Bayonne is in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France, part of the Basque region close to the Spanish border. It's part of the triple township of BAB - Biarritz-Anglet-Bayonne - and as a tourist destination it's been overshadowed by the more famous Biarritz. But it actually has more to offer the visitor, with its charming half-timbered buildings and range of interesting sights. It's also the transport hub for the area.
The town grew up at a point where the valley of the river Adour is pinched, and dominated by a hill. As the chief town of the Basque province of Labourd, it came under English rule from 1152 when Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry II; France only regained it in 1451. Whaling and later cod-fishing were important industries, forging the Basque connection with Newfoundland and maritime Canada. Around 1500, many Jews arrived here from Spain, fleeing the Spanish Inquisition - they brought with them the art of chocolate-making, and this too became a major industry. Around 1700, Vauban enclosed Bayonne within sturdy ramparts. The town was much battered and besieged in 1814 as Wellington's forces advanced out of Spain against Napeolon's France. In the 19th & early 20th C Biarritz was a fashionable seaside resort, but Bayonne was neglected. It revived after 1951 when a gas field was discovered, and the BAB area became industrialised.
The area around Bayonne has a high proportion of Basque ("Euskara") speakers, but in the BAB conurbation only 9% were fluent, according to a survey of 2006.
There are direct flights to & from:
- Paris Orly - 4 to 5 flights a day with Air France - flying time 1hr 20min
- Paris Charles de Gaulle - 3 flights a day with Air France - flying time 1hr 20min
- Lyon - daily flights with Air France - flying time 1hr 20min
- London Stansted - 3 flights per week with Ryanair - flying time 1hr 45min
- Charleroi (for Brussels) - 2 flights per week with Ryanair - flying time 1 hr 40 min
There's a bus (Chronoplus Line C) every 30 mins between the airport and Bayonne town centre, fare €1, 20 mins. It runs from about 7.30 am to 9 pm. Note the diverted route until June 2018, see "Get around".
For a direct door-to-door transfer, use Biarritz Airport Transfers 
The railway station is 1 km north of town centre, across the Adour river bridge.
Trains run every couple of hours to Paris Montparnasse (4 hrs), Bordeaux (1 hr 50) and Toulouse (4-5 hrs).
To reach Spain, take an hourly local train to Hendaye (45 mins). Then for San Sebastian / Donostia, change to Hendaye Euskotren station 50 m away, from where a train every 30 minutes runs to San Sebastian Amara station. For Madrid, at Hendaye cross the border to Irun, which is on the Renfe network.
Principal autoroutes are
- the A63 running north to Bordeaux and south to the border at Irun, where it becomes the AP8 towards San Sebastian
- the A64 east to Pau, Tarbes and Toulouse
Eurolines buses run to Paris, about 4 per day taking 11 hours, fare 30-40 euro. The bus stop in Bayonne is on Place des Basques, behind the Tourist Office parallel to Allees Paulmy.
Bayonne is on the historic pilgrimage route to Santiago de la Compostella. Routes through Aquitaine converge on Bayonne then there's a choice of paths over into Spain, with way-stations a convenient day's hike apart.
There is an excellent bus network, called Chronoplus - see website for timetables and routes. This serves the three BAB townships. Bus fares are a flat one euro (€1), pay in cash on the bus. This ticket is valid for one hour including interchange between bus routes. Cheaper multi-journey tickets are also available from the kiosks at Bayonne Mairie (Town Hall) but cannot be bought on the bus. These include a 10-journey ticket (€8); a seven-day travel pass (€11); and a 24-hour pass (€2). These tickets are also sold at 39 tobacco shops/cafes in the Biarritz-Anglet-Bayonne (BAB) area.
Pont d'Esprit, the main route between railway station and centre, is closed to vehicles until June 2018. This affects many bus routes, including those to the airport and to Biarritz - see Chronoplus for diversion details. You can still cross on foot.
Bayonne's charming Old Town lies on the south bank of the River Adour, and is enclosed by grassy ramparts. Town and ramparts straddle a smaller river, the Nive, which here joins the Adour. West of the Nive is called Grand Bayonne and east of it is Petit Bayonne; the quays of the Nive are very picturesque. The Pont St-Esprit spans the Adour to the St-Esprit district around Square Gambetta and the railway station. A citadel commands the river approaches from this side; it's still a military base and you can't visit.
- The Cathedral of St Marie is mostly Gothic, with additions at all points from Norman to 19th C. On the nave ceiling, note the English coat of arms along with French fleur-de-lys. The cloister has a separate entrance on Place Louis Pasteur.
- Musee Basque et de l'Histoire de Bayonne (Baionako Euskal Museoan), 37 quai des Corsaires. Sept - June Tues-Sun 10.30 am to 6 pm; daily in July & Aug, till 8.30 pm Thurs. Excellent introduction to traditional Basque culture and the town of Bayonne. 7.50 e; free under 26.
- The art gallery Musee Bonnat-Helleu is closed for reconstruction. It is scheduled to re-open at the end of 2019.
- The Fêtes de Bayonne is held over five days from the last Wednesday in July, so the next will be Wed 25 to Sun 29 July 2018. The town is very busy while it's on, and the Musee Basque closes for those dates.
In summer the riverboat Le Bayonne runs 2-hour cruises on the River Adour.
