Biarritz and the surrounding area. A week of vacationing in a not-so-chic resort
I have a big map of Europe at home, on which after each trip I draw its route and mark “cities where I’ve been, where I longed for. Until this summer it had an annoying “patch” in the area of southwestern France, not covered by our previous itineraries for the past 15 years. So when my wife traditionally had the question, “Where will we go on vacation?” and I traditionally answered, “Decide,” she suddenly said, “And I know the name Biarritz from somewhere. Where is that?” And that’s exactly where we haven’t been – in the very southwest of France, on the border with Spain. In the Basque Country.
At the same time we decided to stop in Paris in more detail, although we had been there three times – but with bus tours. So the plan of the trip arose – Peter-Biarritz-Paris-Peter. In consultation, I went to see the director of an acquaintance tour operator, with whom we had three trips to Europe, and he immediately cheered me up – as it turns out, recently launched a flight from Helsinki to Biarritz, which is very convenient for us. Thus, we decided to fly away through Helsinki, and to reach it, traditionally, by bus.
Over many years of travel we have accumulated some experience and the desire to be back in a rushing bus in a motley group of mixed holidaymakers has decreased. However, I should immediately mention that the bus tours with great respect and it is with them – but, well organized, I advise those who have decided to rest abroad to get acquainted with the cities, and not lying on the beaches. So, gradually, I myself began to participate in the organization of the trips – to choose a hotel, booked tickets. But this time I decided to do everything myself – I found hotels and made reservations on Bookings, booked plane tickets and TGV train to Paris on the relevant sites, collected the documents and got a one-year French multivisa – the preparation process was easy and successful.
Preparing for the trip, I naturally used the reviews and answers to questions on various travel forums. Only here about Biarritz itself, the information I managed to get, for some reason, mostly from the glamorous women’s magazines, which positioned it as a “chic resort. Well, we’ll try and taste their chic life!
The first part of the trip was a little delayed, because we went to Helsinki at 1 am, and at the airport were already at 6 am, so we had to wait 5 hours for our flight. This time the electronic check-in helped a lot, as we had missed it twice before. We printed boarding passes and luggage tags, packed our suitcases, and went for a walk in the airport, killing time in the stores.
Finally, the “beautiful white liner” McDonnell-Douglas-90 smoothly took us in 3.5 hours to the south of France – to the airport in Bayonne.
The flight took us through beautiful scenery – you could see the grand bridge between Denmark and Sweden and other geographical objects. It took 15 minutes to get our luggage (after the Italians once lost our suitcase, this procedure always goes with a certain tension) and immediately took a cab and drove to Biarritz, to the selected hotel – reviews about it I posted separately
I had carefully prepared two phrases in French for our arrival, but what was our joy when the girl who greeted us spoke to us in “the great and mighty”, only with a Latvian accent! Immediately the tension melted away, and we knew that we would not be lost.
We liked the room and as we got used to, we went straight to the grocery store to buy some food for “home” – so then we did it every day – breakfast at the hotel, lunch in the room, dinner in the restaurant. We ate salads, ham, cheese, sandwiches, yogurts, sangria – it came out nourishing and cheap. Since we had a sleepless night, before getting acquainted with the city, we slept for a couple of hours and with renewed vigor went out to explore it. Our hotel is a bit on the hill, so the descent down the street immediately brought us to Bellevue – an observation deck above the beach.
We took a look at it and immediately I personally had 2 shocks – first, from the sheer amount of people – what about the “posh resort. “,
And secondly, from the way of bathing – hundreds of people standing waist-deep in water and at intervals of 15 seconds, jumping to jump over the wave.
A little farther out in the sea there are a few dozen surfers lying on their boards trying to catch that wave. Interesting movie! In short, we went for a walk along the promenade, constantly dodging crowds of the same celebrating – just some Sochi!
And where is that same chic crowd, unhurriedly flitting in straw hats? Where are the movie stars, etc. audience – we did not see anything like that during the whole week. So the first conclusion – there is nothing particularly AWESOME in Biarritz. It is quite accessible. If you want to, of course you can find it. But it is not striking.
After we went for a walk till 11 pm, we went back to the hotel. The next morning dispelled another stereotype – the chic resort is always chic weather. The morning was overcast, drizzling rain and a breeze. Nevertheless, our way laid on the quay which we wanted to examine in detail. And on examining it in detail, we immediately found a large Galeries Lafayette store, which really captivated my wife in the continuing rain. She decided to give it (the store) its due, and I went to explore the surroundings.
From what I noticed the orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was tightly closed – the entrance was on schedule.
But the Catholic cathedrals – open wide, although no one was inside.
Approached the main dominant of the coast – Hotel Du Palais – read the price tag of their cafe – coke – 6.5 euros (260 rubles). I did not need to read further.
Together we went to see one of the main attractions and the symbol of the city – the statue of Our Lady on the rock and the bridge leading to it, the construction of Eiffel.
Biarritz: the main sights
The main attraction of Biarritz is of course the sea. But what French city is not proud of its culture? In this article we will tell you what architectural gems Biarritz hides, and which museums are worth visiting if you get bored lying on the beach.
The lighthouse on the Cape St. Martin was built in 1834 and rises 73 meters above sea level. Be patient enough to climb its 248 steps. You won’t regret it, because it offers the best panorama of Biarritz, the surrounding area and the ocean!
On this cape the French Silver Coast ends and the Basque Country begins. In good weather, you can also see the coast of Spain.
