A quick 15-minute drive up the autoroute from Saint-Jean-de-Luz is the elegant, stately, and formerly very staid, international resort, the crown jewel of the Côte Basque, Biarritz, a Four-Flower Village (Ville Fleurie) with a climate similar to Carmel, California. The more time we spend in Biarritz, the more we fall under its spell. While it can’t boast the exciting nightlife of its Spanish cousin San Sebastián-Donostia, just an hour away, it is a small city of great style, with a gorgeous coastline and stunning Belle Époque architecture.
A former playground of British and European aristocracy, it’s now inhabited in the summer by a mix of old money, of the Belle Époque style, and a large contingent of young surfers of the bohemian persuasion, making it less snobby, more friendly, hip and even affordable, if you know where to look. While it doesn’t have as much a true Basque flavor other than its neo-Basque architecture, a “modern” version of a traditional Basque farmhouse, it remains very posh, sophisticated, and beautiful summer resort favored by many Parisians.
Biarritz was first made famous in the 19th-century by Napoleon III and his Spanish wife, Empress Eugénie, and has adopted to its new claim-to-fame as the surfing capital of France, along with being a popular golfing destination. In July it hosts an annual Biarritz Surf Festival, drawing around 150,000 spectators, and in May 2017 hosted the ISA World Surfing Games. The annual International Summer Bridge Festival will be held from Friday, June 29 to Tuesday, July 10, in 2018. Think Cannes without the show biz glitz, or Monte Carlo without the Grimaldis, mega yachts, and high-rise condos and heavy police presence.
At the Casino on the Grande Plage you can stop for an ice cream, brunch, tea or a drink and survey the surfing scene at Dodin, facing the beach since 1923, or walk over to Le Bleu Café and have a coffee, cocktail on the terrace and watch the sunset. Both have fairly reasonable prices considering the prime real estate.
Note: The G7 meeting will be taking place in Biarritz from August 23-26, 2019.
Getting Around Biarritz
The Free In-city Bus
La Navette de Centre-ville, is a free service and operates Monday-Saturday (except public holidays), every 15 minutes from 7:30 am to 7:30 pm (every 20 minutes between noon and 2:00 pm). La Navette Saint-Charles-Milady bus is also free and runs every 20 minutes between 7:30 am to 7:30 pm (every 40 minutes between 12:30 pm and 2:00 pm). See the route map for 2019. You can also download the app for your smartphone.
Bicycle, Electric Bike or Motorscooter Rental
Your can rent a motorcycle, scooter, electric bike for the day at Sobilo Scooters, 24 rue Peyreloubilh, in the city center. They are open in the summer from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm, and in the winter from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. To rent an electric scooter for the day, Volta Edison is located at 31 Boulevard du Général de Gaulle, near the lower end of Le Grand Plage. Pedego Biarritz can be found 47 avenue de Verdun, open Monday-Saturday from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm. Closed for lunch from noon to 2:00 pm. Free bikes for the day are also available through the Biarritz and Anglet Tourist Offices.
The Basque coast is one of cliffs and jagged rocks, but sheltered within that rugged coast are Biarritz’s six beaches; La Grande Plage, the longest beach, and closest to the town center, is also one of Europe’s best surfing beaches. Miramar, actually a continuation of La Grande Plage, is north of the Hotel du Palais. Surfing is not allow here, but bodyboarding is. Port-Vieux lies south of the Grande Plage. This is a small beach in a rocky cove, sheltered from the wind and large waves, and good for families. Popular with the locals year around. Lifeguards are on dury from mid-June to early September. Cote des Basques is just south of the Port Vieux is very long, open and Biarrtiz’s surfing paradise, Marbella and Milady. Marbella is a little further south and wider than Cote des Basques. Lifeguards are there from June to August only, and there is a café/restaurant at the beach. La Milady is a a large beach which is especially popular with locals because it is usually less crowded. It has a play area for children, plus a café.
There is a free shuttle from the town center to Port-Vieux, but for families with small children, the beach at Saint-Jean-de-Luz is safer.
I always begin my Biarritz day with a 9:00 am visit to the animated covered market on rue des Halles, in the center of the city, and enjoy it far more than its rival in Bayonne, particularly during the busy summer months when it buzzes with life. The market is open daily from 7:30 am to 2:00 pm and from July 12 through August 23 it’s open in the evenings 6:00 to 9:00 pm.
