Biarritz is where my affair with the Pays Basque begins. This resort town which lies on the Atlantic Coast was once synonymous with sophistication and glitz.
It has maintained its character of classy manners. Wearing awfully fashionable attire. With a mist of glamour. Steering clear of tackiness. This aristocratic playground of the mid-19th century still impresses with its natural coastal beauty.
It is situated in the very southwest of France. A thriving summer town. Perfect for a weekend away to enjoy the sun, sand and surfing.
Biarritz remains an opulent getaway for jet-setters from around the world. Who can harmoniously coexist with blonde-haired surfers. Now that they have risen to the level of world-class athletes and have their distinctive élan. They seem more appropriate for the town. And the native French no longer mind sharing their long beaches and little coves with them ha ha ha
My day of arrival was summery, almost luminous. So I started with a glass of well-chilled crispy rose on Miramar Beach. Opened up my book and enjoyed watching the surfers struggling with waves in the distance.
The history of Biarritz is very typical. A sleepy fishing and whaling village becomes a jet-setter spot. The sojourn of world royalty and blue-blooded ritzy. Only a few names among the many others explain everything: Alphonse XIII of Spain, Nicholas II of Russia. And the Shah of Persia. Queen Victoria came here regularly over a period of 30 years.
Coco Chanel, Charlie Chaplin, Frank Sinatra, Bette Davis and Rita Hayworth. Eugenie de Montijo and her husband Napoleon III chose Biarritz for their summer residence. Prince of Wales with his lover Wallis Simpson popularised this little town as ‘the resort of kings and the king of resorts’. It was the favourite sunning spot of the glitterati!
There is no need to rush in Biarritz. So have a long coffee and a croissant and enjoy the sun while watching people passing by. Look for the exceptional Biarritz chocolates. Stroll along Promenade du Bord de Mer. Admire the Rock of the Virgin. Sunbathe on Miramar Beach. Hold hands and kiss on Grand Plage after a spectacular dinner in one of the many outstanding restaurants. Gamble at Casino.
You can climb the stairs of the Biarritz Lighthouse to admire the spectacular coast up to the border with Spain. Or wander around St Martin’s Church and the Russian Orthodox Church with its unique blue dome. But most importantly do not miss a visit to the morning market in Les Halles. A great place for some oysters and champagne!
The golden times are over and the glamour has slightly faded. But along the way the grandeur of the Belle Epoque. Fender-bent with the bohemian spirit of surfers creating a unique mix of formal and casual. Young and old. Hermes and Billabong. This vibrant. Cosmopolitan town with a rich gastronomic tradition and marvelous beaches has managed to please many.
So, repeating after Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII. ‘Chill the champagne. Pack the pearls and tune up the Bugatti’. We are going to Biarritz!