Last Updated on 10/01/2023 by Alfred
Planning to explore the Southwest? Between the ocean and mountains, discover the 18 must-see things to see in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques!
Between mountain and ocean, your heart swings? Discover the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, the department of Nouvelle-Aquitaine that lives up to its name. Located between the mountains of the Pyrenees and the Atlantic Ocean, there is as much hiking and skiing as surfing and idleness. Lovers of pretty French villages will not be left out since the hinterland is full of them. Visiting the Pyrénées-Atlantiques is not easy!
Explore the majestic landscapes of the historic regions of Béarn and the Basque Country. Discover a strong culture and tasty culinary specialties. Enjoy nature and a wide range of outdoor activities.
So, ready to let yourself be tempted? We have selected for you the 18 essential things to do in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques.
Biarritz has been attracting travelers from all over the world for decades. It must be said that this elegant city is to be visited in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques because it is a real jewel by the ocean. It enjoys an exceptional location, a rich cultural heritage, and ideal conditions for surfing. We take pleasure in strolling between the stalls of the market of Les Halles, strolling around the Port des Pêcheurs and relaxing on the small beaches of the city. At sunset time, the view of the surrounding mountains is simply amazing!
Are you looking for the best waves? Do not miss the mythical surf spot of the Basque Coast, as well as those of the Grande Plage, Marbella or Milady. The city regularly hosts festivals and surfing competitions.
2. The beaches of the French Basque coast
Wondering what to do in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques? Enjoy the ocean and the beautiful beaches that line the French Basque coast! From Anglet to Hendaye, on the Spanish border, the beaches of the Basque Country follow one another but are not alike. Between the small protected bays and the large expanses of sand, you are bound to find the ideal place to put your towel, walk or surf.
- Anglet: the Chambre d’Amour, the Ocean Beach, the Corsairs Beach, the Madragu;
- Biarritz: the Grande Plage, the Côte des Basques, Marbella, Milady;
- Bidart: the central beach, Ilbarritz, the beach of the Pavillon Royal;
- Guéthary: Parliamentia, Cenitz;
- Saint-Jean de Luz: Grande Plage, Mayarco beach, Erromardie, Lafitenia;
- Ciboure ;
- Socoa ;
- Hendaye: the Grande Plage, the Deux Jumeaux beach…
3. The Rhune
After the beach, head for the mountain. After swapping your flip-flops for good sneakers, discover the Rhune or Larrun in Basque. Located in the Pyrenees, the Rhune massif is crossed by the French-Spanish border. At the top of Mount La Rhune, you will enjoy a 360° view of the Basque Country, the ocean, the mountains, and the Landes forest when the sky is clear. While taking its trails, expect to meet sheep and pottokak (small horses in Basque).
It is also possible to reach the summit by taking the little train of the Rhune, departing from the town of Sare. This authentic cogwheel train, dating from 1924, will get you there in about 35 minutes.
4. Pau and the Boulevard des Pyrénées
Capital of Béarn located at the foot of the Pyrenees, Pau enjoys a pleasant setting and prestigious historical monuments. Lively, young and dynamic, the city regularly hosts sporting and cultural events.
Passing through Pau? The famous Boulevard des Pyrénées, completed in 1900, is a must. Two kilometers long, it connects the city’s castle to Beaumont Park. This panoramic walk offers its visitors a breathtaking view and must be visited in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques. To get there, you can take a funicular from Pau train station.
5. The Ossau Valley and its lakes
Visiting the Pyrénées-Atlantique is necessary through the exploration of its large valleys. The Ossau Valley offers an unparalleled playground for lovers of hiking in the middle of nature. The majestic Pic du Midi d’Ossau stands out in the landscape of this nature reserve in the Pyrenees National Park. Ayous, Bious-Artigues, Anglas and Artouste are some of the most beautiful lakes in the Béarnaise Valley.
You can then practice canoeing, cool off after a long walk or pitch your tent nearby to enjoy the view when you wake up. Change of scenery guaranteed!
If you do not know the village of Espelette, you must have already tasted its pepper. Nestled between the mountains and the greenery, the charming village of Espelette is indeed famous for this emblematic spice of the Basque Country.
