The town of Bayonne, barely 50km from the border with Spain, nestles a few kilometres inland from the coast at the confluence of the rivers Adour and Nive (known as Errobi in the Basque language). An important tourist centre and prominent Basque town, Bayonne is one of the principal towns in the department of Pyrénées Atlantiques.
The town was settled by the Romans and served as a useful access route to the sea, effectively linking the Atlantic Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea. As part of Aquitaine, the town was ruled by the English crown prior to the Hundred Years War and as the river Adour changed its course, the town lost its access to the sea and with it, its importance as a strategic port.
The French, however, realised the town’s potential with its proximity to the Spanish border, and once Bayonne fell into French hands, a canal was constructed, to re-direct the river Nive through the town centre.
Today, the river Nive is straddled by five bridges, dividing the town into areas known as Grand Bayonne (Great Bayonne) and Petit Bayonne (Little Bayonne) Because of its strategic location, the town was subjected to many sieges through the centuries, and in the 17th Century, the Marquis de Vauban, foremost military engineer of the times, constructed fortifications and the citadel, much of which remains intact to this day, but is occupied by the French army and not accessible to the public.
Bayonne became a major trading port and Basque sailors brought back spices such as cinnamon from the East. To this day, Basque cuisine incorporates potatoes, pimentos, paprika and other ingredients first introduced to Europe via the port of Bayonne.
Bayonne Citypass Not a single place of interest, but a means to discover Bayonne and the Basque coast at your own pace and in your own way! The Citypass, available from the Tourist Office in Bayonne; it is available for a single day, three days or a whole week and entitles the bearer to unlimited travel on the Basque Coast “Chronoplus” bus, which takes in Bayonne, Anglet, Biarritz and several other towns.
The Citypass also gives free entry to the Basque Museum, a unique experience comprising no less than 20 exhibition rooms on three levels depicting the history and culture of the region; free entry to the Andrieu chocolate factory with its depiction of chocolate manufacturing through the ages in Bayonne; free guided tours of the cathedral, ramparts etc. ; reduced tariffs for many other attractions, discount in some shops and complimentary aperitifs in many of Bayonne’s cafés and restaurants. Citypass costs 12€ for a single day, 16€ for three days and 20€ for the whole week. There are discounts for children, and the under-fours travel free.
Things to see and do: Bonnat Museum This museum, named after Bayonne artist Léon Bonnat (1833-1922), houses many of his portraits, depicting the “gentry” of his day. The museum also contains works by such famous artists as Rubens, Degas, Rembrandt and Goya and is arranged thematically, blending different schools and periods between the 13th and 19th Centuries. In addition to paintings, there are collections of ceramics, archaeology and artefacts. The museum is situated at 5, rue Jacques-Laffitte, Tel: +33(0)5.59.59.08.52
The museum is accessible to people with limited mobility and is open as follows:
July -August – Daily (except Tuesdays) from 10am – 6.30pm with late opening each Wednesday until 9.30pm
May and September-October – Daily (except Tuesdays) from 10am – 6.30pm
November-April and June – Daily (except Tuesdays) from 10am until12.30pm and from 2pm until 6pm The museum is NOT open on public holidays EXCEPT during July and August
Cathedral of Sainte-Marie de Bayonne
The cathedral occupies a prime location at the confluence of the rivers. Built on the site of an ancient cathedral, destroyed by fire in 1310, the present cathedral is built in gothic style and was constructed around the beginning of the 16th Century. Retaining elements of the history of Bayonne, the three lions, symbolic of English rule can be seen alongside the fleur-de-lys of France.
The fourteenth century cloisters are a sight to behold and underneath the cathedral are numerous gothic caves. Guided tours of the cathedral are available and are also included as an element of the Bayonne Citypass. Mass is held on weekdays at 8.30am and 12 noon On Saturdays at 6pm On Sundays at 9am, 11am and 7pm The Cathedral is closed on 1st January, 1st May 1st November and 25th December