Biarritz, a mecca for tourists
"I know of no more charming and more magnificent spot than Biarritz…
I have only one fear, that it might become fashionable."
A hint of history
Tucked away at the bottom of the Bay of Biscay, less than 15 miles from the Spanish frontier, Biarritz boasts a superb 2 ½ mile facade overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
For many years a whaling port, the area underwent an economic turnaround in the XIXth century when sea-bathing became the fashion. Empress Eugénie made it her favourite recreational resort. Following her example, the aristocracy of Europe flocked to the bathing station and Biarritz became a magnet for nobility. Tourism steadily increased and became democratized and today the local economy is principally focussed on the hotel trade, gastronomy, health and care and pleasure on sea and land.
A legendary mild climate
The balmy climate of the resort, the view over the ocean and its thundering waves, and the diversity of the architecture have inspired generations of writers.
The trade-winds from the ocean make for gentle winters. These warm winds from the south create a foehn effect with the air coming in from Spain releasing its humidity as it crosses the Pyrenees and warms up again as it descends again to the plain. In winter, the town often enjoys higher temperatures than the rest of France.
Biarritz : a perfect setting to nurture well-being.
Enjoy the innumerable charms of the resort with its miles of sea-front and beaches, its tourist circuits, the sunsets over the ocean, lunch in a top-class restaurant, an invigorating stop-over in one of the many thalassotherapy centers, and its unforgettable golf course.
Fine food in the Basque country
The Pays Basque is very attached to its gastronomy and especially to the high quality of its local products. A myriad of highly-reputed restaurants are dotted throughout the region. The famous products from the Basque Country or the Landes region are the pride of the area.
If you were asked to name some specialities from the Pays Basque, you would surely mention Bayonne ham, Espelete chili, the Basque cake and chocolate. Imported into Europe by the Spaniards in the 16th century, the cacao beans brought home from Mexico by the explorer Cortès found their way into France in the 17th century. At the time, chocolate was a rare and precious drink claimed to have medicinal properties. The Basque Country became home to the first chocolate workshops in France. Strangely, Bayonne owes its history as a chocolate manufacturing center to…the Inquisition. In the 17th century, Spanish and Portuguese Jewish chocolate-makers set up the first cacao-processing workshops in France on the right bank of the Adour. And in 1670, the word “chocolate” featured for the first time in the city archives. Very soon, chocolate was to play a major role in the local economy and the chocolate factories grew in number. By the end of the 18th century, Bayonne chocolate had grown in stature and was being sold in Paris and in other cities throughout the land. In the 19th century, Bayonne became THE chocolate capital of France, both for the quality of its goods as well as for its dynamism with 31 chocolate producers within the town. This know-how came to be shared with other towns in the Basque Country, such as Biarritz, Cambo and Ustaritz...
Biarritz : 10 golf links within a radius of 30 miles.
The golfing Mecca of Europe, Biarritz boasts the second oldest golf course on the continent, the Golf Biarritz le Phare, opened in 1888. In addition, the stunning International Training Center at Ilbarritz with its 5 golfing schools nestling among the greenery provides a 360° panorama over the ocean. The mildness of the climate makes it possible to play golf all year round.
Biarritz : the surfing capital of Europe
Acknowledged to be one of the best surfing spots anywhere, Biarritz today attracts surfers from around the world. In October 2015, Biarritz was granted the « Surf City » label with its brand new City of the Ocean which was opened in June 2011 and its many surfing and surf-board rental shops. Ten surfing schools welcome beginners and experienced surfers for courses lasting between a couple of hours and several days.
A very varied touristic heritage
Le rocher de la Vierge, the Virgin’s Rock, is one of the emblems of Biarritz. Napoleon III ordered a tunnel to be cut through the rock and then, in 1854, he commissioned the building of the Villa Eugénie as a gift to his wife, Eugénie de Montijo. Originally the Empress’s holiday home, the residence played host to the aristocracy and stars from all over Europe. The villa retained its original name until 1893 when it was transformed into a luxury hotel and renamed “Hôtel du Palais”.
La pâtisserie Miremont, the Miremont Pastry-shop, dates from the early XIXth century. Situated on the Place Clémenceau, the shop and its furnishings have been classified as of historic significance. Clients included King Alphonse XIII of Spain and Queen Amelia of Orleans. The celebrated French writer, Maurice Rostand, once wrote: “At five o’clock there were fewer pastries than queens and fewer rum babas than grand-dukes”.
