Situated in the Basque Country, in the southwest corner of France, Biarritz was once the summer residence of royalty and has since evolved into a luxurious seaside resort city known for its beaches, golf courses, and surf scene. If you’re planning a visit, here’s a comprehensive guide to help you make the most of your time in Biarritz.
History and Background
Nestled along the Bay of Biscay, Biarritz’s rich history is reflected in its architecture, traditions, and culture. Initially, it was a small fishing village. Its transformation began in the 18th century when doctors started recommending the therapeutic properties of sea bathing. However, it was in the mid-19th century, when Empress Eugénie, the wife of Napoleon III, fell in love with this coastal beauty, that Biarritz came into prominence. Following her, European royalty started flocking to the region, laying the foundation for the resort town we know today.
Beaches and Coastal Charm
- La Grande Plage: The main city beach, often busy but spacious enough for everyone. Historic seaside buildings frame the sand, and its central location makes it a favorite among visitors.
- Plage Miramar: Quieter and more relaxed, the Miramar is perfect for those seeking tranquillity and stunning sunsets.
- Port Vieux: Once a whalers’ port, now a sheltered beach ideal for families. The calm waters here are great for kids.
Gastronomy: A Culinary Journey
The Basque country is known for its culinary wonders, and Biarritz is no exception.
- Basque Cake: A must-try, this buttery treat usually contains almonds, cherry or cream filling.
- Piquillos: Sweet red peppers often stuffed with meat or fish.
- Marmitako: A tuna pot stew, perfect for those chilly coastal evenings.
Surfing and Sports
Recognized as the European capital of surfing, Biarritz hosts several surf schools and tournaments.
- Quiksilver/Roxy Jam: A major annual surfing event that attracts competitors from all over the world.
- Biarritz Golf Club: Established in 1888, it’s one of the oldest and most prestigious golf courses in France.
- Asian Art Museum: Reflecting Biarritz’s historic ties with the Far East, this museum has an impressive collection from India, Nepal, Tibet, and more.
- Festival Biarritz Amérique Latine: Held in September, it celebrates Latin American cinema and culture.
Nightlife and Entertainment
As the sun sets, Biarritz comes alive with its bars, casinos, and nightclubs.
- Le Caveau: A historic club known for its jazz nights.
- Bar du Marché: Perfect for wine lovers, offering a selection from various French regions.
When booking accommodation, consider proximity to attractions. Central Biarritz is pricier, but you’re close to most major sites. For budget travelers, consider guesthouses or ‘chambres d’hôtes’ (B&Bs). Remember, the summer months are peak tourist season, so book in advance!
While Biarritz is tourist-friendly, knowing some local customs can enhance your experience:
- Greeting: A simple “Bonjour” (Good day) or “Bonsoir” (Good evening) can make a difference.
- Tipping: Service charge is included in your bill, but leaving small change is appreciated.
Biarritz, with its blend of Basque traditions, royal heritage, and modern luxuries, promises an experience unlike any other. Whether you’re soaking in the sun, indulging in gourmet delights, or exploring its rich history, the charm of Biarritz is sure to captivate your heart.
Getting There and Around
Air: The Biarritz Pays Basque Airport is conveniently located just a few kilometers southeast of the city center. Various airlines operate regular flights connecting Biarritz to cities like Paris, London, Brussels, and many other European destinations. During the summer months, the frequency of flights often increases to accommodate the influx of tourists.
Upon arrival, there are various transportation options available. Taxis are readily available outside the arrivals terminal. Additionally, the Chronoplus bus service offers connections from the airport to the city center, making it an affordable choice for travelers.
Train: The Gare de Biarritz serves as the city’s primary railway station. Situated in the heart of the city, it ensures easy accessibility. The high-speed TGV connects Biarritz to Paris in just a few hours, making it a preferred mode of transport for many. Regional trains also run regularly, connecting Biarritz to other towns in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region and to nearby Spanish destinations.
The station itself is equipped with facilities such as restrooms, cafes, and car rental services. From the station, it’s just a short walk to the city center or a quick taxi or bus ride if you have heavy luggage.
Buses: The Chronoplus bus network is the lifeline of public transportation in Biarritz. With comprehensive coverage, it not only connects different parts of the city but also extends to neighboring areas like Anglet and Bayonne. Tickets are affordable and can be purchased onboard or at various points throughout the city.
