtos (little pinches) and the tradition of munching from one restaurant to the next in search of the best bite. These little treats run the gamut from baguette slices piled high with crab salad, smoked salmon, and caviar to bites of freshly carved jambon with pimento and melted sheep's cheese. We walked up and down the streets paved with history eating, laughing, drinking, and enjoying each other's company.
San Sebastian, our final Basque destination, retained all the beauty and glitz of Biarritz (if not more) but had a dominant Spanish influence as opposed to French. Warm people, picture perfect coastline dotted with sail boats and sun worshisers, and the best nightlife of all three places. San Sebastian reminded me of Barcelona but with more places to grab pinxtos and wine. I was also impressed by the age range of the night life. This is place for all ages to enjoy a little stroll down the beach and glass of rioja or sparkling cava (the Spanish version of champagne) at night – it doesn't matter if you're 91 or 19, everyone's strolling about at night and having a good time.
We returned to rainy Paris by train, disappointed that we weren't able to soak up more sun and fun. Lazily, we watched the sun set through our window and munched tasteless train food dreaming of pinxtos, rioja, cava, warm coastlines, and good friends...we'll be back soon, I'm sure.
Spanish Potato Tortilla recipe on next page..
Spanish Potato Tortilla
This thick potato cake makes a fabulous side dish for meat and stews. It is also commonly served on top of baguette slices for pinxtos or tapas. Easy, delicious, and filling it's quite the crowd pleaser.
5 medium potatoes, peeled & diced (about 1/2")
One small yellow onion diced
Italian herbs: thyme, oregano, basil
5 eggs beaten
1. In a nonstick frying add enough olive oil to lightly cover the bottom. Heat and add diced potatoes, onions, and garlic salt and herbs to taste. Cook covered until potatoes are soft (about 10 minutes). Do not brown potatoes, they should be soft and moist.
2. Pour egg mixture over potatoes and cook for five more minutes or until mixture is set.
3. Place a large plate over skillet and flip the potato tortilla onto it and back into the skillet cooking the other side briefly.
4. Serve in wedges.