Here you’ll find the finest in fruits, vegetables, fish, meats, including the famous Bayonne or Ibaïona ham at Maison Montauzer (since 1946), or Boucherie Ferreira, and delicious cheeses from 1001 Fromages or Chailla. And there are no less than three Bolangers to choose from: Les Délices de Biarritz, Chez Flo, and Maquirriain, who also offers traditional gâteau basque. For artisan pastries, try La Croustade d’Odette. Have a delicious coffee, or glass of wine at Chante l’Oiseau at the western end, in the right corner-a tiny spot with only 6 bar stools, or a coffee and tortilla at L’amuse gueule at the opposite end of the market.
Across the street from the market, at 8, rue des Halles, is Carlier Traiteur, a recipient of the Meilleur Ouvrier de France, Best of France 2007. This award-winning delicatessen, offering jambon de Bayonne, Axoa d’Espelette, foie gras, chaperones and mussels, is open Tuesday-Saturday from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm and in the afternoon from 3:30 to 7:00 pm.
Be sure to include in your own tour a stroll over to the Rock of the Virgin, an outcropping topped by a statue of the Virgin Mary and reached via a long iron footbridge made by Eiffel workshop. If it’s a clear day, you’ll enjoy views of the entire Basque coast.
The former Musée de la Mer reopened in 2011 after a major renovation that doubled its size, children will enjoy the art deco Biarritz aquarium on the Esplanade, on your walk to the Rocher. Open daily in high season, July 7 through August 31, from 9:30 am to midnight, until 8:00 pm, April through July 6 and September 1 through October 31. Closes at 7:00 pm in the winter. They feed the seals daily at 10:30 am and 5:00 pm. You can watch the sharks being fed every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 2:30 pm, but only during school holidays (France). Admission is 14,90€ for adults, 11,90€ for teenagers and 10,50€ for children. Purchase your tickets ahead of time so you don’t have to wait in line.
If you have the time, don’t forget to see the Cité de l’Océan (city of the ocean) at 1, avenue de la Plage, in the la Milady section of the city. Designed by Steven Holl Architects, construction of the new facility was completed in 2011, in conjunction with the reopening of the aquarium, and celebrates the city’s link to the sea. In July and August it’s open daily from 10:00 to 10:00. Tickets are 12,50€ for adults, 9,90€ for students (13-17) and 8,50€ for children (6-12). There is a discount if buying combined tickets for both the aquarium and city of the ocean.
On your way to the Rocher you can visit the charming and beautifully maintained neo-Roman-Byzantine church sitting on top of the hill, facing the old port and beach. Dating from 1856, it was dedicated to Sainte Eugenie, patron saint of Eugenie de Montijo, wife of Napoléon III and Empress of France. The stained glass windows by Luc-Olivier Merso, painter and illustrator who’s work can be found in the Musée d’Orsay, help make it one of Biarritz’s major landmarks. The church offers weekly concerts during the summer; jazz, gospel and chamber music. Check the performance schedules. Tickets are sold at the door. Open all year. Entrance is free.
Then stroll down to the former fisherman’s quarter at the Port Vieux, the old port. You can have an exemplary outdoor seafood lunch looking up at the Eglise at the highly regarded Chez Albert. Open for lunch at 12:15 and for dinner at 7:30 pm. menus here start at 40€ (Closed Wednesday except in July and August). Tel: (+33) 559 244 384
After lunch, take the longer walk up to the northern end of the city to the lighthouse, Le Phare, for even more expansive views of the entire coast, and climb the 249 steps to the top for even more amazing vistas.
If you tire of walking there’s also the Petit Train de Biarritz to take you around the compact downtown area (but only goes up to the lighthouse with groups). It departs from the Casino on the Grande Plage every 30 min.
On your walk to the lighthouse, you’ll want to stop to visit the Russian Orthodox Church, at 8, Avenue de l’Impératrice, overlooking the opulent Hôtel du Palais. Built in 1892, it was designed by local architect, M. Tisnés, and decorated with icons from St. Petersburg. In Biarritz’s heyday as the aristocrats’ playground, so many Russians came down by train from St. Petersburg that they found the need for their own blue-domed Byzantine church, which they built across the street from the Empress’s villa, the present-day Hôtel Impérial. Open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays from 3:30 pm to 6:00 pm and on Wednesdays during school holidays. Entry is free.
In the same neighborhood peek in at the Imperial Chapel on rue Pellot, an 1865 creation of Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie. Designed by French architect Émile Boeswillwald in a combination Roman-Byzantine art with Hispano-Moorish style, and dedicated to the Black Madonna, Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mexico), it was declared a historic monument in 1981. Open Thursday and Saturday afternoons from 2:30 to 6:00 pm, July-September, and on Saturdays only during the rest of the year. Currently under renovation.
