Bicycling France’s Atlantic Coast: St-Jean-de-Luz to Hendaye

By Maggie LaCoste

Today was our last day of biking along the Atlantic Coast.  It was an easy day with time set aside for a visit to the Fort of Socoa in Ciboure, lunch in the Basque seaside resort of Hendaye and a return ride to St-Jean-de-Luz.

We had heard for days about how gorgeous the ride along the “corniche” or cliff top road was, and this definitely was the case.  The scenery was spectacular, cliffs and pounding ocean on one side and mountains on the other.  The panorama was so breathtaking, it was difficult to keep your eyes on the road, which was pretty important since it was a 2 lane highway, no medians and cars and trucks zooming by at speeds way to fast for my comfort.  But the road was busy with professional looking cyclists, each looking very comfortable sharing the road, so I tried to do the same!

Signs point you to the coastal highway from the center of town, and before you know it, the Fort of Socoa is dominating the horizon.  This fort was built to protect St-Jean-de-Luz and Ciboure from the Spanish, and is one of many Vauban-designed fortifications in the region.  The roadway to the fort is a succession of small little restaurants perfect for lunch on a warm, sunny spring day.

It was low tide in the morning, so the view of the boats in the harbor alongside the fort was really something.

As we left Ciboure, we were treated to a great view of the mountains, which are very often hidden in the fog.

And then we began the hills.  One thing that I’ve learned this trip is that the word “corniche” and dune almost always mean hills when it comes to biking.  I discovered this a week ago when we were up in the Charente-Maritime area.  I think I’ve gotten stronger this trip, as the uphills don’t really bother me too much, but I really hate the downhills.  I hate going fast, so I wonder if it’s possible to burn my brakes out on  downhills.  Thinking about this takes my mind off how far of a drop off it is to the sea!

Before long, we get our first glimpse of Hendaye, one of the more famous Basque seaside resorts.  The town has a 3 km sandy beach that stretches to the border with Spain and is regarded as one of the safest on the southern coast.  This town is heaven for practically every type of water sport, but surfing seems to be the most popular.  We watch a van of school kids arrive, and in literally minutes, the kids don their wetsuits and are in the water for an afternoon surf lesson.

We spent the afternoon exploring the harbor and streets of Hendaye.  We enjoyed a long lunch and sharing conversation with some local residents, interested in learning more about our bike trip along the coast.  We were amazed at the kindness and friendliness of the Basque people.  The charm of Hendaye is certainly a reflection of this.  It’s hard to capture the overwhelming beauty of this area, but hopefully these photos will give you a sense of why our time here was so special.

Much too soon, it was time to leave Hendaye to bike back to St-Jean-de-Luz.  This definitely is a town and a region that we will look forward to returning to some day.  I tell my husband that several of my new friends have suggested renting an electric bike for a future trip, which would probably include more hilly routes.

 

Posted by Maggie LaCoste

I love the adventure and unpredictability of experiencing France by bike. Cycling in France is the ultimate slow travel adventure, an opportunity to see it through the back door in a way few tourists experience. One week on a bike in France and life takes on a different meaning! I created Experience France By Bike to inspire recreational cyclists to visit France the slow way....by bike, and to be the best source of information for planning the perfect bicycling adventure. I encourage readers to embrace the uncertainty of the road ahead and to take the path less traveled, exploring roads, towns and villages that you would never experience traveling by car.

  1. Hello,
    I came across your website and found it very enjoyable. I just had a couple of questions so if you could e-mail me back that would be great!

    1. Experience France by Bike June 2, 2012 at 5:58 pm

      Hi there! Just send me a note with your questions!

  2. Wouter Mulders July 2, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    Any suggestion for a place to rent a bike at or near St-Jean-de-Luz or Hendaye? Thank you in advance.

    1. Experience France by Bike July 2, 2012 at 7:38 pm

      Dear Wouter,

      I would suggest that you contact Mark Fenies at Bike Atlantic. He is based out of Anglet which is near Bayonne, just north of St Jean de Luz. They rent 24 speed Trek bikes and can also provide you with panniers if you need them. You can easily take the train from St. Jean de Luz to Bayonne (about 30 minutes and 5 Euro), pick up your bikes and ride the fantastic coastal trail that I have written about on my blog. You will find them very accommodating and they can help with any other areas you may need bike assistance. Here is the website: http://www.bikeatlantic.com/page19.php
      Mark’s e-mail is: mfenies@bikeatlantic.com. Hope this works for you! This is a fantastic area and I wish that I could go back and ride it again!

      Maggie LaCoste
      Experience France by Bike