On Foot: One of the joys of Biarritz is its walkability. Given its compact size, most major attractions, beaches, restaurants, and shops are within a comfortable walking distance of each other. Strolling along the promenades, discovering hidden alleyways, or walking the length of the main beaches provides a sense of the city’s laid-back vibe.
Bicycles: With its flat terrain and scenic routes, Biarritz is a cyclist’s paradise. Many visitors choose to rent bicycles for their stay. Several bike rental shops are scattered throughout the city, offering daily or weekly rentals. Dedicated bike lanes and paths, especially along the coast, make cycling both safe and enjoyable.
Car Rentals: While Biarritz is easily navigable without a car, if you’re planning to explore the broader Basque region, renting a car might be a good idea. Several international and local car rental agencies operate in Biarritz, providing a range of vehicles to choose from.
Tips for Travelers:
- Parking: If you’re driving in Biarritz, be mindful of parking. During peak seasons, finding a spot can be challenging. Opt for hotels with parking facilities or use public parking lots.
- Tourist Card: Biarritz offers a tourist card providing unlimited bus travel and discounts to various attractions. It’s a cost-effective way to explore, especially for longer stays.
- Safety: While Biarritz is generally safe, always stay aware of your surroundings, especially in crowded areas.
Getting to and navigating Biarritz is hassle-free, whether you’re arriving by air, rail, or road. Its efficient public transport system and pedestrian-friendly layout ensure visitors can immerse themselves in the city’s charm with ease.
1. La Grande Plage: Often considered the heart of Biarritz, La Grande Plage stretches magnificently between the Bellevue Casino and the Hôtel du Palais. This crescent-shaped sandy beach offers the perfect arena for sun-seekers, swimmers, and those wanting to indulge in seaside leisure. Along the promenade, visitors can find a plethora of restaurants, cafes, and shops where they can savor local flavors or simply indulge in some people-watching, a pastime that has been a tradition since the days of the Belle Époque.
2. Rocher de la Vierge: An emblematic symbol of Biarritz, the Rocher de la Vierge is a rocky outcrop with a statue of the Virgin Mary placed atop. Accessible via a metal footbridge designed by none other than Gustave Eiffel himself, this spot offers unparalleled views. Gaze out to the vast Atlantic, or turn your sights to the city and the Pyrenees in the distance. Visiting at sunset provides a magical experience as the horizon comes alive with hues of orange and pink.
3. Musée de la Mer: Dive into the fascinating world of marine life at the Musée de la Mer. This two-story museum is home to over 150 species of marine life. Engage with interactive exhibits that introduce the mysteries of the deep blue. From the vibrant coral reefs to the enigmatic hammerhead sharks, this museum showcases both local marine biodiversity and exotic species. Children will especially enjoy the seal feeding sessions, making it a perfect attraction for families.
4. Côte des Basques: Surf’s up at Côte des Basques, a stretch of beach that has earned its reputation as a surfing paradise. With waves suitable for both novices and experienced surfers, it’s a hub of surf culture. Several surf schools along the beach offer lessons, ensuring that everyone can catch a wave. Even if surfing isn’t your sport, the beach, flanked by cliffs and offering views of the Spanish coast, is a picturesque spot for relaxation. It’s also worth noting that Côte des Basques has seen its share of famous visitors, including the likes of Frank Sinatra.
5. Hôtel du Palais: Steeped in history and luxury, the Hôtel du Palais stands as a testament to Biarritz’s royal past. Originally a summer palace for Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie, this imperial residence turned hotel is an architectural marvel. Overlooking La Grande Plage, its opulent interiors and grand facade transport visitors to a bygone era. Even if you’re not staying as a guest, consider booking a table at one of its fine dining restaurants or indulge in its world-class spa facilities.
Tips for Visitors:
- Peak Times: While these attractions are must-visits, they can get crowded, especially during the summer months. Consider visiting either early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid the throngs.
- Guided Tours: Some attractions, like the Hôtel du Palais, offer guided tours, providing deeper insights into their history and significance.
- Footwear: If heading to Rocher de la Vierge, wear comfortable footwear. The path can be slippery, especially after rains.
Biarritz, with its blend of natural beauty, rich history, and contemporary offerings, has attractions that cater to every traveler. Be it the allure of golden beaches, the historical intrigue of monumental structures, or the desire to connect with marine life, this Basque city promises enchantment at every corner.
