Do you know what is the best time to visit Bayonne, the French chocolate capital?
According to me, it’s during its chocolate days!
Because who doesn’t like chocolate?
Want to know if you can taste this Basque speciality and a few other ones on this occasion? So follow me throughout this article.
You will find:
- The 9 reasons to visit Bayonne, the French capital of chocolate, during this Basque festival.
- A feedback on Bayonne fête son chocolat 2018.
- The practical information to prepare your trip.
The Bayonne Chocolate Festival took place in 2018 on 11th and 12th May and for the first time the town has celebrated its chocolate again from 2nd to 4th November with “Bayonne fête son chocolat”.
During the chocolate days, Bayonne in France lives to the rhythm of traditional Basque music, the taste and smell of homemade chocolate. And it’s always a huge success.
The first edition of “Bayonne fête le chocolat” last November was very different and I’ll tell you why and about what.
Bayonne festival 2019 was called the gourmet weekend and it was during the Ascension weekend. Bayonne chocolate days were from 1st to 3rd of November, with the famous free chocolate soaking directly in the streets.
For now, we have no information about 2020. May edition won’t occur for obvious reasons.
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Article summary – 9 reasons to visit Bayonne during Bayonne chocolate festival.
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Reason 1: Bayonne is the French capital of chocolate.
This may seem surprising, but people often ignore that Bayonne was the first city where chocolate was introduced in France. We talk about the famous Bayonne ham, the Espelette chilli pepper, and the Basque cake; but the chocolate will often be forgotten!
During the 16th century, Jews fleeing the Inquisition settled in Bayonne, in the Holy Spirit district, where a synagogue can still be found near the railway station. They’re the ones who brought chocolate into town. The country really discovered this product in 1615, during the marriage of the Spanish Infanta Anne of Austria and Louis XIII.
At its best, Bayonne had 31 chocolate factories. Today, 7 famous chocolate houses maintain the tradition.
This is the main reason why the Bayonne Chocolate Festival is THE chocolate festival to celebrate in France!
It should be noted that the 1st edition of Bayonne fête son chocolat (Bayonne celebrates its chocolate) was more focused on the history of chocolate.
For the occasion, the synagogue was part of the explanatory itinerary and one could therefore visit its interior.
Let’s hope that this possibility will be maintained during the next chocolate festival.
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Reason 2: You will see the craftsmen at work.
The Master chocolatiers of Bayonne do not only prepare delicious chocolates. They are also experts in the sculpture of magnificent works of art in chocolate.
During Bayonne Chocolate Festival, they show their work, but also exercise their talent directly in the street in front of their shop.
Unfortunately, this animation was not offered as part of Bayonne fête son chocolat.
I found it really unfortunate because it is in my opinion the demonstrations and tastings that make the charm of the chocolate days and give them that festive touch.
Reason 3: You will try to make your own chocolate.
Can you imagine yourself as a master chocolatier?
You will be able to live this dream at Bayonne Chocolate Festival!
While your children are wearing the Master Chocolatier’s clothes, you will help them prepare their own chocolates in front of the youngest enjoying licking her hands.
Chocolate is so good!!!
During Bayonne celebrates its chocolate, this animation was offered on certain days, on registration, in the beautiful Caveau des Augustins.
Reason 4: You will learn the chocolate making process in Bayonne chocolate museum.
Short demonstrations in the street and longer workshops in the largest Bayonne chocolate factory are offered free of charge during the two days.
You will learn not only how to make your own chocolates, but also the history, transport and processing of cocoa beans.
As part of Bayonne celebrates its chocolate, I really regretted the lack of friendliness and entertainment on some of the stands on the tour.
In my opinion, the Human being is one of the essential elements for a successful festival…
The most “lively” activities were all centred around the Town Hall.
Are you looking for a paper guide to the Basque Country? I recommend the Blue Guide, my favorite guide thanks to its cultural and unusual information.
Reason 5: You will taste chocolates, macaroons and other delicious specialities for free.
Let’s be honest: this is most people’s favourite activity during the chocolate festival, and the main reason they attend.
The chocolate factories that officially participate in the festival offer their chocolates in the street. Most of them are located on Port-Neuf Street.
But other shops, such as that of Thierry Bamas, world champion in frozen desserts and best pastry chef in France, offer to try other specialities.
If you notice a long line in the street in front of a store, you know you have something to taste!
The big downside of Bayonne is celebrating its chocolate!
We were able to discover the crushed bean, the melted cocoa “raw” (bitter) and as it was drunk at the King’s Court (spicy and unsweetened).
Although we appreciated this original discovery, we regretted the lack of tasting of the chocolate makers’ specialities.
The Basque Museum nevertheless offered a chocolate fountain, where we could taste kebabs with artisanal marshmallow, orange peel and artisanal praline (1€ per kebab).
Would Bayonne’s festivals, which are now chargeable, be an inspiration to others?…
Reason 6: Visit Bayonne, the Venice of the Basque Country.
Another commune in the Basque Country is nicknamed the Venice of the Basque Country. This is Saint Jean Pied de Port. But if we look at the story a little closer, we quickly realize that Bayonne deserves the title.