Museum lovers should include the city’s Museum of Oriental Art, which displays 1,000+ works from Nepal, India, China and Tibet, and is considered one of the best oriental art collections in all of Europe. It’s located at 1, rue Guy Petit, directly opposite the Hôtel Louisiane. One can rent an audio guide in English. Open Monday-Friday from 2:00 pm to 6:30 pm and until 7:00 pm on Saturday and Sunday. Admission is 10€ for adults, 8€ for students 13-25 and 2€ for those 8-12.
A few minutes away, at 5, Avenue de la Gare, is the tapas bar Restaurant Txango, (Trip in Basque) should you need to take a break for lunch with their 17€ menu. Open Tuesday-Saturday at 12:30. They will be closed February 11-26, 2018 for the annual winter holiday.
Linens & Things
You’ll find world class shopping radiating from the Place Clemenceau on Rue Mazagran- rue Gambetta-rue Espagne and Av. Edouard VII. Park in the underground Halles Clémenceau parking garage at 16, Avenue Foch, at the corner of Ave. Jaulerry.
There’s a branch of Hermès at 19, Avenue Edouard VII, and a Mephisto shoe store at 4, Avenue du Maréchal Foch, offering styles not seen in the U.S., and a branch of Galeries Lafayette at 17-19, Place Georges Clemenceau. For a unique Basque Gift, stylish linens are your best bet here – you have a vast assortment from which to choose: There’s Jean-Vier’s new collection, Biarritz 1930, available at 25, rue Mazagran and Helena, with two shops in Biarritz; 27 Av. Edouard VII and 33 rue Mazagran. For more rustic linens, see Euskal Linge at 14, rue Mazagran. For very chic, contemporary linens of the Artiga brand, there is a store at 23, Rue Gambetta.
The super star Parisian chef, Alain Ducasse chose Jean Vier table linens to adorn the tables for the Auberge Iparla restaurant in Bidarray, now under the direction of chef Stéphane Carricaburu, and Jean Vier bathrobes for the 5-star guest house Auberge Ostapé. I purchase cream and white bath towels (collection blanc), robes, slippers and baby bibs from Helena, table linens from Jean-Vier and kitchen towels, panieres, trays and other accessories from Maison Charles Larre (now closed). Check their web sites to compare styles and colors. See what most appeals and works best with your color schemes and convert the measurements of your dining table to the metric system.
Although Jean-Vier does have a shop in Paris at 43, rue Boissy d’Anglas, in the 8th arrondissement, the selection is better here and at the stores in St-Jean-de-Luz (3), Bayonne and St-Jean-Pied-de-Port. You can also purchase the very chic Artiga linens in their boutiques in Espelette, Bordeaux, Pau, St-Jean-de-Luz and Magescq.
Head to Boutique 64 Biarritz, 16, rue Gambetta, below the covered market, for very “in vogue” t-shirts and other casual sportswear items for men, women, children and babies. They represent perfectly the casual-chic Côte Basque life style, and the co. is named for the department 64 of the Pyrénées Atlantiques.
A father and son team at Cazaux Biarritz, 15, rue Larréguy, produces beautiful hand made ceramic vases, bowls and tiles in their trademark blue and lavender, continuing a tradition dating back 6 generations. Their gallery is located at 10 rue Broquedis.
Food & Wine
Typical Basque food products, wines and brandies can be found at the fine gourmet shop Maíson Arostéguy at 5, Avenue Victor Hugo, and Les Mille et Un Fromages, across the street at No. 8. For outstanding Jambons, saucissons, pâtés, plats and fromages du Pays basque, stop by the Pierre Oteiza shop in Biarritz at 22, Avenue Foch. No need to go out to the farm in Les Aldudes unless you want to see where the fabulous Kintoa ham comes from. For chocoholics, you’ll find great chocolates at Daranatz at 12 Ave. du Maréchal Foch, below the Clemenceau parking garage, on the left side, walking towards Place Clemenceau. There is also Chocolaterie Henriet on Place Georges Clémenceau. For caramels (kanougas) mouchous, a type of macaroon, and gourmet Basque chocolates, there’s Pariès, at 1, Passage Bellevue and a branch of Pâtisserie BAMAS at 10 Place Georges Clémenceau. Head to 11, Rue des Halles for delicious artisan ice cream at Maison Dézamy.
Au Comptoir des Gourmets, at 30, rue de la Bergerie in the Saint Charles quarter, near the market, is an upmarket delicatessen offering a wide range of French and Spanish Basque products and carefully selected wines and spirits.
