Saint-Jean-de-Luz surf is classic Basque coast stuff. There are some rocky reefs with nice right-handers and some beginners beaches, all in one of the more protected spots on the Bay of Biscay.
An introduction to Saint-Jean-de-Luz surf
Saint-Jean-de-Luz is not your traditional French surf town. For starters, the best breaks get their shape from the craggy headlands that sprout from the Basque Coast to the north and south of town. Meanwhile, the few sand-bottomed beach breaks that do exist are hidden deep in the wide Bay of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, largely protected from the beasty swells that kick around Hossegor and Biarritz.
That said, there’s good variety here. Saint-Jean-de-Luz has surf for all levels. Intermediates can head for the sandy beachfronts below the campsites of Mayarco Plage while beginners can enjoy the smaller pickings at Les Flots Bleus in the interior of the bay. Hendaye – France’s novice surf mecca – is also within reach, and so is one of the Basque Country’s most challenging XXL swells. The piece de resistance of the Saint-Jean-de-Luz surf still has to be Lafitenia. It could just be the most shapely right-hand point in the country. Regular-stance riders eat your hearts out.
Saint-Jean-de-Luz isn’t only about the waves, either. It’s a grand and gorgeous place to while away your holiday. A rich history that’s wrapped up with the life and times of France’s iconic King Louis XIV combines with a pleasant oceanside promenade that’s a joy to stroll. Throw in nice cafes, bars, and hotels, and you’ve got an all-round surf destination.
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This is just one part of our greater ultimate guide to surfing in France
Saint-Jean-de-Luz surf at a glance
- One of France’s best right-hand point breaks
- Spots that work on heavy swells
- A good selection of reef and point breaks – rare for France!
- Some low-quality waves
- Can get busy
- Bad water quality after storms
What’s in this guide to surfing in Saint-Jean-de-Luz?
Where is Saint-Jean-de-Luz?
Saint-Jean-de-Luz is nestled deep in a wide bay on the French Basque Coast. It’s close to the Spanish border – which is about 20 minutes’ drive down the A63 roadway to the south-west. Biarritz – another of France’s surf meccas is close by. A part of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques region, the mountains also rise a little outside of town, forming a ring of low, wooded hills that are fun to explore. The Atlantic Ocean spreads to the north-west, giving all those enticing surf breaks!
A guide to Jean-de-Luz surf spots
The breaks of Saint-Jean-de-Luz spread out across roughly 3.5 miles of the Basque coastline. They start at hidden Mayarco Plage to the north and continue on to the north-west facing beaches further down the shore. That doesn’t include the few protected breaks that can edge their way into the main bay when swells get heavier, which we’ve also looked at in the guide below…
The gorgeous beach at Mayarco sits under green hills by the Arena Pays Basque campsite. It’s the furthest north of the named breaks in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, which means you can often get dawnies to yourself. The wave isn’t the best, though. It needs a moderate NW swell to get going and won’t handle much size
Lafitenia – the town’s most famous
Lafitenia is a fantastically fun right-hand point to the north of Saint-Jean-de-Luz. It’s probably the best-loved break around, mainly for its consistent shape and long rides. It starts on a relatively steep take off that soon pushes riders out to a long wall with an exposed shoulder. That’s the part that gets experienced regular-footed riders salivating: Cutbacks, airs – it’s all up for grabs. Sometimes hollow on heavier N-NW swells. Longer rides on direct westerlies. Don’t worry too much about the wind at Lafitenia, because the headlands keep the spot protected. Main hazards are exposed rocks and crowds.
Erromardie Beach offers a central section that’s a casual beach break over sand and pebble. Lefts and rights are up for grabs there on N-NW swells, but get poor quickly on anything above 5-7 foot. Any SW pulses through the Bay of Biscay can add more shape to the southern end of the beach, which can have some cruisy lefts if there NE offshore to combine with it. Expert riders might prefer the challenge of the right-hand point break to the north of Erromardie. It’s only for high-tide sessions but as fast and sometimes hollow drop in rides that are great for practicing.
Sainte Barbe is a single name for what is actually a long break that could just as well be broken down into multiple sections. Dashing across the north end of the Saint-Jean-de-Luz bay, this one starts with a pretty gnarly drop-in on hollow a wall that forms over quite shallow reef. If you can manage that, things get easier fast. Sections of rippable walls cruise across to the south-east, offering pretty long rides, especially if you stick like glue to the pocket. Practiced riders can hit it all the way past the peaks known as Sainte Barbe Inside to the main town beach.