The Biarritz Municipal Casino was built in the Art Déco style in 1929 by the architect Alfred Laulhé. Located on the edge of the Grande Plage (Big Beach), it was totally renovated during the 1990s. The Biarritz lighthouse located at the tip of the Saint Martin headland is equipped with a revolving “eclipsing” beam. It is built in stone from the Bidache and Rhune areas.
The villa Belza, the work of architect Alphonse Bertrand, was erected between 1880 and 1895. It stands facing the sea on the Cachaous Rock. Its square tower is flanked by a pepperpot tower.
The Imperial Chapel was built to mark the victories of the French armies in Mexico and was dedicated to Our Lady of Guadaloupe, the patron of Mexico. Saint-Martin’s church dates back beyond 1450, the date at which it was rebuilt. It was later restored in the Gothic style.
The Museum of the Sea, built in Art Deco style, houses a large collection of marine animals and birds. Its emblem is a white octopus on a blue background. The museum and the City of the Ocean and Surfing are grouped together in a complex entitled Biarritz Ocean. The Biarritz History Museum is located in St Andrew’s church. Four themes serve as guidelines for your visit: Biarritz and the sea, Biarritz and the Empire, Biarritz and the world and Biarritz in the XXth century. The Chocolate Museum and Asiatica together house art work from India, Tibet, Nepal and China.
The Malandain Ballet Biarritz, a national choreographic center located in the former Gare du Midi boasts a troupe of 20 dancers. The Atabal is a cultural center specialized in diverse types of contemporary music. The Ballets basques of the Biarritz Oldarra combines both a male voice choir and a ballet troupe.
Biarritz : starting-point for a tour of the Basque Country.
The Basque Country is a secretive but generous region which has succeeded in preserving its beauty and its mystery. Hiking around the area, you will come across the pottock, a race of small mountain horses which roam free.
Bayonne, situated just 7 miles from Biarritz is a former Roman castrum and is renowned for its ramparts and citadelle, the masterpieces of Vauban, its cathedral, its half-timbered houses and its narrow streets lined with chocolate-making shops. Bayonne is a joy to visit, from the preserved district around St Mary’s Cathedral through the cloister, the ramparts and its gothic cellars and gourmet history.
The famous BONNAT museum built in the late XIXth century symbolized a new ambition for the period and the collections it was to house. In 1891, Léon Bonnat decided to donate to his native city all the works of art he had acquired, thus making the museum one of the most richly endowed in France. In all, the Bonnat museum holds more than 5000 works (paintings, sculptures, drawings, objets d’art, etc.) and features every European school of art.
Just 20 minutes from Biarritz, nestling among forests and valleys, Cambo-les-Bains was where Edmond Rostand, the celebrated author of Cyrano de Bergerac, fell instantly in love with the Basque Country. He was nursed back to health here and decided to settle with his wife and children. He built the house of his dreams here, the Villa Arnaga, a model of luxury and good taste, both inside and out, boasting two gardens, one in French style, the other an English-type garden. Both are now classified monuments known as “Historic Monument” and “Remarkable Garden”. Villa Arnega also contains a very beautiful museum devoted to Edmond Rostand.
Roughly 45 minutes away from Biarritz, the Sare Caves have three main centers of interest: the unusual geology of the caves; its prehistoric habitat and the origins of the mythology of the Basque people, all gathered in a museum at the site tracing the evolution of Mankind from prehistory to the modern day, and a megalithic park.
In the « Preserved Valley of the Arberoue » 35 minutes from Biarritz, a surprising discovery was made in the shape of 2 caves, now classified as historic monuments. The first, at Isturitz, is filled with references regarding the history of mankind ; the second,at Oxocelhaya, is a mineral jewel and a vast natural cathedral adorned with concretions. (3 stars in the Michelin Green Guide).
Culminating at over 3000 feet, the Rhune is the highest summit in the Pyrenean chain offering beautiful panoramas over the Basque coastline. Between Ascain and Sare, St Engrâce station is the terminus of the little train of the Rhune overlooking the entire Basque Country, the Pyrenees and the Spanish Basque region. From the summit there is a magnificent 360° view.
The Kakouetta Gorges are situated in the commune of St Engrâce in the Basque Pyrenees. The 2 ½ mile visit is possible only at periods of low water (check with the Tourist Office). Saint Jean de Pied de Port is an old authentic village on the road to St Engrâce.
And, of course, nearby Spain boasts San Sebastian (the Old Town, the churches, the panorama …and its two Michelin 3-star restaurants) and Bilbao (the Guggenheim museum by architect Franck Gehry, one of the most splendid buildings in the world) and many more wonders waiting to be discovered close to Biarritz.