Apr 10
2017

The Hit List: Biarritz

View of the Grand Plage, Hotel du Palais and lighthouse from my flat.

View of the Grand Plage, HĂ´tel du Palais and lighthouse from my flat.

 

I spent last June in France, including a week in the Basque Country. I’d wanted to visit Biarritz for ages and it absolutely lived up to my expectations. The quaint fishing village transformed into a lavish seaside resort thanks to Napoleon’s wife, Empress Eugenie, who vacationed there as a child. Napoleon built her a villa in 1855 that, today, is the HĂ´tel du Palais overlooking the Grand Plage.

A favored retreat of Coco Chanel, she opened her third boutique in Biarritz in 1915, which today is a bookstore at 2 Edouard VII avenue.

The bookstore was once home to Coco Chanel's boutique.

The bookstore was once home to Coco Chanel’s third boutique.

 

Surfing was introduced to Biarritz’s rugged coast in the 1950s by California screenwriter Peter Viertel when he arrived to shoot the film adaptation of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. (And, of course, my boyfriend Hemingway stayed at the HĂ´tel du Palais during his time in France.)

Because of its location on the Bay of Biscay, the climate is temperate and slightly chilly even in the summertime with moody skies that change briskly, carrying the threat of a hard rain. For the most part, I lucked out with the weather on my trip.

Today, the small city’s French Beaux Arts opulence is coupled with a laid-back Southern California surfer vibe, along with both Spanish and French influences, populated by effortlessly chic, beautiful people. For me, a Newport Beach native and longtime francophile, it was absolute bliss.

Take this Walk

My friend Anouck Jourdaa, an artist and surfer living in South Beach, is originally from Biarritz. When I asked her advice on where to go and what to do, she recommended this walk as orientation. A small and immensely walkable city with lovely vistas at every turn, you can hit all of these spots in one afternoon, as I did.

Miramar &  Lighthouse – The residential neighborhood of Miramar with picturesque chateaus leads to the Biarritz Lighthouse on a cliff at the northern edge of the city for panoramic views.

A view of the bluffs from the lighthouse.

A view of the bluffs from the lighthouse.

 

Grand Plage & Casino – My Airbnb was directly on the Grand Plage where Biarritz’s Casino is located. You can cruise along the promenade and watch the surfers.

A foot bridge leading to a little island along the walk before reaching Port des Pecheurs.

A foot bridge leading to a little island along the walk before reaching Port des PĂŞcheurs.

 

Le Port des PĂŞcheurs – A beautifully landscaped sidewalk with stairs crawls up a hill blooming with purple, blue and pink hydrangea leading to Port des PĂŞcheurs, a marina edged by an ancient stone wall to protect the ships. Here, a smattering of open air restaurants on the water serve fresh fish in a laid-back setting.

The protected marina of the Port de Pecheurs.

The protected marina of the Port des PĂŞcheurs.

 

Rocher de la Vierge – Translated to the Rock of the Virgin, a small statue of the Virgin Mary is perched atop a rocky tunnel accessed by a small footbridge that juts out to sea for more stunning views. Here, you’ll also walk past the Aquarium and the Eglise Sainte Eugenie.

at sunset.

The Rocher de la Vierge at sunset.

 

La Villa Belza & CĂ´te des Basques – The coast takes a curve past the Villa Belza, a dramatic Romanesque villa with turrets perched on a cliff, towards the long CĂ´te des Basques. Another popular surfing beach, high tides are extreme here and completely cover the sandy shore.

Rue Gambetta – Towards the end of the CĂ´te des Basques, a sidewalk with steps zig-zag their way up to a cliff at rue d’Espagne. This leads to a roundabout where you can pick up rue Gambetta back towards the center of town at the Grand Plage. You’ll walk past adorable, independently-owned boutiques, patisseries and restaurants, as well as Les Halles market lined with trendy sidewalk cafes.

Surf & Spa

Catching a wave!

Catching a wave!

 

Hastea Surf School – I took surf lessons two days in a row at Hastea Surf School on the CĂ´te des Basques and lived out a long held dream of surfing in France. If you think surfing is tricky, try taking a lesson in French! Ouai, ça va!

Irresistible opulence.

Irresistible opulence at HĂ´tel du Palais.

 

Guerlain Spa at HĂ´tel du Palais – Not one to pass up a fancy spa inside a historic hotel built for, literally, a damn princess, I booked a lavish massage at the HĂ´tel du Palais’ Guerlain Spa post-surf. It was heavenly with a massage oil scented with gardenia, night blooming jasmine and magnolia flowers. Worth every penny.

Restaurants

Les Halles – I’m weird. I don’t get very excited when it comes to markets, even in Europe, but I loved Les Halles in Biarritz for its neat, tidy layout and stalls selling everything from the regional gâteau basques (gooey tarts made with cherries, chocolate or cream), fromage, fresh fruit, jambon IbĂŠrico, quiche, sandwiches, cafĂŠ crème and all variety of delicious items to build a lunchtime picnic on the beach out of.

Miremont – This lovely tea house and patisserie made for a perfect lunch at a cafe table outside overlooking the ocean with a fresh salad followed by a thick hot chocolate, which Biarritz is famous for.

Chez Albert – This was my pick for a dinner of fresh fish at the Port des PĂŞcheurs.

Les Contrabandiers.

Les Contrebandiers.

 

Le Comptoir Ă  Burger & Les Contrebandiers – I stumbled upon Les Casetas festival on the CĂ´te Basques during the June weekend I was visiting. There was live music and food stands from local restaurants. I enjoyed a delicious burger from Le Comptoir Ă  Burger and drank some cold beer at Les Contrebandiers, a Spanish tapas and wine bar, while listening to a pair of musicians play the guitar and cajon box drum. I would gladly visit either of their permanent locations on a future visit.

Shopping

Duchatel – A super chic concept shop with windows displaying wares by designers like Saint Laurent, Haider Ackerman, Attico, Lanvin and The Row. Swoon.

Natacha – A similarly chic boutique carrying everything from Stella McCartney to Dior to Moncler and all the other fancy brands you love to ooh and ahh over.

Hermès – Just a casual Hermès on boulevard du GĂŠnĂŠral de Gaulle next to my flat.

BTZ – This is a local surf shop and brand selling very cool t-shirts, sweatshirts and sneakers.

64 – An iconic, sportswear brand based in Biarritz that’s popular amongst the locals. Pick up a logo t-shirt or a pair of striped espadrilles here.

Angele – Cute, little jewelry shop on rue Gambetta selling so many bangles, baubles and beaded bracelets at an affordable price. Perfect for a souvenir to bring home to friends.

Where to Stay

My Airbnb directly on the Grand Plage, which I highly recommend.

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