Saint-Jean-de-Luz bay is situated to the east of the Bay of Biscay. It is the only sheltered bay between Arcachon and Spain. Thanks to its strong sea walls or dykes that protect the town from the full savagery of the Atlantic Ocean, it has become a favorite for bathers across the Basque Coast. Although the seaside resort itself is relatively recent, the port itself is several centuries old, with the most prominent point in its history being the marriage in 1660 of Louis XIV and the Spanish princess Maria Teresa.
Water from the area flows into the town from the Nivelle and its smaller tributaries, the Etxeberri, Isaka and Xantako streams. There is also the Basarun, and its smaller tributary the Mendi, which passes directly through Saint-Jean-de-Luz. The river has been made accessible to boats and it joins the sea by the Erromardia beach. A branch of the Uhabia, an emblematic river in the neighbouring Bidart district, and its smaller Amisola tributary, also pass to the sea through St Jean de Luz.
Saint-Jean-de-Luz straddles Route départementale D810, the old Route nationale 10. The town can be reached from the A63 motorway, Exit 3 (Saint-Jean-de-Luz Nord) and Exit 2 (Saint-Jean-de-Luz Sud). The Saint-Jean-de-Luz-Ciboure railway station is served by the SNCF Bordeaux–Irun railway. Biarritz Airport is the closest airport to Saint-Jean-de-Luz.
Saint-Jean-de-Luz is located on the Atlantic coast of France, just a few kilometres from the border with Spain. Its wealth stems from its port and its past, with the town being associated with both fishing, and with the capture of vessels by its own Basque corsaires, or pirates (English sailors used to call Saint-Jean-de-Luz the "Viper's Nest"). This prosperity reached its height during the 17th Century, which is still considered as the town's "Golden Age." During this period, Saint-Jean-De-Luz became the second largest town in the Labourd region with a population or around 12,000, just behind Bayonne.
Saint-Jean-de-Luz is known for its royal wedding connection. In 1659, Cardinal Mazarin spent several months in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, from where he would embark on almost daily trips to the island of Bidassoa (near modern-day Hendaye) for Franco-Spanish meetings that resulted in the Treaty of the Pyrenees, one clause of which was the marriage of Louis XIV to Maria Theresa, the Infanta of Spain. Saint-Jean-de-Luz and its church were chosen to host the royal wedding on 9 June 1660. The marriage is one of the most important political marriages in history that brought an end to a bitter war. Today, visitors of the cathedral can see that the main door is bricked off. Two legends circulate this oddity: First, it has been said that the door the couple passed through was later closed to represent the closing of the troubles between France and Spain. A more popular theory among the locals is that the king, Louis XIV, ordered the door to be closed off, so no other couple could walk into the church to be married in his footsteps.
The Duke of Wellington set up his winter headquarters in the town during the Peninsular War, 1813-14.
To the end of the nineteenth century, Saint-Jean-de-Luz became a popular beachside resort town for the surrounding high-society. Like Biarritz (called "The queen of the beaches, the beach of kings"), Saint-Jean-de-Luz was particularly appreciated by the French and Spanish aristocracy. By the early 1900s, it turned into the scene of Carlist conspiratorial activities. The composer Maurice Ravel, a native of the nearby town of Ciboure, frequently vacationed at Saint-Jean-de-Luz from Paris, where he was centered for almost his entire life.
Following Marshal Pétain's call for an armistice on the outset of World War II, a coastal fringe of the Basque Country fell in the German occupation area. Before the agreement was enforced, a retreating Polish Army was evacuated from the town in mid June 1940.
After 1945, some of the traditional fishing-based industries of the Fargeot district gradually disappeared, mainly by overfishing and competition from elsewhere. The change strengthened the transformation of the town towards more luxury and tourism industries. In Saint-Jean-de-Luz over 40% of dwellings of the town are second homes.
