LOCATED between sea, mountains and Basque countryside, the Pays de Saint-Jean-de-Luz in the south-west of France counts 11 quaint towns and villages, each with its own story to tell. The region is a land of contrasts and hidden treasures, and its chic, festive, sporty and friendly charm are just the tip of the iceberg.

A plethora of hotels can be reached on a scenic 20-minute drive from Biarritz Airport along a route that is dominated by the Rhune mountains. I’m told that, behind the elegant windows of the seaside resorts, are the gates to the hinterland and its undeniable charm. Here for just a weekend, I begin to wonder if a short trip is even doable.

Upon arrival at my hotel, a special, one-off dinner is being prepared at the nearby Grand Hôtel Thalasso & Spa. True to its history, facing the ocean, the gleaming pale pink and white building has been completely renovated; its coffered ceilings and grand wooden staircase, both with a contemporary twist, are the jewels in the crown.

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Grand Hôtel Thalasso interior

After a quick stint in the stunningly tranquil, vault-like spa, despite the fact it’s just after 6pm, the sun is still hot and the vastness of the Bay of Biscay beckons. I order wine, some snacks and sit on the terrace taking in the never-ending water.

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The spa

Glasgow Times: Bar area

Glasgow Times: Grand Hôtel Thalasso terrace

Dinnertime sees Michelin-star chef Christophe Grosjean whip up a four-course dinner, which includes white asparagus au gratin, cecina and spinach, followed by a-little-too-rare filet of duck with morel mushrooms, rounded off with a dark chocolate dome which, when cracked into, overflows with quince, pear and vanilla and truffle ice-cream.

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First summit in the Pyrenean mountain range, the imposing Rhune overlooks the Atlantic coast from an altitude of 905 metres. To reach the summit the following morning, I set out to take the Rhune train. At an average speed of just nine miles-per-hour, it takes 35 minutes to reach the heart of wild natural countryside. At the top, on the border between France and Spain, the breathtaking 360-degree panoramic views stretch from ocean to mountains.

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Rhune train

Glasgow Times:
View from the top

From the handful of villages I manage to dart around, the one that continues to stay with me is Sare. Right on the border with Spain, the drive to the village is gorgeously antiquated and it’s clear to see why Sare is listed as “one of France’s most beautiful villages.”

Eager to dive into the local cuisine, I pass by the charming Hôtel Arraya. The venue dominates Sare’s square and I come to discover the building is formed with three old residences connected together around a tranquil, scenic secret garden.

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Hôtel Arraya in the square

Having eaten a sumptuous Michelin-star dinner the night before, it’s the food of Sare I take away with me; rich and flavoursome red wine-infused foie gras with moreish brioche tapenade, followed by grilled beef tenderloin and then a large crème brûlée. Having caught a glimpse of the secret garden, I take what’s left of my wine and sit out in the private space in the blazing heat as the region continues to take over both heart and mind.

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Glasgow Times:
Hôtel Arraya's 'secret garden'

Food is such an important part of the Basque culture, and it’s this culture that gives the Basque people their identity. “We French live to eat. We do not eat to live,” I’m told by a local when I arrive in Ainhoa. If I tell her what my on-the-go diet usually consists of back home, she’d be horrified, I think. Instead, I flash a smile to hide my envy before “au revoir.”

Glasgow Times:
Locals playing the sporting game 'pelota'

A stroll along the rugged Lafitenia beach on my final morning sees me catch some rays and a light lunch before before heading back to the airport, Scotland-bound again. After just one weekend, I’ve been won over. Saint-Jean-de-Luz, I’ll be back again. Only, this time, our time together won’t be so brief.

Aftab Ali was a guest of Terre et Côte Basques. Visit terreetcotebasques.com for more information.