The Celliers des Docks, which started as Celliers des Halles in 1991 in a small store across from the market, eventually outgrew the original space and opened a new store at 5, Bis Rue Luis Mariano, out near Gare de Biarritz, the train station. They have a great selection of Irouléguy wines plus Gaillacs and Cahors and supply many of the restaurants in the Pyrénées Atlantiques with their wines. L’Artnoa Cave à Vins is both a terrific wine shop and wine bar, opened by Antoine Vignac, and located below the Hotel Radisson at 56, rue du Gambetta. The owner runs tasting classes. But for your convenience, there’s a handy Nicolas wine boutique (a nationwide chain) at 6, Place Clémenceau (unbeatable prices).
Take the car and head the short distance, about 15 minutes, beyond the train station in La Negresse quarter to the route to Arbonne. Before reaching Arbonne village, take a right at the sign marked Domaine de Bassilour (or Quartier Bassilour) in Bidart. When you reach the pink chateau, the Domaine, you’ll see another sign left towards the Moulin de Bassilour. There you will find a wonderful 18th-century (1741) working flourmill, which makes the area’s very best gâteau basque (can purchase a whole gâteau or simply a miniature, choose from black cherry or pastry cream fillings), plus bread (pains de campagne), sablés (butter cookies), méture (corn bread) and miches (sweet, anise-flavored bread). Recommended by Patricia Wells of The Food Lover’s Guide to France. Not to be missed. It’s open daily from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm and 2:30 to 7:00 pm.
For A Break From Shopping
For an afternoon spot of tea or cup of hot chocolate with separate bowl of whipped cream, head straight to Miremont Biarritz, at 1bis, Place Clémenceau. Very much a “ladies who lunch” type of spot, this elegant tearoom has large picture windows with lovely views of the beach scene below.
For nice lunch break, have the gourmet menu on the lovely terrace facing the ocean at Le Galion at 17, Boulevard du Général de Gaulle.
For a simple salad as a main course head over to the place Sainte-Eugénie next to the church and bandstand, to one of the outdoor terraces of the brasseries on the square or dine indoors at La Cantine d’Eugénie in the Hotel Florida.
Tapas Bars & Hamburger Joints
For a choice of Spanish-Style tapas, gambas (grilled shrimp), tortillas (omelets) or parrilladas (a grilled fish medley), head across the street from the market to the always-lively Bar Jean, 5 rue des Halles, in the same spot since the 1930s. Reservations are not required, but be prepared to wait for a table.
Around the corner is the newer, and more sophisticated, Puig & Daro, at 34, rue Gambetta, while up the street at No. 21 you’ll find Casa Bixente. Further up rue Gambetta, at no 66, is the popular California Kitchen. A short walk further on, at 22 rue Harispe, you will find Auberge 22, offering traditional cuisine of the southwest, closed Wednesdays.
On the other side of the market you’ll find Comptoir du foie gras, at 1 rue du Centre, serves apéros and tapas and tastings of regional products every evening, starting at 6:00 pm and Saturday and Sunday before lunch time, and nearly next door is Le B2, at No.5, while a few more steps away at 8, rue des Halles is Le Bar du Marché.
And if you don’t mind the short walk, our new favorite, Bonheur, La Maison de Hamburger, can be found at 30, Ave. Victor Hugo. Well worth the walk, and the wait, if you’re not there early enough.
Biarritz Dining Options
Besides an excellent array of tapas bars and newer hamburger joints, Biarritz has some good options for lunch, or dinner if you are staying in the city.
Le Bistro Gourmet
8 Rue de la Bergerie
Tel: (+33) 559 220 937
5 rue d’Alsace
Tel: (+33) 559 510 367
La Table d’Arranda
87 Ave. de la Marne
Tel: (+33) 559 221 604
Le Pim’pi Bistrot
14 Avenue de Verdun
Tel: (+33) 559 241 262
5 Avenue du Maréchal Foch
Tel: (+33) 559 225 150
Ville Eugene, L’impratrice or Hippocampe
Hôtel du Palais
Tel: (+33) 559 416 400
30 Av du Lac Marion
Tel: (+33) 890 213 931
Le Bouchon Biarrot
2 Avenue Reine Victoria
Tel: (+33) 559 511 490
Le Clos Basque
12 Rue Louis Barthou
Tel: (+33) 559 242 496
32 avenue Beau Soleil
Tel: (+33) 559 231 368
Ahizpak Le Restaurant des Soeurs
65 avenue de Biarritz
Tel: (+33) 559 225 881
La Table des Frères Ibarboure
Tel: (+33) 559 548 164 / 559 475 830
L’Atelier de Gaztelur
Tel: (+33) 559 230 406