TRAVEL NOTES: BAYONNE

This off the beaten track Basque Beauty is well worth the journey.


I stumbled across the French Basque town of Bayonne in 2010 while I was looking for something to do when I arrived in the seaside town of Biarritz. I caught the bus to the town and discovered to my happiness that the local Festival was in full swing. A little bit of history and info about the Festival…

Fetes de Bayonne always starts the Wednesday before the first Sunday of August and is essentially a series of Festivals considered to be the largest in France, which lasts for 5 days. It’s basically one gigantic Street Party. And the Red scarf, belt and white dress up is what you need to wear. Don’t worry, you can purchase these at the Festival. Go one further and join the purists who wear blue and white, the colours of the City of Bayonne. Basically, the Festival was started after a group of friends belonging to the local Rugby Club (This is a rugby town) visited San Fermin (Running of the Bulls) in Pamplona and wanted to emulate that festival for their own town. 

I wondered through the streets, entwined with thousands of locals sporting the traditional colours, dancing, singing and drinking loads of Sangria. The bars open out onto the street where 1 litre bottles of Beer, Wine and Sangria can be purchased for only a few Euros. Today was going to get loose. 

The Basque people really love their bulls and really, really love to antagonise them. Its a sign of masculinity but at the same time, you must respect the Bull. Never, ever attempt to grab a Bull by the horns. This is a most disrespectful act in the eyes of the Basque people, and an act which can see you being attacked by a group of locals. Wondering around and getting immersed in the Festival spirit, I stumbled upon the local Bullring, as Basque as any tradition. You could actually go into the Bullring with the locals and basically take turns in enticing the Bulls to charge you. However the most mental thing witnessed, was hordes of Basque men laying down all in a row in front of the gate where new Bulls are introduced. The Bull comes charging around the passage and jumps over all the men. The problem is, bulls can’t fly  and there’s always collateral damage. Here’s the before…

And here’s the chaos that ensured…

By nightfall, a whole day of drinking and Bull dodging leaves one very inebriated and in the mood to party. A big stage back towards the centre of town played host to a French band who were playing heaps of great indie/pop covers which sound just that little bit more sexy and fun when sung in French. Unlike Pamplona, I found Bayonne to have an overall friendly vibe. Less intense and more good vibes. Locals play games in the street and encourage everyone to join in. The Basque people love to run, jump, dodge and attempt to fly. Crowd surfing, Bayonne style…

After having my fair share of beer, sangria, paella and french indie pop….I jumped on the bus and headed back to Biarritz only to wake up with a great hangover, well worth the pain. I highly recommend checking out Bayonne during Festival time. Biarritz is serviced by an Airport that takes flights from all over Europe and the UK and is a great place to base yourself if traveling around the Basque country. A luxurious, glamourous and beautiful seaside playground, this area is the start of the Surf Coast Capital of Europe. Oh and did I mention the Sunset?

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