Friday, July 2, 2010

Glitz of Biarritz

The large, stylish town of Biarritz, located just 11 miles from the Spanish border, is the principal resort on the Côte Basque and definitely the most famous. It was brought to fame in the mid 19th Century, when Empress Eugenie (the wife of Napoleon III) fell in love with this part of the Basque country. She built a Palace on the beach (now the world class Hotel du Palais) and a centre with natural springs at Eugenie les Bains in the Landes. Foreign royalty and their entourages were invited to holiday at the palace- turning Biarritz into a destination of choice for European nobility.

This history of aristocracy in Biarritz is reflected in the town's architecture. It is not typically Basque, but rather a blend of 19thcentury city residences, large and luxurious, made of local stone bricks. If you were to buy one of these houses now, you would most likely find titles such as the Prince, Duke, Baron, Marquee etc. on the title deeds. The grandeur of the past remains in Biarritz today, evident in its elegant pathways and landmark buildings such as the magnificent Russian Orthodox Church, the beachside pleasure palace-the Casino Barrière de Biarrit. and La Gare Di Midi, originally a train station built by the Empress, now home to the Centre Chorégraphique National - Ballet de Biarritz.

Although an air of grandeur and exclusivity remains, this is purely aesthetic. Biarritz has moved with the times and is now a vibrant and cosmopolitan town that can be enjoyed by holiday-makers with varying agendas and budgets. One significant shift for local tourism has been the establishment of Biarritz as the surf capital of Europe.

In 1957 surfers from California discovered the Atlantic waves of Biarritz. Surfing became a large part of the local culture and news of the perfect waves spread across the world. Surf schools and speciality stores soon spring up- further increasing wave-seeking traffic to the town. Biarritz has embraced this culture with special areas designated for surfing on La Grand Plage, as well as an annual festival celebrating the sport.

Non-surfers can enjoy the surf-free bathing zones on Grand Plage, the beautiful cliff walks or the many -18 to be exact!- golf courses near the town. A word of arning for swimmers however -always abide by the lifeguards and their flags and signs; currents along the coast can be very strong and have resulted in some unfortunate fatalities over the years.  

There are some great day/overnight trip options from Biarritz-my favourite being the beautiful old town of Bayonne and a tapas tour of San Sebastian.  Reviews of both to follow soon on the Top Tips Fro Trips Blog.  

Shopping in Biarritz is another great activity. The town is packed with designer stores, fabulous boutiques, jewellers, interiors and textiles specialists, perfumeries, chocolatiers and of course surf shops. The delicate French glamour of the windows alone is enough to set me giddy! Paris chic at the sea side, who could want for more?

Eating out in Biarritz is also a treat. There is a host of French restaurants and cafes that offer everything from informal snacks and boat-fresh seafood to regional specialities and nouvelle cuisine. Tourists are often drawn to the eateries around the port, however the quality of the food is often better and less expensive elsewhere, for example on rue Victor Hugo. The proximity of Biarritz to Spain is evident in the presence of some Spanish-influenced menus and tapas bars, my favourite of which is Bar Jean.

If you have a sweet tooth like me and always fancy a sugary treat after dinner my top tip would be to skip ordering desert off a menu in a restaurant and go straight to one of Biarritz's many fine glaciers for an ice-cream.  There are flavours to suit every taste and you can order as much as you want, yummy!@  

My recent visit to Biarritz coincided with l 'Le Temps D'Aimer' a food and music festival that takes place along the beach in June. If you are lucky enough to be in Biarritz at this time make sure to pop along and enjoy the bustling atmosphere as you ramble down te line of temporary bistros and bars.

If you don't happen to be in Biarritz at the time of one of it's many festivals fear not.  There are plenty of options for after dark including quiet roadside cafes, busy bars and lively nightclubs.  If you are lucky enough to go on holidays to Biarritz then you may as well try your luck at its famous casino too!

If Biarritz is not appealing enough already then why not throw convenience into the mix.  Ryanair operates daily flights from  Dublin to the town during summer months.  The airport is about 10 minutes from the centre so getting to and from this seaside haven is easy!  


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