Vive la Biarritz

by Abby Cothran

The second you lay eyes on the Grande Plage, the main beach in Biarritz, France, you are pretty much guaranteed to fall hopelessly in love. From the watercolor sunset over the sea to the way the tremendous, powerful waves crash into the large rocks just out from the shore line, it is captivating. It is shocking how intensely beautiful this seaside town is. From the first inhale of that sweet sea air you will be hooked and every sun drenched day and cool, lively night you spend there will be a memory to cherish.

Grande Plage
Grande Plage by Giåm on Flickr

Biarritz is located in south western France just mere miles from the border with Spain. It is in the Basque region and a lot of elements of the town are influenced by that. You can see the Basque cross plastered across everything from beach towels to shop windows. The town is heavily influenced by tourism and the shopping is abundant. You'll find the expansive department store Gallery Lafayette, with designers such as Lacoste and Longchamp, and tons of little souvenir shops. It’s quite common to see people with the number "64" emblazoned on their shirts, swim trunks, beach towels, and whatever else. The famous clothier "64" (which is named after Department 64, and includes Biarritz and other towns in the deep south west of France) has multiple shops in Biarritz. It isn't the cheapest of travel destinations, but it is worth every penny spent.

Biarritz is a foodie mecca. You can find all kinds of food: fresh seafood, Basque-inspired fare from vendors located on the walk down to the Grand Plage, delicious Italian dishes, classic French cafes, and the best Mexican food you can find outside of Mexico (a little hole in the wall place called Taco Mex with fajitas and sangrias that will please even a native Mexican). Ice cream is also a hot commodity in Biarritz on summer days. There's a cart that sells it right at the beach and many other places in the surrounding area, but the best ice cream in Biarritz is called Regaliz Glacier. The shop is a little farther away from the beach but well worth the walk. The aptly, however slightly unoriginal, named “The French Coffee Shop” is gem in the seaside town. Its delicious coffee, smoothies, and tea, cozy interior, central location, and free wifi make it the perfect spot to wait out storms or cool off after a hot day on the beach. A can’t miss menu item is the frio-oreo. Biarritz offers so many sensational tastes that are sure to delight anyone and complement a day on the beach or a night on the town perfectly.

Staying in Biarritz can be expensive. There are several four and five star hotels, including Hotel du Palais which was originally built by the wife of Napoleon III, Empress Eugenie, in 1854 as a vacation palace and later renovated into a hotel. There are a few budget friendly options, such as the Hotel Anjou. It is clean, in a great location, and won’t completely blow your budget.

Nightlife is a big part of Biarritz. During the summer months, tons of young people come to study and seem to unanimously choose the Grande Plage to socialize and drink cheap champagne. On any summer night, there are hordes of people on the beach, mostly teenagers to 20-somethings, from all over the world. Occasionally free events and concerts are held. There are several bars and clubs in town. Le Blue Cargo seems to be the most popular discotheque but there are several. Biarritz is also very gay-friendly and bars like L'Eleven can be easily identified from the big rainbow flags hanging outside of the entrance. Queen's bar is a hotspot, if for its proximity to the beach alone. It's nothing fancy but the shots are reasonably priced, and there are few things more entertaining than watching your friends drunkenly belt out Lady GaGa into a karaoke machine.

Biarritz is a premier surfing destination. It is host to the annual Biarritz Surf Festival and the Roxy Pro Biarritz Festival. Roxy is especially eventful and there are always art exhibitions, workshops, and live concerts held. Surfing lessons are quite popular and Plum's surf school, owned by '91 European longboard champion André Plumcoq, offers lessons for as low as 35 euro. It may be harder than it looks, but it’s a good time and a Biarritz rite of passage. Golfing and rugby are also popular and Biarritz is home to the rugby union club Biarritz Olympique. A couple of the architectural highpoints and can’t miss attractions for sightseers are the 12th century St-Martin's church and the 19th century Russian Orthodox church. Biarritz also has several museums perfect for rainy days. The Musée de la Mer (museum of the sea) houses 24 aquariums with everything from seals to sharks on display. It has a nice, relaxed atmosphere and is a perfect place to take children. The Asiatic museum features art from China, Tibet, India, and Nepal. The Chocolate Factory teaches about the manufacturing and history of chocolate, and you even get a delicious, free sample. Biarritz is also home to multiple casinos if you’re feeling lucky.

Getting to Biarritz is easy. The high speed TGV line that runs throughout France has trains that run from major cities, like Paris, right to Biarritz. The Biarritz-Bayonne-Anglet airport is just four miles from Biarritz and easily accessible by the city bus. While in Biarritz, many opt to take day trips the neighboring towns. Anglet and Bayonne are both gorgeous seaside towns similar to Biarritz, but possessing unique aspects of their own. Anglet boasts eleven beautiful beaches and is a great place to get some quiet R & R. Bayonne is a larger town. There is a plethora of shops, tons of great eateries and the Nive River, Sainte-Marie Cathedral, and botanical gardens are just a few examples of the scenic attractions. A little farther south is Saint Jean De Luz. This lovely little town has some striking views: from the Atlantic Ocean to botanical gardens. Stunning architecture can also be observed, including the Saint-Jean Baptiste church, and various festivals, carnivals, and cultural and sporting events take place here. Less than an hour from Biarritz and just across the Spanish border is the beautiful and popular tourist destination San Sebastian, Spain. It has a gorgeous little beach with calm waters on the Bay of Biscay and amazing Spanish architecture including bridges, cathedrals, and palaces. San Sebastian is being honored as the European Capital of Culture in the year 2016. Leaving Biarritz and visiting some of these places is not only fun, but will expand your knowledge of Basque culture and understanding of the “64” region that is so cherished by natives and visitors alike.

Biarritz is a great town for a lot of reasons. There are tons of things to do and see, great food, and great shopping. Besides the incomparable aesthetic beauty, the best part about Biarritz is the people. The locals are always so kind and welcoming and you will find people from Singapore, to Ireland, to Brazil at any given time. Biarritz is close to the hearts of anyone who steps foot inside of its city limits. There are so many wonderful and unique things that Biarritz offers travelers and the memories will stay close to the hearts of any and all who are able to experience them.