Feel Biarritz-Pays Basque with our top 5 sensory experiences…
See sharks, rays and tropical reef fish at the Musée de la Mer – and catch the seals being fed every day at 10.30am and 5pm
Hear the Basque language, quite unlike any other known language and spoken by around 600,000 people in this south-western corner of France as well as across the border in northern Spain
Smell seafood, charcuterie, fresh truffles and French patisserie in the covered market of Les Halles
Taste the spicy piment d’espelette (espelette pepper), which colours and flavours a great deal of Basque cuisine
Touch a surfboard as you master the waves on the Plage de la Côte des Basques, where the Biarritz Surf Festival is held each year.
Wedged between mountains and sea, the resort of Biarritz on France’s south-western Atlantic coast has been a favourite coastal getaway ever since Napoléon III and his Spanish-born wife Eugénie arrived in the mid-19th century. The town’s elegant villas, used by the wealthy as summer retreats, are offset by a more relaxed surf culture that has a long history here. Biarritz boasts its very own 6km stretch of fine, sandy beaches, internationally popular with surfers who come from far and wide to test their skills on the waves. The annual Biarritz Surf Festival, founded in 1993 at the Plage de la Côte des Basques (the town’s principal surfing beach), is one of the premier surf events in Europe.
But there’s a more laid-back association with the sea here, too: the water contains large quantities of seaweed, whose iodine content is known to have beneficial effects on the body and has encouraged the growth of thalassotherapy centres in Biarritz (‘thalassotherapy’ being the medical use of seawater as a form of therapy). You can hear the waves wherever you are in Biarritz – but make a beeline for the Grand Plage (chocka-block in summer, yet eerily deserted in winter), Plage de la Milady (a flat arc of sand backed by golf courses and a children’s playground), Plage Miramar, and the adrenaline-pumping swell crashing onto the beaches of neighbouring Anglet which stretch northwards for over 4km.
Biarritz owes its continued popularity not only to its beaches and surfing spots, but also to its golf courses – one of which is the world’s second oldest. In addition the town boasts some remarkable physical features, chief among them a 73m-high lighthouse and a glitzy chapel built in 1864 at the request of Empress Eugénie. You can explore a marine lab and take a simulated dive into the depths in an underwater chamber at the Cité de l’Océan, and see vast aquariums of sharks, grey seals and tropical reef fish at the Musée de la Mer. And with Spain just across the border, Biarritz has a distinctly Basque flavour with tomatoes, tapas and txakoli on menus everywhere.