When visiting Biarritz, finding the right accommodation can significantly enhance your overall experience. From luxurious palaces to trendy beachfront lodges, Biarritz offers a myriad of options to fit all budgets and preferences. Here are some hotel tips to help you make an informed decision:
1. Hôtel du Palais:
- Overview: An epitome of opulence, the Hôtel du Palais was once the summer palace of Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie. Today, it stands as one of the most prestigious hotels in France, boasting a lavish interior that pays homage to its regal past.
- Amenities: Guests can enjoy a saltwater swimming pool, a state-of-the-art spa, gourmet restaurants, and a grand salon for afternoon teas.
- Tip: While staying at the Hôtel du Palais is certainly a splurge, even non-guests can experience a slice of its luxury by booking a table at one of its restaurants or by indulging in its spa treatments.
2. Hôtel de la Plage:
- Overview: With its enviable location right next to La Grande Plage, Hôtel de la Plage marries modern comforts with a touch of art deco charm. Its facade, reminiscent of the 1930s, is an architectural delight.
- Amenities: The hotel offers rooms with balconies, an on-site restaurant, and a bar where guests can unwind with a drink.
- Tip: Ask for rooms with a seaside view. The sight of the Atlantic waves crashing against the shores, especially during sunrise or sunset, is mesmerizing.
3. Hotel Windsor Grande Plage:
- Overview: Situated in the heart of Biarritz, the Hotel Windsor Grande Plage is a favorite among beach enthusiasts and surfers. Its contemporary design, juxtaposed with panoramic sea views, makes it a sought-after accommodation.
- Amenities: Guests can benefit from complimentary Wi-Fi, an on-site restaurant serving Basque specialties, and a terrace bar that offers stunning vistas of the coast.
- Tip: Surf enthusiasts should consider booking during the annual Biarritz surf festivals. The hotel’s location offers front-row seats to the action.
4. Résidence Biarritz Ocean:
- Overview: If you’re planning an extended stay or prefer a home-like setting, Résidence Biarritz Ocean is a top pick. Located in a quieter part of town, it provides apartment-style lodgings complete with kitchenettes.
- Amenities: The residence offers spacious apartments, daily housekeeping, a lounge area, and a sun terrace. Parking facilities are also available for guests.
- Tip: Opt for one of their balcony apartments. These provide outdoor seating areas where you can enjoy a morning coffee or evening wine while soaking in the ambiance.
General Tips for Booking Hotels in Biarritz:
- Early Reservations: Biarritz is a popular destination, especially in the summer months. It’s wise to book your accommodation well in advance to secure the best deals and choices.
- Location: Depending on your itinerary, choose a hotel that reduces travel time to your preferred attractions. If beach lounging is your primary agenda, staying close to La Grande Plage or Côte des Basques is ideal.
- Special Requests: If you have any particular preferences, like a room with a sea view or accessibility needs, communicate with the hotel beforehand.
Remember, the right accommodation can elevate your Biarritz experience from good to unforgettable. Whether you’re seeking luxury, convenience, or a homely touch, Biarritz has something tailored just for you.
Biarritz, with its unique position in the Basque Country and proximity to the sea, offers a tantalizing blend of culinary traditions. From age-old recipes to modern renditions, dining in Biarritz is a gastronomic journey. Here are some tips for those looking to savor the best of what Biarritz has to offer:
1. Le Clos Basque:
- Overview: Nestled in a charming townhouse, Le Clos Basque transports diners to an era of traditional Basque culinary excellence. The cozy interiors, complete with wooden beams and rustic decor, set the tone for an authentic experience.
- Must-Try: The “poulet basquaise” or Basque chicken is a hearty dish that sings of the region’s flavors. Slow-cooked chicken with peppers, tomatoes, and Espelette pepper, it’s a soul-warming choice.
- Tip: Given its popularity and intimate setting, reserving a table in advance is recommended. Don’t forget to explore their wine list, which boasts selections that complement Basque flavors beautifully.
2. Maison Arosteguy:
- Overview: More than just a delicatessen, Maison Arosteguy is a Biarritz institution. Its rich history is mirrored in its curated offerings of gourmet products.
- Must-Buy: The Basque cheeses, especially the Ossau-Iraty sheep’s milk cheese, are delightful. Their range of spices, including the famed Piment d’Espelette, is also worth exploring.
