French Summer Trip #1 | Discovering the Basque Country with Valérie Pasquiou
Valérie Pasquiou is a French architect and designer known for her ability to create residential interiors and commercial spaces with understated sophistication and wonderful light. Architectural Digest included her among the best designers of the year, in 2016. Originating from Biarritz (in the South West of France on the Atlantic Ocean Cost), Valérie first moved in Los Angeles in 1989, before finally choosing New York City in 2005 and settling her agency there. Today, through her eyes, we will discover in an authentic and intimate way, a part of the French territory: the Basque Country and the region around the city of Biarritz. Enjoy the trip and follow our “guide” of the day!
French Wink: What are your favorite hikes in the French Basque Country?
Valérie Pasquiou: What I like most to walk along the coast and in the Pyrenees (the mountains that mark the French and Spanish border). I have been hiking the so-called Pas de Roland mount since I was a child. You can go up to the top of this mount where there is a plateau just over eagle nests and vultures. It is absolutely amazing! I have done this trail so many times with my parents, my grandparents, and even my great-grandparents. This is one of the most beautiful places in the Basque Country!
In Biarritz, I particularly enjoy walking from the Hôtel du Palais of the Great Beach to the Côte des Basques. I have so many childhood memories there. It was my playground, that is where I learned swimming and surfing. The sunsets there are absolutely breathtaking. The fishermen’s harbor which was a whaling port, has been there for centuries and has remained exactly the same.
The Basque villages are also worth a visit. For example, Zugarramurdi is a charming Basque village and its prehistoric cave is spectacular. The village of Sare is absolutely marvelous as well, as the Basque culture is largely outstanding. Two unmissable villages among many others, like Espelette also is, the village of the famous red hot chilly pepper that delights our palate and spices up our local recipes. These villages are particularly dear to my heart.
And then, the medieval town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port which is remarkable as well. It takes a day to get there by road, through the hinterland.
And obviously, something very nice to do is to cross the border to go to Spain, in the beautiful city of San Sebastian. It is perfect for eating tapas and wandering through the streets of the old town, and on the harbor dominated by the old Citadel and Mount Gueldo.
Where would you recommend eating in and around Biarritz?
All around the Biarritz farmer's market, there are tapas bars squeezed next to one another. The atmosphere is very cheerful and you can savor Pyrenean sheep’s cheeses, shrimps, clams, chorizo and hams of Serrano and Pata Negra. Even if those Spanish specialties there are really part of our culture.
I would also recommend the restaurant L'Artnoa, in Gambetta Street in Biarritz, a wine cellar to taste very good wines with a plancha of cold cuts. These produces are local, carefully chosen by Antoine, the business owner who is passionate about wines and surfing.
The Alcyons in Guéthary’s habor is great as well. It is a rather simple restaurant offering a superb choice of fishes and small specialties of the Basque Country: Spanish sea bream, chuletas (which are grilled beef ribs), clams with garlic and parsley.
I also really like the Ostalapia farm in Guéthary, which belongs to a well-known chef in the Basque country: Christian Duplessy. A must-do during the summer for the view on the mountains!
And finally, close to the Côte des Basques in Biarritz, you can seat on a wall with a delicious bottle of rosé and enjoy the sun setting over the Pyrenees and this mythical surfing place. This is my favorite spot. The waves are fabulous!
Where do you like beaching?
We have a villa in Bidart. So we generally go to the beach there. There is a wild beach, the beach of Erromardie. The downside is that it is not guarded (it should be noted that the Atlantic Ocean can be tumultuous) and you have to walk down the cliffs. You cannot reach it by car. But it is absolutely beautiful. The water is turquoise-blue there.
And otherwise, I like to go to the Côte des Basques. I have been surfing there forever. It is really our headquarters with all of my Parisian friends and locals with whom I grew up in the summer. We are all there, generation after generation. It is a mythical beach for surfing. You just have to be careful because, at high tide, there is no more sand. So make sure to go at low tide.
What are the best spots with sea views?
The “Hundred steps” above the Côte des Basques with its open air cafe and great music. And in Guéthary, there is also a very beautiful spot along the ocean to watch the sun go down.
Where is your favorite place, off the road, truly representing your Basque Country?
I love the village of Itxassou. One of my best friends has an old restored farmhouse owned by her parents next to a river on the side of the mountains. We spend a lot of time there during the summer. When we get our share of beaches and crowds, we revitalize ourselves there. This village is below thePas de Roland mount I have already mentioned. You can pick up your sheep’s cheese on foot from the local farmer, make incredible hikes, rafting or napping under a huge oak tree...
Where would you go shopping?
I would recommend two multi-brand boutiques: Duchatel, a really nice women’s shop in Biarritz, with great brands. And MG8 in Saint-Jean-de-Luz which is very good too and offers a selection of talented creators.
In Biarritz, do not hesitate to stroll in the surf shops to enjoy their Californian vibes or in the street markets of Biarritz and Saint-Jean-de-Luz, to buy a pair of espadrilles. They do not cost much and it is super cool. The painter Picasso wore them with navy stripes. They are back in style!
If we would like to do something special, what would you suggest?
You definitively have to see a game of Chistera (the Basque pelota). It is really a sport that is part of the Basque heritage and it absolutely awesome to see and quite impressive.
When is the best time to get to Biarritz during the year?
I think the best time to go there is in May and in June. Because there are not many tourists. You can really enjoy the beaches. The sun sets around 10:30-11pm and the light is amazing.
How are the people in the Basque Country?
People of this French region are very festive and very welcoming. Protecting their environment is a must for them as well. They may seem a little cold or distant at first sight, but once trust and friendship has been settled: it is for life… Proud to be Basque!
What should we bring back from Biarritz?
Sun and fond memories.
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