Bayonne (Baïona) stands back some 5km from the Atlantic, a position that until recently protected it from any real touristic exploitation. The city is effectively the economic and political capital of the Pays Basque and to the lay person, at least, its Basque flavour predominates, with tall half-timbered dwellings and woodwork painted in the traditional green and red.

Sitting astride the confluence of the River Ardour and the much smaller Nive, Bayonne is a small-scale, easily manageable city, at the hub of all major road and rail routes from the north and east. Although there are no great sights, it’s a pleasure to walk the narrow streets of the old town, still wrapped in the fortifications of Sébastien le Preste de Vauban, Louis XIV’s military engineer.