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 H√ītel 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.
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 H√ītel 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.
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.
Le Port des P√™cheurs –¬†A beautifully landscaped sidewalk with stairs crawls up a hill blooming with purple, blue and pink hydrangea leading to Port des P√™cheurs, 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.
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.
La Villa Belza & C√īte des Basques –¬†The coast takes a curve past the Villa Belza, a dramatic Romanesque villa with turrets perched on a cliff, towards the long C√īte des Basques. Another popular surfing beach, high tides are extreme here and completely cover the sandy shore.
Rue Gambetta –¬†Towards the end of the¬†C√īte 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
Hastea Surf School – I took surf lessons two days in a row at Hastea Surf School on the¬†C√īte 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, √ßa va!
Guerlain Spa at H√ītel 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¬†H√ītel 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.
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 g√Ęteau basques (gooey tarts made with cherries, chocolate or cream), fromage, fresh fruit, jambon¬†Ib√©rico, quiche, sandwiches, caf√© cr√®me 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 P√™cheurs.
Le Comptoir √† Burger & Les Contrebandiers¬†–¬†I stumbled upon Les Casetas¬†festival on the C√īte 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 √† 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.
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.
Herm√®s – Just a casual Herm√®s on boulevard du G√©n√©ral 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.