Edged by the brilliant blue Bay of Biscay and the craggy foothills of the Pyrenees, the Pays Basque (Basque Country) feels one step removed from the rest of France – which is hardly surprising, since it's been an independent nation for much of its history and has more in common with the nearby Basque regions of Spain. Proud, independent and fiery, the people of the Basque Country are fiercely protective of their history and culture, whether it's their passion for pelota or their fondness for their spicy chilli pepper, le piment d'Espelette. It's a fascinating place.
The region's biggest town is the glitzy beach resort of Biarritz, famous for its sweeping oceanfront and thriving surf scene. Nearby Bayonne is considered the true heart of the Basque Country, and hosts a major Basque festival every July. Along the coast you'll find surf towns and fishing ports, while sleepy hilltop villages nestle among the hills towards the Spanish border.