Bayonne France - French Holidays
Bayonne, known as Baïona in Basque, is the economic and cultural capital of the Basque Country on the French side of the Pyrenees. As it is about 6km away from the Atlantic coast, tourism has not taken such a hold on Bayonne as it has on Biarritz.
The River Ardour flows east to west through the centre of town, joined by the smaller River Nive flowing north to meet the Ardour. Red and green painted houses augment the feeling that you are in Basque territory, and indeed there is some grafitti expressing a separationist desire in the locals. The French government has all but stamped out dangerous tendencies towards nationalism, however.
In Roman times the city was called Lapurdum, where the name Labourd that refers to the westernmost Pays Basque provinces comes from. Bayonne has a rich and successful history: it was protected by the English until 1453, then the Jews brought the chocolate industry here in the 1500s, and the armaments industry was based here in the 18th century, where the baïonnette (bayonet) was allegedly invented. The activities of 1789 were a setback for the region's success and more recently, a downturn in the oil industry means that there is above average unemployment in Bayonne. However, walking around the town you get the feeling that nobody minds as Bayonne is such a pleasant place to explore.
Map of Bayonne
The west bank is home to Grand Bayonne and the Cathédrale Ste-Marie on the place Pasteur, which looks better from afar than up close as the towers and steeple have an impressive silhouette but have lost a lot of their decorative detail due to weathering. The area around the cathedral is the smartest in town, with the rues d'Espagne and de la Monnaie lined with patisseries and other enticing establishments. The quays along the Nive are very attractive and on the eastern side the Petit Bayonne area has picturesque 16th-century houses. The Musée Basque, 1 rue Marengo, was recently renovated and has an excellent display explaining all things Basque, including pelota. If you pay €9.15 you also gain entry to the Musée Bonnat, a great collection of paintings including works by Goya, Rubens and Ingrès.
Bayonne's nicest hotel is the Frantour Loustau on place de la République (05 59 55 08 08) with river views for €55-70 and restaurant with menus from under €16, or more budget alternatives include the five-room Hôtel Monbar at 24 rue Pannecau (05 59 59 26 80) for €30-40. The best restaurants are along the right bank in Petit Bayonne, and in the small streets running away from the river on both banks. The Auberge du Cheval Blanc, 68 rue Bourgneuf (05 59 59 01 33), is the best with wonderful mains and desserts, but book ahead!