St. Jean-de-Luz Perfection

On July 12, 2015 by Peter

St. Jean-de-Luz might have become my favorite place in France, and one of my favorite places anywhere. First impressions help. We rented a charming apartment from friendly people, and after we dropped our bags we went for a walk down our street past the lovely town market building and came upon this bustling scene:

Chez Renauld, St. Jean-de-Luz

Chez Renauld, St. Jean-de-Luz

Chez Renauld is a pop-up of sorts, with a food truck serving delicious variations on burgers — crab, beef, eggplant — and some of the tastiest frites I’ve had anywhere. There’s also a full bar, a charcuterie guy, and a cheese guy. And lots of locals enjoying themselves. As I was walking around taking it all in, I stumbled into what looked like some curtains hanging from the rafters. Turned out that two aerial ballerinas were about to start an amazing Spanish Rope performance:

Spanish Rope at Chez Renauld

Spanish Rope at Chez Renauld

All present found it impressive:

The crowd at Chez Renauld

The crowd at Chez Renauld

So St. Jean-de-Luz was off to a great start, before we even left our street. We extracted ourselves from Chez Renauld, vowing to return, and headed for the old, picturesque harbor, which was, well, picturesque:

St. Jean-de-Luz Harbor

St. Jean-de-Luz Harbor

Then we wandered through the town square, past restaurants with bustling patios, and towards the sea-front promenade:

St. Jean-de-Luz Seafront Promenade at Sunset

St. Jean-de-Luz Seafront Promenade at Sunset

The sunset views from the sea-front in St. Jean-de-Luz are world-class. It helps that beauty fills your entire field of view, like the grassy hilltop on the right of the beach:

Pointe de St. Barbe in St. Jean-de-Luz

Pointe de St. Barbe in St. Jean-de-Luz

And the bay itself is gorgeous:

Watching sunset in St. Jean-de-Luz

Watching sunset in St. Jean-de-Luz

The sea-front houses are themselves spectacular. Most are painted white with red shutters in the Basque tradition (St. Jean-de-Luz is in French Basque country):

Seafront house in St. Jean-de-Luz

Seafront house in St. Jean-de-Luz

The windows catch the sea and the sunset in dramatic fashion:

Seafront in St. Jean-de-Luz

Seafront in St. Jean-de-Luz

The sunset is worth watching every night, even if you are a local:

Watching the sunset in St. Jean-de-Luz

Watching the sunset in St. Jean-de-Luz

 

Here’s a panorama looking back towards town from the path to Pointe de St. Barbe (the grassy hilltop in the photo above):

St. Jean-de-Luz seafront at sunset

St. Jean-de-Luz and Ciboure seafront at sunset

Pointe de St. Barbe itself is stunning, particularly around sunset:

Point de St. Barbe at sunset in St. Jean-de-Luz

Point de St. Barbe at sunset in St. Jean-de-Luz

And I couldn’t resist a little bit of night photography:

View from Pointe de St. Barbe at night

View from Pointe de St. Barbe at night

Surely, we thought, St. Jean-de-Luz can’t be this good for the entirety of our visit. But it was. Allison went for beautiful runs along the sea-front and I went for long open water swims in the protected waters of the main beach. We basked on the lovely, sandy beach amidst the colorful, canvas-draped bathing tents, and watched hordes of happy people at play. Although there were lots of people around, the beach never felt crowded.

Our visit coincided with one of the big town market days, when vendors set up their wares around the periphery of the covered market building:

 

Allison sampled judiciously and assembled a delicious picnic for us. I found one of the cutest small dogs of the trip:

St. Jean-de-Luz market day pup

St. Jean-de-Luz market day pup

We dined at Le Kaiku, a Michelin-starred tribute to the excellent ingredients available to chefs in this part of the world, on Friday night. Each course was a work of art and gastronomical wonder. It ranks among the best meals I have had anywhere. The final course was particularly amazing.

We took a quick Saturday afternoon trip to San Sebastien, which, while interesting and possessing its own attractions, made us love and appreciate St. Jean-de-Luz all the more. That night, we returned to Chez Renauld and shared a picnic table with some friendly locals, one of whom had moved from Paris and couldn’t be happier with life in her adopted town, and sat across from this adorable father/son pair:

Father/son pair at Chez Renauld in St. Jean-de-Luz

Father/son pair at Chez Renauld in St. Jean-de-Luz

There was a local Basque festival in the plaza across from Chez Renauld, where locals were eating huge grilled tuna steaks and drinking cider and local beer. I’m sure St. Jean-de-Luz is a bit quieter and perhaps the people are a bit less joyous in, say, February. But I think if you visit in June or July, you’ll find it to be a delightful place and you may not want to leave.

We left St. Jean-de-Luz — reluctantly — the next afternoon. I plan to return. There is an annual St. Jean-de-Luz Open Water Swim Race race there in mid-July…

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