Jewish refugees from Spain in the 16th C established Bayonne as a centre for chocolate-making. The town holds chocolate festivals in May and October.
Most restaurants are along the Nive riverbank. In Grand Bayonne find:
- Bajadita, 37 quai Jaureguiberry, Grande-Bayonne, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Bistro & tapas bar
- Kaia, 17-21 quai Jaureguiberry, Grand-Bayonne, ☏ . Pizzas and other Italian, Basque & Spanish fare.
- Chez Txotx, 49 quai Jaureguiberry, Grand-Bayonne, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Daily noon - 2 .30 pm, 7 pm - 11 pm. Cider Restaurant with Basque and Spanish cuisine.
- Bodega "Chez Gilles", 23 quai Jaureguiberry, Grand-Bayonne, ☏ . Local specialties, charcuterie, fish.
- Societe Nouvelle Bar Dacquois, 48 rue d'Espagne, Grand-Bayonne. small bar & bistro
- Au Bouchon Basque, 2 rue Paul Pras (further out off south ring-road, Grand-Bayonne side), ☏ . Tues - Fri noon - 2 pm & 7.45 pm - 11 pm. Local cuisine.
In Petit Bayonne find:
- Auberge du Petit-Bayonne, 23 rue des Cordeliers, Petit-Bayonne (+33 5 59 59 83 44), ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Family-friendly place with Basque cuisine.
- Le Cheval Blanc, 68 rue Bourgneuf, Petit-Bayonne, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. noon - 1.30 pm & 7.45 pm - 9.30 pm. Traditional Basque cooking.
- Le Bakera, 15 rue des Tonneliers, Petit-Bayonne, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Tues - Sat 9 am - 3 pm & 6 pm - 2 am. Bar-restaurant with local cuisine.
- Au Peïta, 7 ave Capitaine Resplandy, Petit-Bayonne, ✉ email@example.com. Brasserie specialising in fish
- Cook d'Asie, Allee de Glain (further out off south ring road, Petit-Bayonne side), ☏ . Chinese, Japanese and Thai specialties.
In St Esprit near the railway station find:
- Brasserie "Chez Carlos", 21 boulevard Jean Jaures, St-Esprit, ☏ . Portuguese cuisine.
- Bistrot Sainte-Cluque, 9 rue Hugues, St-Esprit, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Daily noon - 2 pm & 7 pm - 10.30 pm. Small brasserie opposite railway station. Local specialties.
- Agadir, 3 rue St Catherine, St-Esprit, ☏ . Moroccan cuisine: tagines, cous-cous
Bars in Grand-Bayonne include:
- Katie Daly's, 3 place de la Liberté
- Talaia (formerly L'Ontzi Bar) - on moored barge at Quai Pedros
- Bar Le Corsaire, 11 rue des Tonneliers
- Sanki Panki (aka Xupito), 17 rue Pannecau
- Café Salud, 63 rue Pannecau
- Xapatan, 29 rue des Cordeliers
- La Pétrolette, 31 rue des Cordeliers
- Killarney Pub, 33 rue des Cordeliers
- Le Petit vélo, 45 rue des Cordeliers
- Sankara Ostatua, 22 quai Augustin Thurs-Sat only
There's no regular camping or youth hostels in Bayonne - try Angelet or Biarritz. However in recent years a temporary campsite has opened for the Fetes de Bayonne, with 1500 pitches on the Parc de Mousserolles.
Central hotels include:
- Hotel des Arceaux, 26 rue Port Neuf, ☏ . Two-star, very central, small rooms, can be noisy.
- Hotel Le Port Neuf, 44 rue Port Neuf, Grande-Bayonne, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Very central; contemporary decor
- Mercure Bayonne Centre Le Grand Hotel (formerly Best Western), 21 rue Thiers, ☏ . Spacious, very central hotel in former convent
- Hotel Ibis Styles, 1 Place de la Republique, St-Esprit, ☏ . Excellent budget choice near station, overlooking river
More hotels are strung along the D810, mostly mid-range for business travellers:
- Hotel Ibis Budget, 6 ave du Grand Basque (1 km east of station), ☏ . Handy for ring-road, free parking, but still within walking distance of old town centre
- Hotel Premiere Classe, 3 rue Chalibardon, ☏ . On ring-road at east edge of town
- Le Bayonne Hotel, Ave Jean Rostand (off D810 ring-road as it crosses the Nive), ☏ . Spa facilities with heated swimming pool, sauna
- Hotel Campanile, ave du Grand-Basque (off D810 2 km east of station), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Hotel with restaurant & bar
- Hotel La Villa, 12 Chemin de Jacquette, Limpou (4 km from centre, off D810 ring-road). Boutique hotel south of city
The beach resort of Biarritz is an easy day-trip. Take the bus, as this drops you centrally, whereas Biarritz railway station is 3 km out from the centre.
There's nothing to see in the town of Angelet, though the airport is here and some accommodation, and Biarritz's eastern beaches are actually in Angelet.
Other good day-trips are Saint Jean de Luz & Ciboure, and San Sebastián / Donostia. These can easily be reached on public transport. From San Sebastián, the "Feve" coastal railway runs west to Bilbao, Santander and eventually Ferrol.
For countryside pursuits, head north into Gascony and Landes, or up into the mountains. You'll need your own wheels.