Lighthouse opening hours:
July-August from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
May-June-September from 2:00pm to 7:00pm, weekends from 8:00am.
The rest of the months from 14:00 to 17:00.
Tickets cost: 3 €, from 3 to 16 years old 2,50 €.
St. Virgin’s cliff
The famous symbol of Biarritz. The hole in the rock is not of natural origin. It was made on the orders of Napoleon III, but the Emperor did not need a “port of call”. Such a picturesque place decided to decorate the figure of the Virgin Mary, protector of sailors. It has stood here since 1865.
The metal bridge on the rock was made in the workshop of Gustave Eiffel himself.
Residential ancient villas
One of the most famous buildings in Biarritz is the Hôtel du Palais. It’s a Louis XIII style villa, which Napoleon III ordered built for his wife in 1854. Today it houses one of the city’s finest hotels. Follow this link to book a room.
Villa Belza was built in 1880-1895, although the architecture is close to the medieval aesthetic. Some people are tempted by mystical legends, but in fact during the “crazy years” French and Russian aristocrats partied here in the style of “The Great Gatsby”. And now you can rent a room with an excellent view of the bay.
Manor Francon (domaine de Françon) was also built in the late 19th century. Its antique wooden interiors add a special atmosphere. Nowadays, too, operates as a hotel. Click here to choose a room.
Biarritz History Museum
A small but cozy museum housed in a former Anglican church. It has a rich collection of documents, photos, pictures and videos showing how Biarritz evolved from a small fishing port into the world famous royal resort city.
Address: Eglise St Andrews, rue Broquedis
Visit the Chapelle Impériale, built in 1864 at the request of Napoleon III’s wife. This charming building harmoniously combines Romanesque-Byzantine and Moorish styles and is dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe and the Black Virgin of Mexico.
Address: Avenue de la Marne
Open most of the year on Thursdays and Saturdays from 2pm to 6pm and on the first Sunday of the month from 10am to 1pm.
Entrance is free and tours can be booked.
Alexander Nevsky church was built in 1892 in the Byzantine style by architect M. Tisne. This church is famous for its beautiful iconostasis with icons from St. Petersburg. It is still the center of Russian immigration in Biarritz.
Address: Avenue de l’Impératrice, 8
Opening hours: Saturday and Sunday from 15:30 to 18:00
Church of Saint Martin
The majority of Biarritz’s historic buildings date from the 19th century, when the town was actively developing as a royal resort. Napoleon I started the process and bathed on the beaches of Biarritz as early as 1809, when it was not yet mainstream.
But the settlement in this place existed before. Its history dates back to the construction of the oldest church in Biarritz – the Church of Saint-Martin. It was built in the 12th century in the Gothic Aquitaine style and well rebuilt in the 1540s, so it still stands today. The church stands on an elevated site and its white facade with bell tower has long been used as a landmark by sailors.
Church of Saint Eugenie
Let the neo-Gothic style of this church not deceive you, it too was built in the late 19th century. And yet it is the most beautiful church in the city. Be sure to stop by to admire the stained glass windows. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to hear the local organ.
Opening hours: 14:00 – 19:00
Planet of Chocolate
If you speak a little French, you might enjoy a trip to the Planète Musée du chocolat (Chocolate Planet Museum). Not only will you learn the history of the delicacy itself, from its discovery in Mayan times to the present day, but you will also understand how the history of the Basque country is closely linked to chocolate.
And at the end of the exhibition you will be treated to a cup of hot chocolate made from selected cacao according to an ancient recipe. According to travelers, the museum is interesting, but not for children, and almost all the information is in French.
Address: 14 avenue Beau Rivage
Museum of the Sea
What other museum should be in a seaside city? The Sea Museum in Biarritz is a beautiful art deco building on a high cliff and also one of the largest aquarium museums in France.
Fifty aquariums are home to thousands of species of marine life. All conditions have been created so that guests can get acquainted with the animals of the Bay of Biscay, and with the fauna of the Caribbean, and with the tropical latitudes of the Pacific.
Address: rue de l’Atalaye
Every day from 9:30 to 19:00
Tickets cost: 15€, ages 13 to 17 13€, ages 4 to 12 11€.
The belle Époque building in the heart of Biarritz on the Grand Promenade des Beaux-Arts now belongs to the Barriere Casino. The recently renovated structure deserves your attention, but promise not to lose too much!
On the parallel Edward VII Street at 7, you can see the Art Deco columns.
Asian People’s Museum
This might not be what you came to the Basque Coast for, but border towns are always the most cosmopolitan. As it happens, Biarritz has a magnificent collection of art from India, Nepal, Tibet and China. This museum is one of Europe’s top five museums of Eastern art.
Address: 1 rue Guy Petit
Opening hours: 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., closed on Mondays.
Ticket price: 10 €, 13-25 years old – 8 €, 8-13 years old – 2 €, under 8 years old free.
The unique nature of Biarritz
Let me tell you that the picturesque steep coast of Biarritz is a magnificent attraction in itself. And, unfortunately, the attraction is not eternal. Every year the shoreline collapses by 70 cm and there is no way to stop it. So be sure to walk along the beaches and admire the rocks.
In Biarritz there are wonderful park areas around lakes Marion and Murisco. You can download a hiking route around the lakes at the end of this article.
Now you know that Biarritz is not only surfing and thalassotherapy, but also a rich culture and interesting history not without the participation of Russian people.