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There's a wonderful atmosphere of faded grandeur in what might be called the "other" South of France. Whilst the benign coast of the Cote d"Azur has been celebrated and sojourned in by the celebrity set for many decades, the Basque coast, over on the Atlantic side of the country, has been quietly transforming itself into the surf capital of Europe. Once beloved of European royalty and the aristocracy, it still has glamour and elegance, but now it has learned to take advantage of its original natural attractions – the great long breakers which roll into its many fine beaches.

Biarritz is the star attraction here, a handsome town right on the Bay of Biscay. The Empress Eugenie's impressive palace on the beach is now a Hotel. The casino opened way back in 1901, another reason for pulling in the wealthy and elite. The latest boom, surfing, took off in the late fifties and is now big business, hosting several prestigious international competitions annually. It is easy to reach, with a high speed TGV departing each night from Paris and the airport at Bayonne only 4 km away. Parisian surfers use the night train to be up and ready for the first wave of the morning and capitalize on their weekends. La Cote de Basques, a wild long stretch of beach is the most famed and you can soon tell where the breaks are by the gaggles of camper vans and bodies in wetsuits. Those who prefer less strenuous pursuits can browse in the covered market or go and visit the charming nearby towns of Bayonne and St Jean-de-Luz. In twenty minutes, with a hire car, you can be walking in the Pyrenees.

The Basque region, like all those in France, has its own proud, regional cuisine and there are many specialities you simply have to try. Being so close to Spain, there is a definite influence in the cuisine, with pintxos (Basque tapas) being a good example. There is also, of course, a regional liqueur, the digestif based on sloes called patxaran, which is served on ice. The Gateau Basque cannot be missed, served with cream and cherries. All the z's and x's in the language give a clue to the Basque character. It is distinctive, tough, hardy and resilient. The area used to bristle with corsairs, legalized pirates who had to give half of their takings to the King.

September and October are brilliant months to visit as the waters are still warm but the madding crowds have thinned out by then. Whether you want to ride a wave or just soak up the historical ambience, there is plenty to see and do in the Basque country.

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