In the 1960s, the town expanded northwards (Avenue de l’Ocean) and also southwards in the direction of (the Urdazuri district). Since the 1970s, St Jean de Luz has been connected to Bordeaux to the north and Spain to the south by the motorway, and more recently by the TGV railway. St-Jean-de-Luz boasts extensive and attractive land and scenery, as well as a well-preserved coastline which has so far escaped urbanisation. Indeed, some of the Basque coast has seen a degree of development, but the area between Fort Socoa and the Abbadia nature reserve and castle remains well protected.
Saint-Jean-de-Luz is a fishing port on the Basque coast and now a famous resort, known for its architecture, sandy bay, the quality of the light and the cuisine. The town is located south of Biarritz, on the right bank of the river Nivelle (French for Urdazuri) opposite to Ciboure. The port lies on the estuary just before the river joins the ocean. The summit of Larrun is about 8 km (5 mi) south-east of the town. The summit can be reached by the Petit train de la Rhune, which starts from the Col de Saint-Ignace, 10.5 km (6.5 mi) east of the town on the D4 road to Sare. It is in the traditional province of Lapurdi of the Basque Country.
The town features a large number of residences built in the 17th and 18th centuries along the Quai de L'Infante, Rue Mazarin, Rue Gambetta and at the Place Louis XIV. In some respects this is testament to the families, shipowners and Basque merchants from this period. One of these, built alongside the Quai de L'Infante around 1640, is called the "Maison Joanoenea," and it is here that the Queen Mother, Anne of Austria, stayed before the marriage of Louis XIV to Maria Theresa, the Infanta of Spain on 8 May 1660. The Infanta stayed there on 7 June. Locally this house is referred to as the "Maison de l'Infante", and it has become a popular tourist attraction and museum. A monument in the Verdun Square honours the memory of the fallen soldiers from World War I and World War II, and another monument on the Quai L’Infante is dedicated to the resistance movement Orion. This second plaque commemorates the importance of the work of French escape networks which helped people evade capture in Occupied France during World War II. Finally, there are some bunkers still visible along the coast. These formed part of the infamous Atlantic Wall, German defences against the anticipated Allied invasion of Westen France. Some remains are still visible on the Santa-Barbe promenade.
Nowadays, St-Jean-de-Luz depends strongly on tourism with safe clean beaches, notable high quality hotels and a thalassotherapie spa, swimming pools, a casino, golf courses and a new conference centre that is under construction. The town also benefits from regional tourism, with many attracted by the pedestrian area full of shops open all year round. It also attracts a large number of visitors from Basque Country, Spain, or Gipuzkoa along with many from nearby Bayonne and the rest of southwestern France. The city is particularly attractive to retired people, many of whom come to settle there from other areas across France.
Many cultural and sporting events are held throughout the year. There are internships and public concerts of classical music organized by the Académie Ravel, usually in the auditorium of the same name. There is a film festival dedicated to young filmmakers, a surfing film festival and Basque Pelota championships.
The origin of Basque Trials of Strength is found in the daily tasks carried out across the region. For centuries, young Basque farmers pitted themselves against each other in physical challenges. Labouring in the forests of the Basque Country gave rise to the challenge known as aizkolariak (based on lumberjacks working with an ax or arpanariak), as well as athletic sawing of tree stumps and wood. The construction of buildings, often based on large stones for the cathedrals and monasteries led to the development of the challenge known as arrijasotzaileak - literally those who lift stones.
Several events originate from working in the fields, the best known of which is lastoaltxatzea, the lifting of straw bales. This is done either using a pitchfork or a pulley, and is often organized in tandem with joko (cart-lifting), zakulasterka (individual relay or sack races), and untziketariak, a race involving pitchers of milk. Also well-known is soka-shot, or tug-of-war, which is an internationally recognised discipline celebrated in no less than fourteen countries. During the summer, demonstrations of Force Basque are organised by the local Xiste organization, often at the main municipal arena in Saint-Jean-de-Luz.