Nestled in the centre of a vast bay open to the ocean and set against a mountain backdrop, Saint-Jean-de-Luz, the city of swashbuckling privateers, has developed while preserving its identity. Although the time has long gone when whale hunters set sail on the open seas venturing as far as Newfoundland, the long-liners and gill-netters still bustle in and out of this pretty fishing port. The pedestrian streets linking the ocean to the historic centre and its imposing houses bear witness to the fortune made by the 17th century ship-owners and are a reminder that the Sun King married here in 1660.
Saint-Jean-de-Luz has established itself as a wellness destination with 2 thalassotherapy centres open all year round. Life is peaceful and relaxed, there are an array of culinary delights to try, varied activities to enjoy and colourful characters to meet.
Some key moments from history
Louis XIV square
Louis XIV square is the beating heart of the historic town centre. Surrounded by superb and imposing houses, including Maison Louis XIV and the Hôtel de Ville guildhall, it is one of the town’s most lively places.
It is also the town’s central square where the main streets converge: Rue Gambetta, a pedestrian street lined with shops, direct access from the square to the port and the narrow Rue de la République that leads directly to the Grande Plage.
Activities staged on the bandstand in the centre of square regularly contribute to the party atmosphere. Terraces of the four bar-restaurants are the ideal place for inhabitants of Saint-Jean-de-Luz (aka the “Luziens”) to meet for coffee or drinks. Artists with their easels set up under the canopy provided by gnarled branches of pollarded plane trees.
Musical events are held on the bandstand at 11:30am every Sunday and on national holidays from Easter to All Saints’ Day. The toro de fuego fireworks show and confetti battle is held on Wednesdays and Sundays during the summer months, a tradition perpetuated since 1926.
A fun and family-friendly atmosphere guaranteed.
Not to be missed
The seashore promenade
The beach and promenade along the bay stretches from Socoa Fort to the Sainte-Barbe headland. Very early on, the town had a type of threshold seawall guaranteeing protection from the onslaughts of the sea that the Luziens called the “jetty” and which became a place to stroll along set against a backdrop of the Basque mountains.
Along the seafront there are some beautiful hotels, two thalassotherapy centres, some 19th century houses and very rare recent constructions.
The Jacques Thibaud promenade, which runs from Pavlovsky’s red Art Deco lighthouse to the Pergola, is fronted by red-shuttered town houses with their footbridges looking out over the Grande Plage and one of France’s most beautiful bays. .
The Pergola, designed by architect Mallet-Stevens in 1927, is home to some beachwear and souvenir shops, prêt-à-porter boutiques, restaurants and ice cream parlours.
After the Pergola is the Flots Bleus promenade that leads to Sainte-Barbe.
A haven of greenery to the north of Saint-Jean-de-Luz Bay catches the eye.
This rocky promontory, laid out as a public park, extends an open invitation to stroll, relax and just breathe in the sea air. There are children’s playground games, snack bars, park benches, an orientation table and lighthouse (a former chapel).
On Sainte-Barbe hill, you will be able to see all along the Basque coast. It offers one of the most beautiful panoramic views of Saint-Jean-de-Luz Bay and is one of the favourite spots for anyone wanting to watch the sun set over the ocean.
You can also continue your walk to the Sainte-Barbe neighbourhood.
The Grande Plage
Shopping and strolling
Rue Gambetta, Rue Loquin and Rue de la République, three pedestrian streets famous for their bustling, all-year-round commercial activity that contribute to Saint-Jean-de-Luz’ lively and dynamic profile.
Boulevards Victor Hugo and Thiers that encircle the town centre have a wealth of food shops, prêt-à-porter boutiques, service providers and art galleries.
Saint-Jean-de-Luz provides you with the special opportunity of shopping in long-established, specialist enterprises like Maison Adam patisserie, Maison Laffargue leather goods and Maison Lartigue 1910 Basque linen that are all just a stone’s throw from the ocean.
Traditional shops, local products, Basque crafts, up-to-the-minute retail outlets, shops are open all year round including on Sundays and national holidays.
On Tuesdays and Fridays all year round, and on Saturday in July and August, local producers crowd around the traditional Halles covered market, and set up their stalls on the forecourt to display their wares.