- Tip: If you’re staying in an accommodation with kitchen facilities, consider picking up some local ingredients from Maison Arosteguy and trying your hand at crafting a Basque meal.
3. Chez Albert:
- Overview: Perched by the port, Chez Albert offers diners a front-row seat to the Atlantic’s expanse while savoring some of the freshest seafood in town.
- Must-Try: The oysters here are a crowd favorite, known for their briny freshness. Pair them with a crisp white wine for a sublime experience.
- Tip: Time your visit for sunset. The combination of delectable seafood, the orange hues of the setting sun, and the gentle lapping of the waves creates a dining experience that’s nothing short of magical.
4. Bar Jean:
- Overview: A spirited ambiance, vibrant flavors, and a menu that dances between Basque and Spanish traditions – that’s Bar Jean for you.
- Must-Try: Dive into their range of tapas. From traditional “pimientos de Padrón” to Basque “pinxtos” with various toppings, there’s something to tantalize every palate.
- Tip: Bar Jean tends to get bustling, especially in the evenings. Arriving a bit early ensures you snag a good spot. Pair your meal with a Basque cider or a sangria for a complete experience.
General Tips for Dining in Biarritz:
- Local Produce: Biarritz thrives on its local produce. Whether it’s seafood hauled from the Atlantic or vegetables grown in the fertile Basque soil, always opt for dishes that highlight these ingredients.
- Language: While many restaurant staff in Biarritz speak English, especially in popular spots, it’s always appreciated if you know a few basic French or Basque phrases.
- Tipping: Service charge is typically included in your bill in France, but it’s customary to leave small change if you’re pleased with the service.
In Biarritz, every meal is an opportunity to embark on a culinary adventure. Embrace the region’s flavors, explore its traditions, and let your taste buds guide you through the rich tapestry of Basque gastronomy.
Activities and Experiences
Biarritz, a gem of the Basque coast, offers more than just sun, sea, and sand. From riding the Atlantic waves to indulging in therapeutic treatments harnessing the power of the sea, the city caters to both adventure seekers and those in search of relaxation. Here’s a deeper dive into the top activities and experiences to indulge in while in Biarritz:
- Overview: The powerful Atlantic swells and beautiful beaches have crowned Biarritz as Europe’s surfing mecca. The town has played host to numerous international surfing competitions, drawing enthusiasts from around the globe.
- Where to Go: While the Côte des Basques is revered by longboarders and beginners, beaches like La Grande Plage and Marbella are also popular among surfers.
- Tip: Numerous surf schools dot the coastline. If you’re a beginner, consider taking a lesson. For those without gear, rental shops are aplenty.
- Overview: Biarritz’s affinity to the sea goes beyond its beaches. Thalassotherapy, or treatments using seawater and marine products, has been a staple in Biarritz for decades, offering therapeutic and relaxation benefits.
- Where to Go: Centers like Thalmar and the Hôtel du Palais’ spa offer a range of treatments, from seawater baths to marine mud applications.
- Tip: Even if you don’t opt for a specific treatment, many thalassotherapy centers offer day passes to their seawater pools and relaxation areas. It’s a great way to rejuvenate after a day of exploring.
- Overview: Biarritz’s mild climate and scenic beauty make it an idyllic golfing destination. The city boasts courses that cater to both pros and those just starting.
- Where to Play: Le Phare, set in the heart of the town, is one of the oldest golf courses in Europe. For those seeking a challenge, the Biarritz Golf Club offers stunning sea views and intricate course designs.
- Tip: If you’re new to golf but curious, many clubs offer beginner lessons. It’s a great way to learn the basics while soaking in the picturesque surroundings.
- Overview: From bustling local markets to high-end boutiques, shopping in Biarritz is a delightful experience that caters to varied tastes and budgets.
- Where to Go: Les Halles market is a sensory delight, brimming with local produce, cheeses, and meats. If designer goods are more your style, Avenue Edouard VII and Place Georges Clémenceau house chic boutiques offering the latest in fashion and luxury.
- Tip: Don’t leave without picking up some Basque souvenirs. Traditional linen, espadrilles, and Basque cakes are popular choices.
General Tips for Experiencing Biarritz:
- Local Events: Biarritz is alive with events throughout the year, from surfing competitions to Basque festivals. Check the local calendar to see if your visit aligns with any.
