I’ve been to many places in France, from north to south, mountains, beaches, rivers, and most places in between, but the southwestern corner of the country, the Basque country as it called, in the western Pyrenees bordering Spain, has eluded me until this summer. It was worth the wait.
St Jean de Luz itself is a pretty little port town known for its macarons, the church where Louis XIV married Maria-Thérèse of Spain, and welcoming narrow lanes bustling with tourist shops and restaurants serving Basque specialties. The beaches are wide, sandy, and accessible, where tanned surfers and paddle board hawkers lapped at my adventurous side. And all this was only a 10 minute walk via the coastal route from La Reserve, my home for three nights, a comfortable red-tiled hotel tucked into a chic residential neighborhood perched on a cliff above the Atlantic. By the end of my stay, I felt as if I had finally found the edge of France.
La Reserve is a four star property owned by Groupe Floirat, the same masterminds behind the legendary Byblos Hotel in St. Tropez, which earned its Palace distinction this year. (See this site for a full review of the Byblos). But unlike its hip and trendy counterpart on the French Riviera, La Reserve feels more like a friend’s beach house where you can kick up you feet on the table, and be okay in a pair of flip flops at dinner. Mind you, it’s a very nice beach house, but much less luxurious than I’d expected. The 42 rooms and six suites have balconies or terraces and are airy and nicely decorated. My room felt a little cramped, especially walking around the bed, but hey, that’s France for ya! It did have a large outdoor terrace overlooking frog green sweeping lawns and a crystal blue infinity pool. There is free wifi access throughout the hotel and free parking.
Groupe Floirat’s signature, in my opinion, is pairing good food with its well-located properties (they have an Alain Ducasse restaurant at the Byblos, after all) and they have made no exceptions at La Reserve, placing Chef Fabrice Idiart and restaurant Ilura in this far corner of France. I stand by my boasting when I say this is the best restaurant in St Jean de Luz, and certainly the best meal I ate this summer, hands down, and I at at some pretty stellar restaurants. I even boasted about Ilura at the covered market in St. Jean de Luz where I had bellied up to the tapas bar one day for lunch. Locals nodded in agreement when I bragged about my last night’s meal.
The menu, as expected, has a French/Spanish twist and something I was glad to taste was spice! I always miss spice when I travel in Europe. The special when I was there was beef filet and beef cheeks served in a sauce that had a tang of what I am guessing was harissa, and served with some lightly battered jalapeno peppers. Heaven for this California girl. I washed it down with a local white wine, and followed up with a selection of four Basque cheeses.
The wide lawns make this place ideal for families. Kids were playing hide and seek when I was there while parents looked on, and the pool is heavenly and the best view for some amazing Atlantic sunsets. The proximity to St Jean de Luz—just take the Sentier Littoral, the coastal trail—makes everything close, but the real pleasure of La Reserve is its far away feel (and food). Like I said, it’s on the edge of France, where I gladly swung my feet over, dipped my toes into the sea and wondered when I could return.
Check prices online or book at Priceline
Visit the Hotel Website
Rates: From 95 euros per night off season for a standard room to 515 euros per night for a suite in high season
Good to know: There is free wifi but only one device can be logged on at a time. Get a second code; the coastal path is just outside the door so bring your walking shoes; daily breakfast is 16 euros, but the town is so close you can easily find breakfast out if you choose.
Kimberley Lovato is a freelance writer and journalist, and lover of all things French. See her website.