Make waves in Biarritz

By | Category: Travel destinations

Kaye Holland heads to Biarritz and finds that the end of summer never felt so good

Autumn may have arrived in the UK, but in Biarritz – the biggest resort in south-west France – the sun continues to shine so you can still get your vitamin D hit. Temperatures are currently in the early twenties and don’t drop until November, plus the former playground for royalty is free of the pesky tourists that July and August attract – meaning you can stroll the elegant streets in relative peace and quiet and enjoy a more chilled atmosphere.

And it’s only an affordable (easyjet and Ryanair both fly to Biarritz) one hour plane ride away which perhaps explains how – in a lifetime of international travel – a trip to Biarritz had, somehow up until early September 2016, always eluded me.

img_1483

What’s more, you can see a lot in a few days….If architecture is your bag, make a beeline for the stunning scarlet-and-cream-coloured Hotel du Palais whose high profile former guests include Queen Victoria, King Edward VII and more recently Prince William, the Duchess of Cambridge and their two children.

This Biarritz icon – which was built in 1854 by Napoleon 111 for his wife Eugenie de Montijo, in the shape of a giant E – proudly overlooks the Bay of Biscay and serves as proof that not all hotels are created equally. Make no mistake: if Jay Gatsby could be peeled from the pages of Scott F Fitzgerald’s classic novel, The Great Gatsby, and transplanted to Biarritz, you would find him here…

img_1464

Biarritz is an ideal playground for sports enthusiasts too, offering eight golf courses (four of which are  ranked in Europe’s top 100) including Golf du Phare – the second oldest golf course on the continent. Budding Jason Days and Lydia Khos can take advantage of the golf pass which grants access to four of Biarritz’s most beautiful courses and clubs.

img_1434

Yet it is surfing that this Atlantic Riviera destination is most famous for, thanks in no small part to Peter Viertel. The American scriptwriter came to Biarritz in 1957 with his wife, Deborah Kerr, to shoot his film The Sun Also Rises. A keen surfer, Viertel brough his boards with him so as to practise the sport of the kings on Biarritz’s Cote des Basques. Before you could say “hang 10”, Biarritz had developed a reputation for being one of the best surfing spots in Europe. Today surfers will be set up for a stint at Plage de la Cote des las Basques – home, as it is, to a cluster of surf schools.

img_1472

img_1482

A tad too energetic? The less active can simply stretch out a stripey beach towel on one of six spectacular beaches. As beaches go, Biarritz is playing in the Premier League but, since you ask, standouts include the sheltered Plage du Port Vieux (ideal for families), La Grande Plage – aka one of the longest beaches in Biarritz – and locals’ favourite, Plage de la Milady, the perfect place to relax and do sweet FA … Just don’t expect to lay a finger on your book as Biarritz boasts some of the most gripping people watching in the world: everyone here walks around looking like a film star.

img_1475

Can’t stand lying on a sun lounger all day? Swan between best-in-class coffee shops, charming bookshops, and local, independent stores. Don’t miss Mille et un Fromages (+33 5 59 24 06 87) –  a veritable cheese lover’s heaven – Maison Adam which specialises in the most more’ish, multicoloured almond flavoured macaroons imaginable and Lartigue (+33 5 59 23 83 02). The latter is a family run boutique on Avenue Edouard V11 that has been making bags, espadrilles, table cloths et al in the distinctive Basque stripes since 1910.

img_1476

By night dine al fresco (Biarritz excels at outdoor eating) with locals who need no invitation to tell you how great their former fishing port is, in hot spots such as Bar Jean. This always lively establishment  serves a fantastic selection of great tasting tapas and wine (that is crying out to be Instagrammed) well into the wee hours. But be warned: this is a city of late dinners and even later drinks. Bars like Bar Jean and Miguel and clubs like Carré Coast, Le Caveau and Le Duplex only close when the last customer has left, so prepare yourself for some long, long nights.

We’re not done yet… happily if you’re coming from London, where even a coffee and croissant costs £6, you’ll find this corner of south-western France’s Basque coast  surprisingly affordable. Trust JAT when we say that a weekend in laid-back Biarritz will cost you the same as one in dark, damp Blighty. Hmmm… tough choice. The only problem is that, like many expats who now hail Biarritz as home, you may never want to leave.

This is the Europe you thought was done. Don’t wait: there’s no time like the present.

img_1477

NEED TO KNOW
Getting there
Ryanair fly from Stansted to Biarritz, while British Airways fly from Heathrow. Elsewhere easyJet fly from Gatwick to Biarritz airport which is a mere two miles east of the city. Bus 14 will take you to the town centre for just €1.

Getting around
Biarritz is a walkable city but if you don’t fancy pounding the pavements, a complimentary shuttle ferries passengers around town every 15 minutes from Monday to Saturday.

Tourism board
The tourist office is housed in a peach coloured mansion beside Square d’Ixelles, staffed by super friendly locals and  open every day save for Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. www.tourisme.biarritz.fr

Words and pictures: Kaye Holland

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,