Saint-Jean-de-Luz – An Active Holiday Guide
With its spectacular Atlantic coast setting and thriving action sports community, Saint-Jean-de-Luz is a top spot for an active holiday. Backed by the foothills of the Pyrenees and with superb sandy beaches it’s easy to see why this beach town has been rated as one of the top destinations on France’s south-west coast.
Our guide to Saint-Jean-de-Luz will take you through all the outdoor activities to get your blood pumping, alongside the best local-approved places to eat, drink and relax in this sunny active holiday town.
Saint-Jean-de-Luz is located 20 km south-west of Bayonne and 20 km north of the Spanish border at the mouth of the Nivelle river. Built along one side of a long sheltered bay backed by rolling green hills and flanked at its northern end by sea cliffs etched with the famous Sentier Littoral walking trail that leads to more great beaches.
The most Basque of the region’s beach resorts, Saint-Jean-de-Luz is known for its busy boutique-lined streets, esplanade and and picturesque harbour, and deep red and green painted villas that overlook the Atlantic.
Served by two airports and efficient transport links across Spain and France, visitors can easily ditch the car and explore this lush region by bike, boat or on foot. Saint-Jean-de-Luz and its sister town of Ciboure make a perfect day trip from Bayonne or Biarritz.
A long stretch of sand protected from the ocean by three sea walls, Saint Jean de Luz has four main beaches segmented by outstretched rock pools. Easily accessed across land by well-mapped cycle paths and small country roads, the wild and untamed vista makes exploring each of them a must-do!
The main beach connected to the centre of town is called, Grande Plage, packed with activities on the beach and out at sea, this expansive beach is a firm favourite with families thanks to the calm, shallow waters and well-surveyed swimming areas. Home to four beach clubs to keep the kids entertained, parents can also hire out traditional beach tents, parasols and sun loungers – and even visit one of the areas famed spas that are located right on the beach.
For those of you looking to break away from the crowds, there are the sandy and pebbly beaches of Erromardie which are in walking distance of some of the area’s best campsites. Quieter than the main stretch of beach, these small tidal beaches offer a more authentic and peaceful summer experience – with lifeguards on hand during July and August.
Plage de Lafiténia
Heading north on the unprotected coastline up to Plage de Lafiténia is where the action happens. A popular spot for good surfers thanks to the rocky headland that triggers a long right handed ride. The wave breaks over a rocky slab that make for a fast and steep take off and a nice wall with hollow sections for cover-ups.
Plage de Cénitz
Looking for a softer sand spit for learning how to handle your first turns and perfect your shaka throwing skills? Head over to Plage de Cénitz. Ideal for beginners and big kids alike, the surf is smooth and steady, providing gentle breakers for you to play around on, plus there are heaps of surf schools that offer reasonably priced lessons and hire.
Biarrritz (23 min)
Pharmacie Franco Anglaise, 16 Boulevard Thiers, 64500 Saint-Jean-de-Luz
La Poste, 44 Boulevard Victor Hugo, 64500 Saint-Jean-de-Luz
Taxi-Luziens, 7 Rue Duconte, 64500 Saint-Jean-de-Luz
ParkingYou will find free parking right around the coastal inlets of Saint Jean de Luz but, for peace of mind and longer stays, there are also three main underground parking areas situated in the centre of town. Most hotels and camping sites will offer complimentary parking or a space at a reduced rate during your stay, for those of you looking to explore the many beaches, be prepared to pay a premium.
Saint Jean de Luz boasts a cheap, regular and tourist friendly transport system across the coastline. Connected by a mainland train track that runs all the way up to Paris, ferries into Spain and a handy beach buses service during the busy summer season, getting around at pocket money prices couldn’t be easier. You can also use their new park and ride system that takes you straight into the centre of town for a few euros.
Saint-Jean-de-Luz is well-connected by bike lanes and renting bikes is an inexpensive and fun way to get around. There are a few established hire companies in the centre of town where you can create package deals on a wide selection of bikes that start from as little as 11 euros for a half a day. Cyclo Station is the new kid on the block, offering a range of stylish beach cruisers, mountain bikes, kids bikes, tandems and electric bikes for a wide range of terrain. Nearby in Hendaye, Les Roues de Lilou offer electric bike rental and tours, including a wine tasting tour we can definitely recommend.
Active things to do in Saint-Jean-de-Luz
Saint-Jean-de-Luz has 5 very different surf spots in close proximity, from Lafitenia a classic point-break to Belharra the legendary Basque Country big wave spot. With lots of options for surfing, Saint-Jean-de-Luz attracts surfers from far and wide especially when it’s too big or onshore at the beaches further north. If you’re a good surfer, head to Lafitenia and try the right handed point-break. Beginners can head over to Socoa, the other side of Ciboure, or Les Flots Bleus in Saint-Jean-de-Luz bay. There are loads of surf shops in town that rent boards and provide lessons.
