How To Travel Like A Designer: Basque Country

If you like all things European, consider a trip to Basque Country, a fascinating region for lifestyle and design. Spread across the French-Spanish border and carved by nature, it is a scenic region where rich arts traditions flow into modern inventiveness. Fashion designers Paco Rabanne and Cristóbal Balenciaga are among contemporary Basque celebrities.

Drawing on ancient know-how, local artisans personify the Basque creative genius. Just take a look at Cazaux ceramics and pottery, Amestoy jewels, Alki Furniture or Blunt Concepts — that kind of craftsmanship alone makes it worth a trip to Biarritz. The coastal city, cherished by European royalty and tastemakers since the 19th century, is also famous for its gorgeous, eclectic architecture.

Stunning historic buildings make Basque Country very attractive to style-conscious travellers. Banking on that rich heritage, sportswear designer Serge Blanco renovated a charming castle into a paragon of hospitality: the Château de Brindos. Located near the long beaches of Anglet, this quiet estate’s enchanting surroundings will seduce you right away, as will the elegant rooms. Suites with a vast terrace are particularly romantic, while narrow spiral staircases leading to secret passages take you back in time, straight to France’s chivalrous past! Take a room with a view on the private huge lake and stroll in the forest, or enjoy the luxurious hotel’s spa, gym and outdoor pool. A serene and magical atmosphere, enhanced by the friendly staff’s warm welcome, makes Brindos one of Relais & Châteaux’s gems.

Gastronomy is the other reason you must visit the southwest coast of France. Among the very well rated local restaurants, Christophe Grosjean’s kitchen offers an exquisite menu that can be enjoyed within the confine of a classy decor or outside, on a sun-drenched terrace. The award-winning chef elevates the taste of home-grown products in a way that will make you want to go back. After a successful career in California, Chef Grosjean came back to share his creative passion at Château de Brindos, and each dish is truly an intense pleasure for the palate and the eye. Your evening will be heightened as Sommelier Sylvain Desheulles takes you on a discovery to another world — where wine pairing is not just a science but an art form, too — while the staff helps make the experience unforgettable.

When visiting Basque Country, one can’t help but notice the impeccable condition of houses, even old ones. Remote farms, castles and townhouses are extremely well preserved and decorated — both inside and out. The Basque people take pride in maintaining their homes, I learned. “They like to present well and be neat,” says master glass artist Françoise Saliou, the owner of La Pierre de Lune — a store/workshop on avenue Dulut in Montreal. A native Basque, Françoise uses her precious craft to restore ancient stained glass windows, thus helping preserve historic buildings. Her expertise earned her a Special Heritage Award in 2004, as artisan of the year. We spoke with Françoise about her home country.

Corinne Cécilia: When in Basque Country, where do you like to stay?
Françoise Saliou: If I didn’t have a home there, I would stay at the Grand Palais in Biarritz, facing the shore, or somewhere in the backcountry, in-between the mountains and the sea, in Ainhoa. I love the mental space and physical energy the ocean provides.

CC: Where do you like to go out for a drink?
FS: I enjoy having a drink anywhere by the sea (in Biarritz, Bidart, Saint-Jean-de-Luz, Bayonne) — everywhere in Basque Country because it’s a very fun region, with many fairs and local events.

CC: What are some of your favourite places?
FS: I love local exhibitions and must-see sites such the Cathedral in Bayonne and the Abbadia castle in Hendaye. I also enjoy visiting artisans’ shows and food fairs in villages, where you can enjoy authentic Basque cake and cheese, shop for makilas (shepherd’s walking sticks), espadrilles (traditional sneakers) and typical Basque fabric.

Corinne’s travel tips: Honour your New Year’s resolution and treat yourself to a revitalizing stay in one of France’s most famous thalassotherapy institutes, at the heart of Biarritz. Launched in 1979 by former cycling champion Louison Bobet, who had discovered the huge benefits of seawater to treat bad injuries, Le Sofitel Biarritz Le Miramar Thalassa Sea & Spa is a benchmark in the field of marine cures, and a beautifully designed space. Unwind in their relaxation lagoon, as you lay back in the dark and float in a basin filled with saline water, slowly surrendering any bodily tensions. Take a swim in a warm seawater pool, and finish the day off with a well-being treatment — a re-energizing wrap or a draining massage. Take advantage of expert medical staff and a healthy dietary menu offered at Le Miramar. Staying there for a week is ideal to enjoy a holistic rejuvenation and improve your health, vitality, nutrition and looks. In addition to a mental and physical boost, the high quality treatments and services will leave you with blissful memories.

Photo credits:
1a. Photography by Le Doare?, via City of Biarritz
1b. Photography by Sea Museum Aquarium Biarritz, courtesy of Aquitaine Regional Tourist Board
1c. Photo courtesy of Château de Brindos
2. Photo courtesy of Lucky Studio, via Cazaux
3-4. Photos courtesy of Château de Brindos
5. Photography by Kelly Chomat
6. Photography by Jean-Jacques Brochard, courtesy of Aquitaine Regional Tourist Board
7. Photography by B. Bloch, courtesy of Aquitaine Regional Tourist Board
8. Photography by Laurent Reiz, courtesy of Aquitaine Regional Tourist Board
9a. Le Sofitel Biarritz Le Miramar Thalassa Sea & Spa, photography by Fabrice Rambert
9b. Le Sofitel Biarritz Le Miramar Thalassa Sea & Spa, photography by Photomobile
9c. Le Sofitel Biarritz Le Miramar Thalassa Sea & Spa, photography by Fabrice Rambert