Friday, March 8, 2013

French Basque Country: Where the Coffee is Bad

a view of biarritz

No, the coffee isn't really that bad in France, but that was the Spanish perspective that our guide offered as the bus rumbled northward towards my first adventure in the French Basque Country.

After curiously inspecting the tattered white flyers that kept appearing all over Bilbao, €20 seemed like a reasonable price for a quick adventure in San Juan de Luz and Biarritz. My roommates laughed at me, asking if I had seen the driver's credentials. In truth is I had no idea what to expect, but I convinced some other expats to come along with me to find out.

Although the flyers read "Los planes de Cloe," Chloe's Plans, the excursions seem to be organized by a  friendly woman named Amaya. She tapes the little white advertisements up around the city and then contracts a bus if there is enough interest. After a small chaos of trying to coordinate the foreign giris I had invited, I've now joined the ranks of repeat clients who are on a first-name basis with her.

Traveling independently allows you to wander and get to know a place through your own mistakes and misadventures, but traveling with a guide can offer a whole new cultural window. Visiting London with a bunch of Spanish students last year was enlightening, and although I don't think that the Spanish-French dynamic, or particularly within the Basque regions, is so polarized, there is still a lot to be learned from someone with experience. Like to avoid the terrible French coffee.

Along with the maps and informational tidbits Amaya distributed to the bus as we approached the border, "remember, the coffee is very bad," was a warning she announced more than once in a wholehearted attempt to be helpful. For many Spanish people, especially the older bracket on this trip, already set in their coffee-drinking ways, French coffee is bad.

Although we appreciated Amaya's advice, the first thing we did on a drizzly January morning in France was have a cup of coffee. After a serving pan au chocolat, of course, along with an obligatory helping of roscón de reyes. Since San Juan de la Luz was very quiet and mostly closed during the off-season, it was only logical to dedicate most of our time to pastry consumption. Accompanied by a not-so-terrible cup of coffee. 

san juan de la luz

Eventually Amaya rallied us and our trip continued in Biarritz, the costal town known for its glam. Many people on the bus had come for the soldes, or post-Christmas sales, but with our strength bolstered by pastries and coffee, we marched up to the lighthouse to take advantage of the scenic views.

Although we spent a perfect day of walking and pastries, my favorite part of the trip was not particularly related to San Juan de Luz, Biarritz, French Basque Culture, the French-Spanish relationship, or even bad French coffee--although the coffee did play its part. As the sun started to set and we began to seek our next caffeine buzz, this time accompanied by crepes, we bumped into a surrealist art exhibit in a church basement. This is the kind of small moment that reminds you you're in Europe: A surrealist art exhibit in a church basement. René Magritte's masterworks had never charmed me in the light of a classroom projector, but the collection of small etchings in the dim of a church basement touched me. I managed to snap a photo, before I was tsk-tsk-tsk'd in French. 

With a return to the French Basque Country on the horizon, I have set more lofty goals. At least six pan au chocolat must be consumed. Along with a coffee or two and a nod to Amaya.

Have you been to the French Basque Country? Do you think that the coffee is bad?


  1. I love coffee and I believe that in France many people are there who are kind of liking the coffee. I have been to paris four years ago and we (me and my friends) had a great time there at coffee shop. I don't remember the shop's name but It was a golden period of my life that I spent there.

    Thanks for the blog post. It had made my day.
    Finn Felton
    Kopi Luwak

  2. Hi Finn! I'm glad you enjoyed the coffee in France as much as we did. I would love to get to know France's coffee culture better. I'm sure it's great, just a little different from Spain!

  3. Hi!

    This is Lidia from Madrid. My boyfriend and me want to visit the Basque Country next octuber and we are really interest in Chloe's Plan. Has Amaya any website to contact with her? We want to visit San Sebastian, Biarritz and San Juan de Luz. Best regards! L.

    1. Hi Lidia! As far as I know she doesn't have a website (unfortunately!), but you can email her at: I've never seen a trip to San Sebastian, however there are regular buses between there and Bilbao. She does trips to Biarritz and San Juan de Luz quite often, though. Have a great trip, and be sure to try the coffee and let me know what you think!

  4. No, el café francés no es malo, es bastante aceptable y los viajes de AMAYA, " Los viajes de Cloe " son muy interesantes. He realizado unas cuantas excursiones en autobús con ella, casi siempre al MARAVILLOSO País Vasco Francés ( IPARRALDE ) desde BILBAO ( EGOALDE ), es más económico que ir en coche propio y es una muy buena opción para pasar un día muy agradable . Lo que no entiendo es por que os dijo que el " Café francés es malo. Si que suele recomendar tomar CHOCOLATE FRANCES, explicando como lo preparan los franceses ya que en España se prepara de forma diferente que en Francia. Y NUNCA nos ha dicho que el café francés sea malo.


  5. No es pésimo.o sea que os dio un excelente consejo