I will begin my journey toward the Camino de Santiago, not on the Camino itself, but in the Basque seaside city of Biarritz, in the Southwest of France. Biarritz has the closest international airport to St. Jean Pied de Port, the starting point for the French Way or Camino Francés, and Irún and the Camino del Norte. Pilgrims arrive in Biarritz from all over the world. From nearby Bayonne, trains depart a few times a day for St. Jean Pied de Port and Irún. You can check the schedule on this PDF from the SNCF website. Please make sure it’s current before you make plans.
If you have my book, Camino de Santiago In 20 Days, I arrived in Biarritz on page 20. Even if you don’t have my book, you’ll still be able to follow me here on my entire journey. It was a special journey, and I hope everyone has the opportunity to walk at least part of the Camino de Santiago one day.
On a late April morning in 2010, I flew from London to Biarritz on Ryanair. If you book ahead, the fare should be well under €100 including fees and taxes (one way). If I remember correctly, my fare was about €40 but I booked about a month and a half in advance. The flight from London takes about 2 hours and 50 minutes.
It was a beautiful sunny day in the Southwest of France. Biarritz has a small airport, quaint and laid-back. After getting my passport stamped, and most likely, a bathroom break, I went outside to figure out the buses. At the bus stop, I met pilgrims on their way to St. Jean Pied de Port. One asked me to join him in a taxi, because he wanted to start the Camino right away. I had a hotel room booked in nearby Bayonne, and wanted to see Biarritz, so I declined. I took the bus that went directly to the downtown Biarritz area.
According to the Biarritz Wikipedia page, the city became more renowned in 1854 when the wife of Napoleon III, Empress Eugenie, built a palace just above the beach area. It was also a popular travel destination for English monarchy, including Queen Victoria. Very importantly, Biarritz is in the Basque region which includes Southwest France and Northwest Spain. For more information about the Basque region, people, and culture, please read the Basque Wikipedia page.
I departed the bus at the edge of the downtown area and proceeded to walk toward St. Eugenie Church. Being in a new city, and not knowing exactly where I was going, I managed to have a nice little tour of the downtown area, although some of the streets I saw were by accident. Nonetheless, I had a very enjoyable walk. It was fairly quiet during the afternoon, but I later found out where most of the people were.
A Basque chocolate shop / bakery was one of the highlights of my day in Biarritz. I had heard about Basque chocolates, but didn’t realize their history and importance to the region. Here is an excellent post on Basque chocolates from Bonjour Paris. I had my break inside this shop, and tried a few different chocolates and two pastries, including a delicious one on the bottom left. I could have eaten chocolate and pastries all afternoon.
The downtown was clean and I never felt threatened. There were numerous shops and cafés, but besides chocolate and pastries, I didn’t buy anything else. After a bit of wandering, I was able to find my way to St. Eugenie Church.
The tympanum was delicately carved out of stone. Sadly, the church was closed during the mid-afternoon.
Near the church, in the middle of St. Eugenie Plaza, was a bandstand where people relaxed. Apartments and hotels dominated the upper floors, with shops and restaurants on the ground level.
The bandstand with St. Eugenie Church on the left, and the Bay of Biscay in the background.
I hoped you enjoyed this first post from my journey toward St. Jean Pied de Port and the Camino de Santiago. On my next post, A WALK IN BIARRITZ, FRANCE PART TWO, I’ll continue to the seawall where the views of the Bay of Biscay, coastline, and the beach were amazing. Please join me.
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