- Dress Appropriately: While Biarritz has a laid-back vibe, some high-end establishments may have a dress code. It’s always good to pack a mix of casual and semi-formal attire.
- Stay Active: Apart from the mentioned activities, consider renting a bike to explore the city or take a long coastal walk to discover hidden beaches and viewpoints.
In Biarritz, every day promises a new adventure or a new avenue of relaxation. Whether you’re riding the waves, swinging a golf club, indulging in marine spa treatments, or simply shopping for treasures, this Basque city ensures a memorable experience.
While Biarritz itself offers a plethora of experiences, its proximity to several other iconic destinations makes it a fantastic base for exploring the broader Basque region. Here’s a guide to some must-visit nearby spots:
- Overview: Nestled at the confluence of the Adour and Nive rivers, Bayonne is a historic town blending Gascon and Basque influences. Its timbered houses, ancient fortifications, and vibrant culture promise an enriching excursion.
- Main Attractions:
- Bayonne Cathedral (Sainte-Marie de Bayonne): A UNESCO World Heritage site, this Gothic cathedral boasts stunning architecture and a serene cloister.
- Basque Museum: Delve into the history, traditions, and crafts of the Basque people.
- Old Town: Wander through narrow alleys lined with half-timbered houses, quaint shops, and inviting eateries.
- Tip: Time your visit to indulge in the town’s famous chocolate. The Atelier du Chocolat offers delightful tastings.
- Overview: A former whaling and pirate town, Saint-Jean-de-Luz, with its colorful Basque houses and sandy beaches, offers a unique coastal charm.
- Main Attractions:
- Port: The town’s vibrant fishing port is a great place to watch boats come and go and to buy fresh seafood.
- St John the Baptist Church: Known for its wooden galleries and where King Louis XIV was married.
- Place Louis XIV: A lively square lined with cafes, perfect for enjoying the town’s famous “gateau Basque” or Basque cake.
- Tip: If you’re a seafood aficionado, dine at one of the town’s port-side restaurants for the freshest catches.
3. San Sebastian (Donostia):
- Overview: A short trip across the French-Spanish border lands you in San Sebastian, a city renowned for its breathtaking bay, Belle Époque architecture, and a culinary scene that’s world-class.
- Main Attractions:
- La Concha Beach: Often considered one of Europe’s most beautiful urban beaches.
- Mount Igueldo: Offers panoramic views of the city and bay below.
- Parte Vieja (Old Part): Wander its narrow streets filled with historic buildings, churches, and, most importantly, numerous pintxos bars.
- Tip: Embark on a pintxos crawl. These small snacks, often displayed on bar tops, range from traditional to avant-garde. Pair with txakoli, a slightly sparkling Basque white wine.
General Tips for Nearby Excursions:
- Transport: While driving is the most flexible option, public transport like trains and buses is also efficient and connects Biarritz to these destinations.
- Language: While Spanish is spoken in San Sebastian and French in Bayonne and Saint-Jean-de-Luz, Basque is common to all these regions. A few phrases in Basque or the local language can enhance your interactions.
- Cultural Etiquette: Respect local customs and traditions, especially during festivals or religious events.
Each of these excursions offers a unique flavor of the Basque region, be it through history, culture, landscapes, or gastronomy. By venturing just a short distance from Biarritz, you’ll find an abundance of enriching experiences awaiting discovery.
Nestled between the majestic Atlantic waves and the rolling Basque hinterlands, Biarritz has carved out a reputation as a beacon of coastal elegance and cultural vibrancy. Its royal roots, juxtaposed with a contemporary flair for surf and sea, make it a destination unlike any other. From its golden beaches to its historic sites, gourmet delights, and neighboring attractions, every facet of Biarritz invites exploration and enchantment.
However, the heart of Biarritz lies not just in its scenic landscapes or luxurious offerings, but in its spirit. The warmth of its people, the rhythm of its streets, and the tales whispered by its winds embody the true essence of this Basque jewel. Whether you’re tracing the footsteps of old-world royalty, riding the Atlantic swells, or simply basking in the hues of a Biarritz sunset, the memories you create here will linger long after you’ve left its shores.
In a world filled with destinations waiting to be discovered, Biarritz stands out, not just as a place to visit, but as a feeling to be experienced. So, as you bid adieu to this seaside haven, know that its allure will beckon you back, time and again, to relive, rediscover, and revel in its timeless charm.