"Iparraldea" Top 5 Page for this destination Bayonne by mikey_e

Bayonne Travel Guide: 58 reviews and 153 photos

From the Mediterranean to the Atlantic

The first time I was in Bayonne was in 1998, when I came to France/Spain with my dad and we visited the city during it's festival season, which is the beginning of August. So, when I went off on my tour of southern France and northern Spain, prompted by a slightly insane incident in Barcelona, I decided to relive the time when I was 15 and had more hair on my head and less on my chest. I was even more excited when, in Toulouse, I checked the website of the Bayonne Tourist Board and saw, I though, that I would be arriving at the start of the fêtes. Of course, either I was extremely confused or the website lied, but I ended up arriving the day after the end of the festival. This was probably quite lucky, as I wouldn't have been able to find accomodation in the extremely humid city centre, and would have been forced into some horribly gawdy beach complex in Anglet or Biarritz.

Memories are never quite what they seem

Like all the cities that I visited on my first vagabonding session, Bayonne was remarkably what I had remembered it to be, and then slowed revealed itself to have changed considerably - or, more likely, I discovered what I had missed the first time around. At first glance, it was still a city in which Basque heritage and language were nothing more than tourist gimmicks, and that everything was put on display in a Disney-like atmosphere to attract tourists and the curious who wanted to do something other than spend time on the beach. Over the two days that I spent in the city, however, I came to realize that, likely because of the same changes that had encouraged renewed interest in local culture elsewhere in the EU, people were genuinely interested in Basqueness, from displays of separatist politics to the large Elkar Liburudenda (bookshop) in Petit Bayonne - despite the fact that censuses during the 1990s showed only something like 10% of the population had a knowledge of the Basque language.

Tourism trumps all

Despite the renaissance of northern Basque culture and the political machinations that highlighted a newly aggressive autonomist movement in the North, tourism is still the mainstay of the economy here and it was extremely hard to avoid it. Bayonne left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth thanks to the plethora of tourist joints. It is rather odd that in one of the few countries where I could pass as a local thanks to my knowledge of the language, I should be forced to eat at expensive tourist trap restaurants. Granted, the food was not necessarily bad or tasteless, but when you are trying to travel on a budget it's never pleasant to find that your request for "cider" results in the waiter bringing a 10 euro bottle to the table for one. Not to mention the outrageous demand for 4 euros an hour for internet access. Despite the hassle, I will always remember Bayonne for the picturesque houses lining the quay, and conveniently repress any recollection of the Disney feel for as long as humanly possible.

  • Last visit to Bayonne: Aug 2008
  • Intro Updated Sep 16, 2008
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Reviews (24)

Comments (2)

  • cachaseiro's Profile Photo
    Jul 20, 2009 at 1:23 AM

    excellent photo and tips mikey.

  • kokoryko's Profile Photo
    Jan 9, 2009 at 2:27 PM

    An interesting and uncommon look at Bayonne, Mickey; you caught a lot and show it well; but being “almost a local” (Pau, have a look), I can tell you “basquehood” is stronger than you suggest. You didn’t miss a lot, missing the festival, too touristy!


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