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Grand Hotel Loreamar Basque in the Sun
One hour and five minutes from Orly, St. Jean de Luz is a jewel in France's crown.
Enter another country, this is where France meets Spain, the mix on this side of the Pyrenées creates a distincly different atmosphere – you're in French Basque country, this was once a whale hunting port.
Think Robert Mallet Stevens architecture, as well as an eclectic mix of Basque, Moorish and Spanish Andulusian styles, created by wealthy traders who travelled abroad, brought back all the ideas. Think Jean Paul Gaultier, whose multi-story, rather decrepid, house is located in one of the narrow streets, remember his dateless striped sailor outfits? Where do you think the inspiration came from?
Alain Ducasse is from this region, as are the Lacoste family, author HG Wells lived here, composer Maurice Ravel was born here, you'll see the Dutch style house where he lived on rue guess what?
You know the minute you arrive at The Grand Hotel Loreamar, you've found it. Think the Ritz sur mer, no pretension, friendly staff, magical spa, sumptuous rooms overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Yes, dear reader it does exist.
The Grand Hotel is a belle epoque pink palace, all that separates it from the sandy beach and the Atlantic Ocean is a wide terrace punctuated with white designer wicker tables and chairs. A great spot to watch the sun-set, sip a flute of champagne, a fresh carrot and ginger juice. Instant zen.
Check your inner thalassotherapy at the Grand Hotel Loreamar Spa, the spa-menu is extensive, everything from hot-stone therapy to a 5-day marine cure. All treatments are tailor made, clients come in for A La Carte specials or a swim in the sea-water pool, with beach access. If you really need to get in shape there's personal trainers, the spa credo is that you need to walk on the beach daily for 30 to 40 minutes. Good advice from a sensational state-of-the-art spa.
Nicolas Masse is Loreamar's young chef who creates special spa menus if you want. 500 calories “Plaisir et Equilibre” may include Cannelloni of mango and crab, sorbet , au poivron rouge relevé au piment d'Espelette (if it's not on the menu, beg!) and a main of Rouget, caught locally, roasted with carotte fané and an emulsion of orange and sweet spices. Dessert could be patissier Philippe Perreire's Souffle leger à la poire – sensational.
Masse has one * Michelin, he's definitely on the road for **. Wines are interesting, everything from Rioja to Bordeaux's finest, explained patiently by wine guru Laurent Lacouture (ex-Michel Trama).
“It's not difficult we have such a bounty of products with which to pay tribute to this fantastic region”, says Masse modestly. “There's the influence of Spain, and I have wonderful suppliers of foie gras, duck, fish, vegetables. I learned about using the very best products when I was with Andrew McLeish at The Landmark, London”.
You can walk everywhere, turn left outside The Grand Hotel, you're on a covered boardwalk where boutiques sell souvenirs (Gaultier's striped T-Shirts) Basque berets. Also restaurants, to taste the local specialities, chipirons, tarte Basque, and this is the home of the macaron, they're everywhere in different combinations, all delicious.
Add Basque cider, sparkling white wine, mountain cheeses, conserved sardines, anchovies and tuna, St. Jean-de-Luz is a major fishing port. Bring extra bags to schlep it all home.
Boulevard Gambetta is the windy traffic-free shopping street, lined with cafes, chic boutiques, and, right in the middle an amazing Medieval Church, St. Jean-Baptiste, where Louis X1V married Maria Theresa, Infanta of Castile (1660). The wedding was a major event, worthy of Hello Magazine. Cardinal Mazarin presented the bride with 12,000 pounds of pearls and diamonds, a gold dinner service, and a pair of sumptuous carriages drawn by six horses. Don't miss Sunday Mass, the exit from the Church is spectacular, then you can shop 'til you drop.
Look for espadrilles designed by Nicole Paries www.espadrille-paries.com Hand-made Basque tablecloths and linen by Jean-Vier at 37 rue Gambetta (www.jean-vier.com ) Beautiful leather handbags by Laffargue, www.maroquinerie-laffargue.com and don't leave without stocking up with macarons from Adam, Maison Fondee in 1660, now they've got a web-site! www.macarons-adam.com so you can order on line.
On the opposite side of Saint Jean de Luz's Nivelle River is Golf de Chantaco, created in 1926 by Rene Thion de la Chaume, grandfather of Catherine Lacoste world golf champion winner of the US Open in 1967, the only amateur to have done so. Chantaco, owned by the Lacoste family, is a tranquil woodland course lined with American and Basque Oaks, cedars of Lebanon, Alpine firs, Japanese tulips and pines. It has a Spanish style clubhouse with wistaria covered pink stucco and wrought iron balconies, the staff wear traditonal Basque berets www.golfdechantaco.com
Leave St, Jean-de-Luz, but chances are you're hooked, and already reserved for next time, it's like nothing else in France.
Grand Hotel Loreamar,
43 Boulevard Thiers, 64500
T: 05 59 26 35 36
About 330€ per night, double room
dinner in the 1*Michelin Le Rosewood, access to spa,
and Thai massage for 2 included.
20 Boulevard Victor Hugo,
T: 05 59 26 03 16www.saint-jean-de-luz.com