Hanging peppers adorn the white and red facades of this traditional village in the Labourdin hinterland. Take advantage of your visit to Espelette and its market to taste Basque gastronomic specialties and discover local crafts!
7. The Caves of Isturitz and Oxocelhaya
Are you passionate about history and geology? This cultural and scientific site is worth a visit if you are looking for what to visit in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques! Nestled in the foothills of the Western Pyrenees, the caves of Isturitz and Oxocelhaya have been classified as Historic Monuments since 1953. Many objects dating back to prehistoric times, such as tools and works of art, have been discovered in these natural caves.
8. The most beautiful villages in France
Nearly 160 French rural communes with remarkable heritage are classified as the Most Beautiful Villages of France. The department of Pyrénées-Atlantiques has one in Béarn Pyrénées, and four in the Basque Country.
What if you went on the road to these picturesque villages?
- The bastioned city of Navarrenx, with its many remains;
- The typical Basque village of Ainhoa and its half-timbered houses;
- The Bastide Clairence is dedicated to craftsmanship;
- The medieval city of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port ;
- The ancient village of Sare is surrounded by mountains.
9. Holzarte Footbridge
It is one of the wonders of the Basque Country. Suspended at 180 meters high, the Holzarte footbridge overlooks the spectacular natural site of the Olhadubi Gorge. This monkey bridge is accessible after a hike of about an hour in the undergrowth, starting from Larrau.
To make the complete tour of the gorges, bring good shoes and about four hours of walking in a green setting.
10. The Col d’Aubisque
Culminating at 1,709 meters, the Col d’Aubisque is one of the must-sees to visit in the Atlantic Pyrenees. Does this name mean anything to you? Located on the borders of Béarn and Bigorre, this mountain pass is one of the mythical stages of the Tour de France cyclist.
Tempted by hiking? Walking its trails is one of the best ways to enjoy the grandiose view of the surrounding peaks!
Note: the Col d’Aubisque is generally closed to traffic in winter, from December to May.
Back in town to visit the historic Bayonne, at the confluence of the Nive and the Adour. In the heart of its ramparts, we discover an old town with an old-fashioned charm, many monuments, alleys where it is good to stroll and a vibrant atmosphere.
City of Art and History, Bayonne is also known for its famous festivals organized every summer. The capital of the Basque Country is steeped in local culture, making it a city of character!
12. The Talaia Coastal Trail
Who said hiking was a mountain sport? The Talaia Coastal Trail (watchtower in Basque) stretches for 54 kilometers, between the towns of Bidart and San Sebastian, Spain. In France, the trail is divided into two parts. A first connecting Bidart to Saint-Jean-de-Luz (13 km), and a second connecting Saint-Jean-de-Luz to Hendaye (12 km).
The main asset of this trail is the great diversity of landscapes crossed, in addition to its accessibility. This is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful hikes in the Basque Country to visit in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques.
Talaia is a real invitation to travel back in time in harmony with nature. Open your eyes wide to observe in the distance the silhouette of the Three Crowns, the surfers in the water, the Pointe de Sainte-Barbe, the small fishing ports or the Abbadia estate and its castle on your way.
13. Kakuetta Gorge
Imagine lush nature, rocky and vertiginous walls, in the middle of which a waterfall of more than 20 meters comes to flow. No, you are not in the Amazon, but in the heart of one of the wildest and most majestic sites in the department: the Kakuetta Gorge. This two-kilometer-long canyon, nestled in the Basque mountains, is a paradise for all nature lovers.
This site of natural beauty has been landscaped with footbridges so that young and old explorers can get there. This is a fascinating place to add to your list of must-see things to visit in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques!
Note that the visit, for a fee, of the gorges can only be done from March to November when the waters are low.
