Bayonne is a French city nestled between the banks of the rivers Nive and Adour, just six kilometers away from the Atlantic Ocean. Geographically, the bigger Adour River delineates between Saint Bayonne and Petit Bayonne, while the smaller Nive River separates Petit Bayonne from Grand Bayonne.
Located in the south-west area of France, in the Pyrenees, it makes up the urban area known as Communaute d’Agglomeration de Bayonne-Anglet-Biarritz with neighbouring Anglet and Biarritz. Bayonne straddles the border of the areas traditionally described as the French Gascony and the Spanish Basque County.
Bayonne is an ancient city, dating back from the time of the Vikings, when the first known human settlement was built in the area. A few centuries later, the area became known as Lapurdum, a military site that was turned into an important port city on a route that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. In the centuries since, Bayonne’s location became a strategic and economic gem, especially for the Dutch who at one point managed to invade France. Its location is also a tactical advantage for the French, as it serves to be a gateway to the Spain’s Basque County.
In the past, during times of conquest between the two countries, Bayonne had been seen as a crucial city. In times of peace, such as the one that both countries enjoy today, this unique position of being within the cusp of two nations and two great traditions is a blessing to Bayonne, both economically and culturally.
Bayonne economy benefits from the confluence of Basque and Gascony influences, often benefiting from the richness of trade between the French and Spanish sailors who come in its territory, In recent years, the melding of cultures have only added to the attraction of the city to tourists, which is another big source of income for the city.
While it may not be the first city off of anyone’s mind about French destination cities, Bayonne is offers a quiet charm, an unhurried pace and a friendly warmth that most tourists enjoy. Its villages evoke thoughts of Basque settlements. Many of the city’s buildings and public spaces also mix the distinctive Basque coloring of bright red-and-green against white with gothic design elements that is so popular in many other cities in France.
The richness of Bayonne’s history and culture gave birth to the many popular tourist sites that it now has. Among these are cultural centers like the Musee Basque and Musee Bonat, and religious spots such as the seventeenth-century gothic Cathedral Saint-Marie and the Eglise Saint-Esprit. Other popular destinations are the remains of the Bayonne Ramparts which is believed to have protected the city since the time of the Romans, the Hotel de Ville, the Japanese-inspired Botanical Gardens, the twelfth-century Chateau Vieux and Chateau Neuf.
Aside from the buildings and public spaces, Bayonne also hosts some interesting events. Foremost among these is the annual Fetes de Bayonne, a five-day citywide merrymaking event that starts on the first Wednesday of August and immediately followed by the Feast of the Assumption every August 15. True to festival form, these celebrations are usually filled with food, drink, and games.
Every year, the town also hosts the oldest bullfight competition in the France just outside of the Grand Bayonne starting in July and ending in September. Bayonne also holds Jazz Festivals every July and Holy Week around March or April annually.