Surfer chic vibes, exemplary French Basque cuisine and art deco allure make a summer sojourn to this southerly seaside city essential, says James Williams
Why go? A popular resort since the days of Napoleon III, this corner of south-west France has long drawn visitors to its healing waters. High-tech spas may have supplanted a dip in the Atlantic for some, but this is still a place to relax and enjoy the odd thrill. Biarritz is where surfing first arrived in Europe and thousands still flock to ride the waves. Others simply throw dice in the famous casino. On 15 August, the city plays host to one of France’s most spectacular firework displays on Grande Plage.
What to do Start where the action is on the long, breezy promenade, taking a lazy stroll down to the Casino casinosbarriere.com with its glitzy Twenties facade. Stretching as far as the eye can see is the wide, sandy Grande Plage. Take your pick from the iconic stripy tents for hire or unfurl your towel at one of the other five beaches. Continue south past the old fishing port, Port des Pêcheurs, to the art deco Aquarium de Biarritz aquariumbiarritz.com where you can marvel at the seven species of shark and gather round for the seal feeding displays. Opposite, walk along a rocky spur to the Rocher de la Vierge, with sweeping views beneath a statue of the Virgin Mary. Drop down to the family-friendly cove of Plage Port Vieux or round the headland to La Côte des Basques, the city’s best spot for riding waves. Book a lesson at a surf school or watch others battle the rollers in one of the city’s surf tournaments. Nearby, drop in to the stunning Cité de l’Océan citedelocean.com for a virtual reality surfing experience with kinetic sensors reading your balance as you cut your way through the dizzying Belharra wave or the perfect tube of Mundaka. Back in town, satisfy your senses at Les Halles market halles-biarritz.fr and sample Bayonne ham, bright-red Espelette peppers and the local oysters.
Where to stay Hôtel du Palais hotel-du-palais.com was built as a villa for Napoleon III and his wife Eugénie upon the dunes of the Grande Plage. It’s a glamorous address, with a great location and excellent restaurant. An enduring symbol of the town’s heyday, this landmark has a sculpted pool and elegant rooms. A stone’s
Currency is the euro. Biarritz is one hour ahead of GMT. Flight time from London is 2 hours. The cost to carbon offset is £2.21. For more details visit climatecare.org
British Airways flies direct from London Heathrow to Biarritz Pays Basque Airport on a daily basis. ba.com easyJet also flies to Biarritz from Gatwick and Luton. easyjet.co.uk
AVERAGE DAILY TEMPERATURES AND RAINFALL throw from Les Halles, Hôtel de Silhouette hotel-silhouette-biarritz. com has a handy central location and is full of eccentric touches. The 17th-century building is an ode to modern comfort and design, from the soundproofed rooms with flat-screen TVs and Bose docking stations to the laid-back garden with quirky sheep sculptures. Villa Koegui hotel-villakoegui-biarritz.fr offers a goodvalue night’s sleep with a contemporary design and the feel of a upmarket family home. Breakfast is served in a pretty, leafy garden or on a long communal dining table.
Where to eat and drink Let yourself get lost in Les Halles and you’ll never go hungry. The French Basque culinary influence is strong here so be sure to grab a seat at one of the many bars selling local tapas, known as pintxos, with cold beers to wash down meats, cheeses and seafood. For more familiar French dining, Le Bistrot des Halles bistrotdeshallesbiarritz.fr has a cosy setting with wooden tables and vintage adverts on the walls. Don’t miss classic dishes such as tournedos de SaintJacques – the superb scallops, beautifully tender and golden. Along the Port des Pêcheurs, some of the little fishermen’s huts, known as crampottes, are a fun place to head for a quick drink. Try Crampotte 30 for a glass of rosé and some tapas in the shadow of Sainte-Eugénie church. For more refined sips, L’Artnoa lartnoa.com has a regularly revised selection of 30 wines by the glass accompanied by charcuterie boards. For one of the top tables in town, head to Michelin-starred L’Impertinent l-impertinent. fr and tuck into a tasting menu that brings together fresh produce including locally sourced hake with oysters and apple cream, and dishes that are creative without overdoing the foams and purées. Time running out? Take a walk to the 19th-century lighthouse that still casts its beacon today, situated at Pointe Saint-Martin. After a climb up 248 steps there are great views across city.
Trip tip Pick up regional delicacies and artisan preserves at the oldest épicerie (grocery store) in Biarritz, Arostéguy, arosteguy.com Resources
Biarritz Tourisme is the official city tourist board and has a useful website full of helpful information. tourisme.biarritz.fr
A Brief History of Surfing by Matt Warshaw (Chronicle Books, £16.99). Warshaw tracks the sport’s arc from the discovery of Hawaii to today’s beach culture.