As I explained in my About page, lack of home sunshine is a great motivator for international travel. It was the reason I spent a weekend in Biarritz a few years ago.
Sick of almost a year of rain and impatient to wait for my proper sun holiday in September, I booked a last minute flight to Biarritz in France for 48 hours at the beginning of August.
The Gods conspired to prevent me from travelling. I ended up in the Accident & Emergency department with a suspected broken toe the day before departing.
The early morning drive to Shannon Airport almost ended when the fan belt of my car squealed on the waterlogged roads outside Limerick city.
And my incorrectly-sized Ziplock toiletries bag was the source of much consternation and delay at the security screening gate.
ARRIVING IN BIARRITZ
Biarritz has a surprisingly small airport and an even more surprisingly circuitous bus route from the airport to the city centre. The four miles took over an hour. I disembarked near Avenue de Verdun.
THINGS TO DO IN BIARRITZ
As soon as the confusion surrounding my name was resolved at the hotel check-in, I dropped the hand luggage and headed straight for what I had come for: beach and sun. But as I discovered over the weekend, there are more things to do in Biarritz than just lie on the beach.
BIARRITZ BEACH: Okay, the beach is central to the city. I won’t deny that! There are a number of beaches in Biarritz but the main beach is the gorgeous La Grande Plage. The beach north of the Hotel du Palais is Plage du Miramar.
As soon as I started swimming in the southern part of the beach, I and others were ordered out by the lifeguard. I waded through the masses of bodies on the centre and northern part of the beach finding a few centimetres of sand to lay my belongings and aching toe.
I wasn’t as lucky with the swimming. Biarritz is the surfing capital of France with surfers ensuring that it stays that way, aggressively fighting with swimmers for the waves.
SIGHT-SEE: Biarritz is a pretty city. Place Clemenceau is considered the main shopping street although its side streets have a plethora of shops selling everything from chocolate to traditional Basque clothing.
Hotel du Palais is the flagship hotel in the city. It’s history is as delightful as its architecture.
At the southern end of La Grande Plage lies Rocher de la Vierge (Rock of the Virgin), a statue built in 19th Century to ensure the safe return of fisherman during inclement weather. This is a beautiful place. I lingered for a while, my eyes absorbing the Bay of Biscay views and my lungs absorbing the warm air full with salt from waves crashing into the jagged rocks around the Vierge.
Above: VIEW OF BIARRITZ FROM ROCHER DE LA VIERGE
Above: LA GRANDE PLAGE
BAYONNE DAY TRIP: As a non-vegetarian I couldn’t resist the urge to visit Bayonne and sample some of the world renowned ham. Of course I could have purchased same quite easily in Biarritz but sometimes going to the source is part of the fun of travel.
Apart from the dingy train station area, Bayonne is a pleasant place to boulevard around. The Basque architecture of the city contrasts with Biarritz’s glitzy regal and art deco physical structures.
DINE: Place Sainte-Eugenie is lined with restaurants but they were possibly the most unfriendliest restaurants I’ve ever been to. Despite speaking French, I was refused entry into a half-full restaurant for reasons unknown. A couple from Dublin who queued behind me (and hadn’t a word of French) were admitted.
On another night, I was told that my solo dining status was an inconvenience but I was permitted entry but on the basis that I be finished by a certain time. This wasn’t a problem as I had plans to watch a game of Pelote.
Chez Albert on Allée Port des Pêcheurs came recommended by a solo traveller but my aching toe wasn’t able for the circuitous route to the restaurant.
PELOTE: Pelote is a game whereby a ball is played with a handheld, narrow wooden basket. Although played in several countries around the world, in Europe it is played only in the French and Spanish Basque regions. Because of this uniqueness, attending a game is definitely one of the top things to do in Biarritz.
The Pelote arena in Biarritz is located at Parc des Sports d’Aguilera. This Lonely Planet video looks at Pelote in detail.
BIARRITZ FINAL THOUGHTS
The restaurant staff weren’t the only unfriendly folks I encountered in Biarritz. Meandering around the city at night, I was taken aback by the bothersome attitude of the surfing community.
But I can see why Napoleon III, his wife Empress Eugenie and European royalty of the 19th and early 20th Century sojourned in Biarritz. There genuinely is something in the air which promotes physical health.
For example, the water temperature was 22°C, a couple of degrees warmer than the air temperature of what I left behind in Ireland. Over the weekend, I met a fluent French speaker from Staffordshire who was taking refuge from the equally appalling British summer.
Despite my brief and hectic schedule, I felt physically refreshed afterwards and for this the city comes highly recommended.
But despite being unable to warm to the place, I can honestly say that Biarritz is a visually appealing, clean and safe destination.
Further information on France is available in my Visiting France for the First Time post.