Explore the coast by bike
By far one of the cheapest and most awe-inspiring trips to take on the south-west coast, riding along the cycle paths that connect Saint Jean de Luz to the Spanish border and the Basque shoreline offer unimaginable views out to sea and inland to the looming Pyrenees mountain range. Easily accessible and simple to plan, the local council has mapped out a range of routes suited to families, endurance riders and those of you looking to ride in style from the beach to the bar! For those of you really looking to push your limits, we recommend going off the beaten track and trying out mountain biking in the Ascain region or heading up the local peak, La Rhune for some serious altitude!
Own the bowl at 162 skate school
Get a lesson in kick flip cool from some serious skaters at Saint Jean de Luz’s skate park. Giving little groms and shady shredders the chance to perfect their skills in the pro-approved park sponsored by DC, it’s free to use and the perfect place to rub shoulders with the action sports elite. Facing Quiksilver HQ, the skate park is renowned as a lunchtime hangout for championship surfers and AM all-stars taking some time out to grind the rail in between prepping for their next big comp. Get one-to-one tuition with one of their DC pro skaters or give your half pipe monsters a taste of skater style with their group initiation lessons! http://162skate.org/stages-de-skate/
Hike to Hendaye
The ideal hiking day out for those of you looking to discover the natural beauty of the Basque country by foot, follow the horizon from Bidart to the border town of Hendaye on a 25k nature walk. Resplendent with natural flora and fauna, experience the breathtaking highs and earthy lows of the spectacular region as you ramble across the coastline on this historic pathway. A simple route that takes you through the small towns and along the beach front, this is the perfect day out for families and outdoor enthusiasts looking to experience the raw and wild beauty of the region. Download the map: http://cdt64.media.tourinsoft.eu/upload/PDF-Sentier-littoral-Bidart-a-St-Jean-de-Luz.pdf
Learn to SUP
Stand up paddle boarding is one of the most popular water sports on the south-west coast. Easy to get into, you can take a lesson with one of the many surf schools. A great group activity, you can paddle round the bay, or ramp up the fun a notch and try catching a wave and surfing back to the beach. Ideal when the tide is low and the sea isn’t too choppy, once you’ve got the hang of it, you can hire a SUP for half-day or a few days for a reduced price. Group lessons start from 30 euro pp.
Where to stay
Saint-Jean-de-Luz offers a range of accommodation options for all budgets. The town and surrounding area is full of niche spots for you to rest your head and enjoy the famous Basque hospitality. With its rustic architecture and comfortable interior, in plain sight of the town centre, the 3 star Hotel La Marisa is the perfect stop over. Next in line is the contemporary hotel Arena that provides comfortable, clean and compact rooms for big families and couples on a budget. For a more traditional feel, locals and summertime regulars recommend Les Almadies, which offers good value and quaint interiors with quality 3 star service. When you want wow factor, you should try La Reserve, a swish whitewashed villa offering sea views and 5 star style all the way.
Where to eatA cultural and gastronomic playground bursting at the seams with the finest French fare, ancestral sweet-toothed delights and hearty Basque cuisine, feel the authentic hubbub of French life at Bodéga La Plancha in the town centre or La Taverne Basque for more authentic fare. For something more family friendly, try the local Italian restaurant Bellini for lip slapping pasta and head out to the coast for freshly caught fish of the day at Le Dauphin.
Where to drink
A mixed bag of cool surfer spots and French coffee culture, Saint Jean de Luz has something for party goers and lazy loungers alike. The Boardriders bar is the most happening place on the action sports scene, hosting pro-rider nights and mini concerts in the heart of Quiksilver HQ, their lock-ins are renowned for good times and hefty hangovers! For something more cultural, try the converted garage at Chez Renauld where you can try locally brewed beers and get a taste of local nightlife. For something more breath taking, bag a babysitter and enjoy sunset sessions at Le Bistro du Mata – a rustic hangout with exceptional views.
Please leave a comment below if you need specific advice for your trip to Saint-Jean-de-Luz, or if you have any recommendations to help us improve this guide. Happy holidays!
About the author
Self-confessed foodie and outdoor sports aficionado, Aimée Whistler has been scoping out hidden gems across France for over five years. From shredding backcountry powder to savouring the finest backyard cuisine, get first-hand suggestions from Active Azur’s most committed Francophile.