14. Ski areas
The Pyrénées-Atlantiques can not only be visited in summer! More confidential than the ski areas of the Alps, the small resorts of the Pyrenees are options of choice in France to try winter sports (skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing …). Are you planning to visit the Pyrénées-Atlantiques in winter? Here are the three ski resorts where you can enjoy one or more days of skiing:
- Artouste: the village of this atypical resort is located on the shores of Lake Fabrèges, which faces the Pyrenees National Park and the Pic du Midi d’Ossau. The panorama is magnificent and the slopes are accessible to all levels. You will also find in this lively resort a freeride zone and a snowpark;
- Gourette: suitable for beginners; Gourette is often considered a family ski resort. Multiple activities are offered, as well as a snowpark;
- La Pierre Saint-Martin: the natural environment of the resort and its 360° view are the main assets of this ski resort in the Pyrenees. The Pierre Saint-Martin ski area is suitable for all winter sports enthusiasts, from beginner to advanced levels. This resort is also equipped with a freestyle area;
15. The Jurançon vineyard
Go to the Jurançon vineyards, in the heart of Béarn, for quality wine tasting. Spread over 1200 hectares, facing the Pyrenees; the Jurançon vineyard produces dry or mellow white wines.
Jurançon, sweet or dry, is an AOC wine. Meet the passionate women and men behind these estates by taking the Jurançon Wine Route!
The authentic city of Oloron-Sainte-Marie has not one but three historic districts. It is the oldest city in Béarn. It stands out with its old buildings on the banks of the Gave d’Aspe. Following the heritage route proposed by the city, you will discover at your own pace the various sites of interest of the ancient medieval city, as well as its history.
Classified City of Art and History, Oloron-Sainte-Marie is also an ideal starting point to go for a stroll in the valleys of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, including the Ossau Valley.
17. The Cirque de Lescun
Let’s continue our discovery of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques in the Valley of Aspe, in Béarn, where the Cirque de Lescun and its mountains with dolomitic peaks are located. This high place of the Pyrenees is home to the preserved mountain village of Lescun, perched at 900 meters above sea level.
The view from the village is simply breathtaking. The kilometers of trails will delight hikers of all levels. This is also a stage of GR 10.
18. Villa Arnaga in Cambo-les-Bains
Are you still wondering what to do in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques? Villa Arnaga, surrounded by its extraordinary park, in Cambo-Les-Bains in the Basque Country, is an exceptional place. Built by Edmond Rostand at the beginning of the twentieth century, the house of Arnaga now houses a museum dedicated to the author of Cyrano de Bergerac. Inspired by Basque farmhouses, the villa takes on local colors on the outside.
The décor inside is sumptuous. You should also fall under the spell of its French and English gardens, labeled Remarkable Gardens.
So, what must-sees will you discover during your next stay in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques?
How to go to the Pyrénées-Atlantiques?
The main airports of the department are located in the cities of Biarritz, on the Basque coast, and Pau, at the foot of the Pyrenees. Biarritz International Airport is connected to many French cities, including Paris, Lille, Marseille, Lyon, and Strasbourg. Note, however, that some lines are seasonal.
Pau Pyrenees airport, about a 1h 15 min drive from Biarritz, offers connections with Paris, Lyon, Marseille, and Ajaccio.
The Skyscanner flight comparator will be very useful in finding the ticket that suits you.
Among the cities best served by train, we find Biarritz and Pau, but also Bayonne and Hendaye. The Bayonne TGV and TER station are quickly accessible from Paris Montparnasse (4 hours), Toulouse (3h30), Bordeaux (2 hours), and Pau (1 hour). Paris Montparnasse train station is also connected to Biarritz (4h15), Pau (4h30), or Hendaye (4h45).
It is then possible to reach many cities of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques by TER (Cambo-Les-Bains, Saint-Jean-de-Luz, Oloron-Sainte-Marie…).
Do you travel by car? The department is crossed by the A63 and A64 motorways. Allow between 7 hours and 8 hours drive to visit the Pyrénées-Atlantiques from Paris.
Where to stay in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques?
Campsites, hotels, hostels, Airbnb… the supply of housing in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques is very diverse, especially on the Basque coast (Biarritz, Saint-Jean-de-Luz, Hendaye…). On the other hand, prices can vary greatly depending on the destination where you want to stay, but also the season. As you can imagine, the coastal towns are very coveted in summer, while the resorts of the Pyrenees are “full” in winter.
Results? Housing fills up quickly, and prices go up… If you are rather looking for atypical and quiet accommodation, you should find your happiness in the hinterland.
To be sure to find your ideal accommodation at the best price, we recommend that you consult the different offers and book in advance on a hotel comparator or the Airbnb site.
So, what must-sees will you discover during your next stay in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques?