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What to see and do in Biarritz

th town of Biarritz at dusk, lights from coastal buildings reflected in the sea

Just the name Biarritz makes you think of glamour and glitz. In the Pays Basque, in the far southwest of France on the Bay of Biscay, this once aristocratic resort, favoured by European royalty, is both elegant and exhilarating. Lovers of the ritzy lifestyle tend to favour the French Riviera these days leaving Biarritz to those who love the sun and glorious golden beaches, surfers drawn to the Atlantic rollers, Parisians and those who want a holiday in a resort that offers everything you’d want in a sunny southern French town. It’s stylish as well as laid back and even rather exotic. Here’s what to see and do in Biarritz…

Don’t miss in Biarritz

Building on a rocky outcrop on the edge of the sea in Biarritz

When the great French writer Victor Hugo visited Biarritz in 1843, he wrote “I know of no other place more charming and magnificent than Biarritz”. That was before the heady days when it was discovered by the rich and famous. A little over a decade later, Napoleon III stayed there with his wife Eugenie, and Biarritz was ‘discovered’. Every summer for sixteen years, the imperial couple stayed, building a summer villa – the Villa Eugenie. It burned down in 1903 and was rebuilt in the same E-Shape and is now the Hotel du Palais.

Biarritz is still charming and magnificent. The Belle Epoque architecture combined with buildings in Art Deco, Neo-Norman and Neo-Basque styles give the town a unique look making it a great place to wander.

The beaches are superb. Sun worshippers will love the golden sands dotted with vibrant parasols.

The shopping is great! Pick up a pair of the famous espadrilles, striped Basque fabric, pottery, or a Basque knife like those used in Napoleonic campaigns.

Culture

Iron footbridge built by Gustave Eiffel in Biarritz

You probably wouldn’t pick this town for its cultural assets – yet there is plenty here to please. The Biarritz Historical Museum is small but charming. Located in a former Anglican church it gives a great understanding of the history of the town. Climb to the top of the  Phare de Biarritz lighthouse for fabulous views over the ocean. Pop into the Imperial Chapel, commissioned by Empress Eugenie, dive into the sea with a pack of sharks but stay dry at the immersive 4D cinema. There are several museums in the town – great for rare rainy days.

Food is culture too in France. And here in Biarritz you’ll find Basque favourites like gateau basque and dishes featuring the famous red chilli pepper of the region, the espelette. Less spicy than you might imagine, espelettes are used in lots of local dishes like Poulet Basquaise and even with eggs. Head to Les Halles, the covered market and stock up on fabulous cheeses, Bayonne ham and local produce. There are loads of restaurants from Michelin star to beach shack.

Cross the footbridge built by Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame. It leads to a rocky outcrop known locally as Rocher de la Vierge. It’s topped by a statue of the Virgin Mary, a token of gratitude from whalers who were once miraculously saved from being shipwrecked and saw a divine light coming up from behind this rock.

Surfer heaven

Two surfers with boards on the golden sand at Biarritz

Surfing came to Biarritz in 1956 thanks to author and Hollywood screenwriter Peter Viertel. He was staying in the town for the filming of The Sun Also Rises, an adaption of Ernest Hemingway’s book of the same name. Viertel was impressed by the waves and sent for his surfboard from California. Three years later, the first surf club was born in Biarritz, making it the historic capital of surfing in Europe.

Hardcore surfers head to La Nord beach in Hossegor where the swell can reach 6 metres high. There’s also a saltwater lake there for more relaxed water sports as well as an immense pine forest.

The bay of Saint-Jean-de-Luz is also famous for its waves. Afterwards take a break in the pretty seaside resort with its authentic fishing port. There are beaches for surfers of all levels, long boarders and short boarders, and you can take lessons too. The city has webcams set up on the main beaches so you can check out the surf!

More on the area

Slow tour of the Basque country

Recipe for Gateau Basque

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