Recently I was lucky enough to venture en famille to the glorious Basque region of France. The town in the area that you might have heard of is Biarritz, but having been there previously, and not having loved it, we decided to stay near Saint-Jean-de-Luz. Saint-Jean—or Luz, as some of the locals call it—is just 10 minutes south of the fading glory of Biarritz and infinitely more adorable and charming. It’s a village filled with white stucco buildings with red roofs and red shutters unique to the Basque region. Actually, they are a shade of burned red; you might call the color bordeaux, but we are two hours south of Bordeaux here and on the Atlantic Ocean. Saint-Jean is a wonderful walking town, as most of its key shopping streets are closed off to cars and the harbor is terribly picturesque.
The items to buy here are espadrilles, made in every size and color, many with stripes in a plethora of shades. Then of course there are the famous Basque linens, striped as well in numerous colors. It’s hard to restrain oneself from buying tablecloths, napkins, bed linens, towels, beach bags and so on. I have bought a variety in the past, so I was able to limit my purchases to a group of small bread baskets that I’m going to give as gifts, all in different shades of pink, khaki, green and white.
Of course you must sample or take home the gâteau basque, a lovely, simple little cake that is often served with crème anglaise. Divine. And then there are the peppers.
While here, we decided to actually visit the town of Espelette, because I had already fallen in love with the flavor of the peppers during a previous visit. In the village, you’ll see the Espelette peppers hanging on the outside of the facades of the building where they’re sold. And you can buy them whole and hanging in a group; as a red ground-up spice, with a flavor that’s much more interesting than what we know as red pepper; or even in a jelly. Espelette jelly served on top of a fresh goat cheese is absolute heaven.
Everything in the region, it seems, has a bit of the Espelette spice on it. It’s a large red oblong pepper that’s not too spicy, nowhere near a jalapeño, but much more interesting than a peppercorn. It has a smoky flavor and is rubbed into the jamón that is cured here and sprinkled over the various local fish that is barbecued à la plancha. The plancha is a Spanish-style barbecue that looks more like a griddle and produces brilliant results.
Le Parc Victoria
A Relais and Châteaux hotel in Saint-Jean.
Located in the hills, with a wonderful restaurant.