Indeed, until the 17th century, the small city really looked like Venice. It was crossed by canals, traces of which can still be seen through the presence of houses on stilts, including Port-Neuf Street or Quai Galuperie. The name “Port-Neuf” reflects the canal past of this street. The canals were used in particular for trade.
Bayonne is built where the Adour meets its tributary, the Nive.
Reason 7: You will discover other Basque traditions in the occasion of a longer festival.
In 2016, the festival of crafts was held in the cloister of the cathedral at the same time as the chocolate days. In 2017, it took place from 4 to 27 August.
The cathedral, built during the 13th and 14th centuries, is one of the sites listed by UNESCO (in the subcategory of the Way of Compostela).
The cloister is one of the largest in France.
I strongly advise you to visit it.
In 2017 for the first time “Bayonne fait le pont” took place, a 4-day festival highlighting the river Nive, the river Adour and the old centre, with activities around chocolate. It became the Ascension Festival.
In 2019, the chocolate days should therefore take place on Friday and Saturday of the Ascension weekend.
Reason 8: You will wander among the most typical Basque shops in the area.
Bayonne is one of the most suitable cities to enjoy the typical atmosphere of the Basque shops. The architecture of the houses, the pedestrian streets and the Vauban ramparts offer the perfect setting for a medieval Basque atmosphere.
The city also offers a medieval festival and market during the summer season!
You will find several delicatessens and shops to buy the famous Bayonne ham, Basque fabrics and traditional Basque clothing, some Basque cafés, the traditional market where you can eat local specialties, many souvenir shops, etc.
The Bayonne chocolate festival would not be complete without the traditional Basque music I recorded there.
In 2018, the bandas, called here txarangas, were not present during Bayonne celebrates its chocolate.
Nevertheless, we were able to enjoy another very festive moment, since for the first time Koruak, the first edition of the international choir festival, took place.
International choirs performed in the streets on Friday, Bayonne choirs on Saturday, with a very beautiful common finale at the cathedral.
Reason 9: You will have a hot chocolate break at Chocolat Cazenave.
Located on Rue Port Neuf under the famous Bayonne arcades of houses on stilts, Chocolat Cazenave famous tea room is the best place to enjoy a frothy hot chocolate.
The environment is magnificent, whether outside under the arcades of the pedestrian street, or inside in the middle of mirrors and stained glass.
The chocolate is topped by a frothy cloud mounted by hand according to an ancient technique and served in porcelain tableware decorated with roses.
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Which chocolatiers participate in the chocolate festival?
- Chocolat Cazenave (1854),
- Daranatz (1890),
- Pariés (1895),
- l’Atelier du Chocolat Bayonne (1951),
- Chocolat Pascal,
- Monsieur Txokola.
These chocolate makers are part of the Bayonne Chocolate Academy, created in 1993. Through the Academy, they commit themselves to rigorous criteria of artisanal production, the use of noble materials and respect for the Bayonne chocolate tradition.
My feedback on 2018’s Bayonne chocolate festival.
I went to Bayonne on Saturday afternoon for the choir finale at the cathedral.
Once the final was finished, I went to several sites in Bayonne celebrates its chocolate: those of the Town Hall, the market halls and the Augustins’ cellar. I found the atmosphere sad and not very friendly.
Not surprisingly, when I told the group that I had to take to the festival on Sunday afternoon that there were no tastings or musical events, many decided not to come.
The next day, however, our small group enjoyed being able to taste the “raw” cocoa, discover the manufacturing process, visit the synagogue, stroll through the streets of Bayonne under the sun and finish with a sparkling chocolate under the arcades at Cazenave.
Other activities were also offered as part of Bayonne fête son chocolat:
– a flea market related to chocolate on Fridays,
– a treasure hunt,
– an initiation – for a fee – to chocolate tasting,
– guided tours,
– a show at the Luna Negra on Friday nights,
– a chocolate ball on Saturday night,
– a gourmet all-chocolate lunch on Sundays.
Bayonne chocolate festival: How to visit Bayonne?
Since two years, it is celebrated twice a year, in May and November. November is better as it’s when we can see the chocolate masters in the streets and eat free chocolate.
There’s a railway station in Bayonne with TGV from/to Paris. It’s possible to find taxis and rental cars there.If you only visit Bayonne, you won’t need any car as the railway is in the centre. From the railway station, cross the stone bridge – pont Saint esprit – and you’ll be in the centre.
The closest airport is called “Biarritz Pays Basque”, situated at 6kms from Bayonne centre. You will find a taxi or rental car there. There’s also a bus to Bayonne centre.
There are several flights from/to different European cities.
Be careful: the airport is closed at night.
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Conclusion – The 9 reasons why you should visit Bayonne during the chocolate festival.
You now know what to do in Bayonne France during the chocolate festival.
I hope you enjoyed this original discovery of a Basque city through one of its festivals and I convinced you to visit Bayonne during Bayonne chocolate festival!
And if you’re wondering how to say I love chocolate in French, it’s very easy! J’AIME LE CHOCOLAT !
Are you ready to come celebrate this festival of Bayonne with us?
For other ideas on the coolest places to visit in the Basque country, read Justine’s guide on the best cities in Spain where 3 of the 9 suggestions are in the Basque Country or very close in Asturias. Will you recognize which ones?
You can read my full guide to traditional Basque festivals here
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