Les Flots Bleus
The tail end of the Sainte Barbe reef runs into the sandy front of Saint-Jean-de-Luz Beach. It’s actually very rarely rideable but does give some easy whitewash and mushy peaks for total beginners and sprogs. Summer sees it as flat as a French crepe most days.
Belharra is where the Basque Coast gets big. A few times of year it will catch the attention of tow-in surfers and their gun boards. Formed by a big underwater shoal trench, the peak is a regular A-frame that can churn out 20-metre waves in daunting sets. Experts only please. World records and world surf titles have been settled on this plot. When it’s working, head for the road down to Hendaye to spectate.
Socoa Fort is the breakwater for a chilled and easy-going spot that swivels around to offer a rare offshore westerly. That’s because it plumps up at the base of the castle and uses the north swell direction for power. It’s pretty rare this happens and the wave is fickle, but worth knowing about.
Another of the rare-working spots actually inside the bay of Saint-Jean-de-Luz. Needs big (like real BIG) westerly swell direction to start firing up. Even then its super protected and pretty mellow. Can be busy when the Cote du Basque is blown out in winter storms, but don’t expect anything special. Longboarders might feel right at home on larger periods. Body boarders don’t mind it most days.
Total beginners enjoying the history and charms of Saint-Jean-de-Luz might find it easier to mosey on down to this lovely border town for their first session on the waves. That’s because the Hendaye surf is some of the best for learning in the whole of France. It’s well protected from strong westerly swells by the Spanish shoreline, and has big sand-bottomed bays with lots of surf schools on offer. It’s the place to go to get started.
We’ve got a complete guide to surfing in Hendaye
Where to stay when surfing in Saint-Jean-de-Luz
Hôtel Madison Saint Jean de Luz ($$$)
Pamper yourself with a stay at Hôtel Madison Saint Jean de Luz. Just 150 metres away from the main beach, it’s within swift walking distance of the point at Sainte Barbe for surfers. However, it’s the comforts that await after your sesh on the waves that do the trick. The include a sumptuous indoor pool, a sauna, hot tub, and stylish on-site bar. Lovely.
Hôtel La Marisa ($$)
Boutique and quirky Hôtel La Marisa is a colourful spot to bed down on any Basque surf trip. Guests get access to a library with strange and cosy touches – what’s that sculpture of a sheep? Rooms channel a touch of the French cottage style. Outdoor terraces are the cherry on top – breakfast under the ivy vines is a dream!
La Maison Tamarin ($$)
A few kms north of Saint-Jean-de-Luz can whisk you away to this gorgeous French farmhouse B&B. Yes, the service is fantastic and the rooms gorgeous to the T – think rustic wood beams, plush carpets and charming Basque additions throughout. However, it’s the location that makes it such a doozy for surfers. Legendary Lafitenia Beach and it’s world-class right break (see the vid above) is just a stroll below.
Step-by-step guide to planning your Saint-Jean-de-Luz surf trip right now
Step one: Book flights to the Saint-Jean-de-Luz surf…Lately, we like Omio for searching flights. It’s a nice interface and has lots of airline options. We also use Skyscanner because that sometimes offers deals that even beat going direct to the carrier!
Step two: Book your surf camp Book Surf Camps is the numero uno online booking platform for fully-fledged surf-stay packages on the internet right now. Then there’s Booking.com. That has consistently unbeatable rates for hotels and a nifty map feature that lets you check EXACTLY how close your hotel is to a surf break.
Step three: Get insuranceThis is kinda’ important. Not just for surf trips but for any trips. SafetyWing is great for nomad travelers. They offer rolling contracts that cover amateur surfing.
Step four (optional): Rent a car If you’re surf camping then you might not need wheels. If you’re not then we’ll just say this: We’ve never been on a surf trip that wasn’t improved by having our own car. Use RentalCars – they’re the best.
Step five: Enjoy!
When to surf in Saint-Jean-de-Luz
Saint-Jean-de-Luz follows roughly the same pattern as the rest of the Cote des Basques. That means rough winters with big swells for the pros and relaxed summers that will let you ditch the wetsuit altogether. However, there’s a little bit more to it than that here, mainly because the extra protection offered by Saint-Jean-de-Luz bay means colder months can be beginner time too…
The warm season (May-September)
The summer sees the groundswells cool right across the North Atlantic. Flat days are the norm within the main bay of Saint-Jean-de-Luz from around May onwards, so you’ll probably be forced to look to the point breaks around town for anything that’s rideable. It shouldn’t be hard to do, because even a cooled swell on the Bay of Biscay can cook up nice glassy conditions with big periods in May, June and July. August is most prone to being flat, but also the busiest time of year here.
