St Jean de Luz,
St. Jean De Luz
Situated at the mouth of the Nivelle River, St. Jean de Luz is by far the most attractive and most Basque of the region's beach resorts. Evidence of the wealth and vigour of St. Jean's seafaring past is most notable in the opulent villas that dot the bay area and the centre square. Not yet submerged in tourism, it is one of the busiest fishing ports in France.
As the only natural harbour in this area, St. Jean has been a major port for centuries. Whaling and cod fishing are the traditional occupations. Voyaging as far afield as Newfoundland, local sailors claimed to have discovered it a hundred years before Columbus. Driven from his traditional ports of call in Arctic waters by Dutch and English whalers, an enterprising Basque devised a method of boiling down blubber on board the vessel. This enabled the Basque boats to stay at sea much longer. When they lost their cod fishing grounds in Newfoundland in the 18th century, they saved themselves from ruin by turning privateer and seizing other nations' vessels. St. Jean de Luz became a veritable pirates' nest; Basque corsairs sailed under the authority of the French King, becoming the scourge of English merchant ships.
In 1660 at the church St. Jean Baptiste, Louis XIV (the Sun King) wed the Infanta Maria Teresa of Spain, as agreed in the 1659 Treaty of the Pyrenees. The marriage put an end to decades of war between the two neighbouring countries. Plain and fortress-like on the outside, the church's interior is magnificent, lined on three sides with tiers of dark oak galleries and gilded wooden statues. A ship model presented by the Empress Eugénie hangs from the centre. Unfortunately, the portal through which the famous newlyweds exited the church was sealed immediately following the ceremony so no one else could use the royal threshold. It has remained walled up ever since.
The town is best explored on foot, starting around the Place Louis XIV with its bandstand, cafés and the statue of Louis XIV on horseback. Shop-lined pedestrian streets and art galleries invite you to browse; a picturesque harbour is filled with colourful boats. St. Jean beckons you to explore its narrow streets and shady squares enhanced by local artists who daily set up their easels and sell their paintings.
Going Ashore in St. Jean de Luz
The ship is scheduled to anchor off St. Jean de Luz. Guests will be taken ashore via the ship's tenders. The landing is at Port des Pecheurs, the old fishing port. Town is within easy walking distance. Taxis are stationed at designated taxi ranks in town and may have to be called for pickup at the wharf.
St. Jean is one of the best places in the Basque country to buy tea towels, tablecloths, napkins, aprons, etc., made of colourful Basque linen. Pyrenean wool items are also a very good buy. So are the wonderful Basque sweets such as almond biscuits or kanougas and the tempting macaroons. The local currency is the euro. A bank and money exchange is located across from the wharf.
Considering its size, St. Jean de Luz boasts an amazing amount of excellent dining. The traditional French and Basque cuisine, including ttoro (Basque bouillabaisse) and mussels cooked in their own juice with onions, are favourite local dishes. Savoury cheese, mushroom, fish and vegetable tarts are available as well as sweet ones for dessert.
Maison Louis XIV
Built for the ship-owning Lohobiague family in 1635, this is one of the finest 18th-century homes in St. Jean de Luz. The name is attributed to the fact that the young King Louis stayed here in 1660 during preparations for his marriage to Maria Teresa, Infanta of Spain.
Maison de L'Infante
This impressive pink Italianate villa with loggias overlooking the harbour was the lodging place for Maria Teresa prior to the royal nuptials.
Private arrangements for independent sightseeing may be requested through the Shore Concierge Office on board.