If you’ve read my introduction to Bayonne, you’ll know that I didn’t quite expect the same amount of Basque-ness as farther south in Donostia or Bilbao, but was surprised by the new vigour of the culture in France. I did, nevertheless, expect some graffiti – after all, it only takes one person to paint a mural. Politically motivated graffiti, murals and signs are more prevalent in Little Bayonne than in Big Bayonne, which is fitting given the distinction between the grimier, working class feel of the former and the touristy ambience of the latter. Political graffiti in the Basque country is NOT all about the ETA. In fact, given that the ETA is not active in France the way it is in Spain, there is really not a lot mentioned about the group in the murals or posters on walls in Bayonne. Rather, graffiti either calls for the authorities to answer for the disappearance of several young Basques from the Bayonne region something like 20 years ago, or it is of an ultra-left wing and pro-nationalist flavor, promoting women’s rights, national rights and workers’ rights at the same time. Although it is in Basque, much of it uses the same twenty words in one form or another, so, with a little help from a guidebook you can decipher the meaning of most graffiti. Even if you’re apolitical or opposed to Basque identity and nationalism, you must admit – the graffiti does actually help out in brightening up what would otherwise be a rather grimy and dark part of town.
ProformArt ~ maybe with added refreshments
ProformArt is a small private art gallery behind Bayonne Cathedral. An exhibition had opened the day before I visited and the gallery was offering free food and drink. Considering they open a fresh exhibition of work every six weeks or so, your chances are reasonable to get free food ;-)
The gallery is located on the ground floor of a typical, pretty Bayonne town house. The exhibition when I visited comprised of a wide mixture of drawings, paintings, photography and sculpture. They were almost exclusively of women with no clothes on ;-o
Address: 5, place Mgr Vansteenberghe
La Poterne is one of the seven gates that led into the city of Bayonne through its fortifications and the walls of the citadel. One of the others is the Porte d'Espagne (you can see my tip on that attraction too). The difference between the two of them, perhaps, is that the Poterne would have been much more important from a military stand point, as it enters the city right beside the the Château Vieux, a military installation, rather than near the residential areas of the Rue d'Espagne. For this reason, probably, la Poterne is much more fortified and would likely have been easier to protect than some of the other gates to the city. Today, it forms one of the entrances to the lush park known as the Promenade des Remparts, and is really just an open air historical attraction. I like the feeling that you get of passing into another age, however, and I think that it is probably an even more interesting attraction than some of the buildings in its vicinity.
French cities generally have pretty impressive town halls (La Mairie). Bayonne is no exception, and if you enter the city from the train station, you will certainly notice the grand building to your right that dominates the entrance to the city. The thing is that the architecture of the building and the square, with a great view of the Adour behind them, seem much more Mediterranean (i.e. something you'd find in an Italian town) than you would expect of a Western French town. It adds a bit of lazy sunshine, something you'd find in Marseille or along the Riviera, to a city in a region that is generally perceived as being rougher and more oriented to the hard work of the seas. The square in front of the town hall has a mosaic, while the arcade at the front of the building, of course, houses a café and a tobacco shop. I don't believe that you are allowed to enter the building to tour it, but you are certainly welcome to take pictures.
The small town of Bayonne is located just above the border with Spain on the western coast of France. It's not a big tourist spot but a typical french town, with a sleepy feeling and a sense of relaxation, and yet there is enough to see and do. Bayonne makes a daytrip and is also suitable for an overnight stop on your way to some other destination.