If we had to pick a top time to go surfing in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, September would be it. Crowds dip, fall groundswells increase the number of surfable days, and it’s the warmest it will be all year in the water.
- Rash vest in midsummer, 2mm or 3/2 outside of summer.
The cold season (October-April)
The end of autumn, the start of spring and the winter months are characterised by bigger swells right across the Bay of Biscay. It’s when you’ll find the Saint-Jean-de-Luz surf at its most challenging, particularly on NW-facing beaches like Lafitenia. This is also the point in the season when the Belharra reef starts going off, so keep watch for any big-wave surfers in town – they might do you a show.
However, not all is lost if you’re a complete beginner. The inside of Saint-Jean-de-Luz Bay is well-protected from dominant Nov-Jan north-westerly swells. That means wrap-around days can bless Sainte Barbe and La Bougie with a mix of starter conditions and longboard waves, even in the midwinter.
- Wetsuits required: 4/3, hoods, boots, gloves. Unless you’re surfing in autumn, which can be okay on a 2/3 without extras.
Surf shops in Saint-Jean-de-Luz
Uncle Zaz could just be your one-stop pitstop for anything surf-related in Saint-Jean-de-Luz. It’s a huge depot-style surf department store located just past the Leclerc on the E5 motorway. The range includes shaped boards, pop-outs, surf racks, rash vests, wetsuits, and all sorts of branded gear – from Patagonia to Element.
Come here if you’re looking for a proper local shaper with a fantastic reputation amongst the local Basque Coast surfers. Can forge all sorts of custom shapes in the homegrown workshops, which is worth a visit if you’re anything near a shaping aficionado. Also does repairs.
Best places to eat in Saint-Jean-de-Luz
You won’t be short on Basque tapas and French pastries in Saint-Jean-de-Luz…
Bodega Koko ($$)
Bodega Koko is a top-rated Basque Country tapas place with creative small plates. Look for its lovely location in the heart of the old town to sample the fresh Med- and Atlantic-influenced flavours and one darn fine array of French and Spanish wines. Veggie friendly.
Le Kaiku ($$$)
You’ll have to push the boat out a little to sample the delights of Le Kaiku, but boy is it worth the extra cents! Expect the likes of grilled fish in white-wine sauce, starters of chorizo sausage, and quinoa-egg salads that showcase interesting fusion flavours. Lunch menus start at around 30-40 EUR a head.
Ocean Coffee Bar ($)
On the less-busy river side, Ocean Coffee Bar is a cracking spot for a pre-surf breakfast or post-surf brunch. The morning menu is classically French – think crispy croissants and pain au chocolat with a hefty side of coffee. There are also local lunch menus, which can be had on the breezy street-side terraces.
Things to do when you’re not surfing in Saint-Jean-de-Luz
Don’t get too distracted by the Saint-Jean-de-Luz surf. Chic coast resorts and much more is also on the travel menu in this lovely town.
Biarritz can’t be missed. It’s not only the premier surf spot on the whole of the Basque Coast – it’s also a darn cool place to hit the town. Bars, chic spa hotels, elegant bistros – the whole lot is on offer. Come with a bunch of money and you won’t be disappointed. Come with the board to discover a whole range of awesome Biarritz surf locations!
A bit of thalassotherapy
Thalasso…what? The ancient art of healing through use of sea water – that’s what! Believe it or not, Saint-Jean-de-Luz is known as something of a hotspot for the art. Book in to somewhere like the sumptuous Hôtel & Spa Hélianthal by Thalazur to get your fix of treatments.
How to get to Saint-Jean-de-Luz
- Fly: San Sebastian Airport and Biarritz Airport are both within 10 miles of Saint-Jean-de-Luz. The have low-cost budget arrivals from the UK and across Europe. Car rentals can be picked up at both. Transfers should be organised in advance, but, be warned, because cross-border taxis from San Sebastian can be expensive.
- Drive: Saint-Jean-de-Luz is conveniently sat on the main E70 and A63 motorways. They link up most of the surf towns on the Basque and Landes coasts. The driving time in from Bordeaux is around 2.5 hours.
- Train: Look for tickets to the St-Jean-de-Luz—Ciboure station. Direct links from Paris are available on the SNCF TGV! They take 4.5 hours to go from capital city to the St-Jean-de-Luz surf.