The Basque City of Biarritz
For those of you who have never visited the Basque Coast, or la Côte des Basques, in the Southwest of France, the scenic and vibrant city of Biarritz awaits. Whether you enjoy museums, shopping, cuisine, nightlife, beaches, or surfing, it’s all here. For many years, the activities, lifestyle, and culture has attracted vacationers from all over the world, including some very famous members of royalty. We’ll get to that later, but first, let’s take a look around the Basque city of Biarritz.
The Biarritz Airport (BIQ) serves the area with flights from throughout Europe, including Paris and London. From the adjacent city of Bayonne, the train station, La Gare de Bayonne, connects to locations throughout France including Paris, Bordeaux, St. Jean Pied de Port, and Hendaye, a seaside town across the border from Spain.
Where to Stay
If you want a fun place to stay, Hostel Biarritz is located near Lac de Mouriscot, close to all means of transportation and a gateway to the Basque hinterland. Hiking is definitely on the menu as you’ll be at the foot of the Pyrenean Mountains and on Spain’s doorstep.
The public transit system in this part of France was exceptional during my visits. Not only was the service efficient, the fares were inexpensive, and the buses were clean and safe. You can travel on one journey (about 1 hour) for €1, and all the way to Hendaye for about €2. From the airport, I took the bus to the downtown area, and wandered around, looking at shops and architecture. The downtown streets were clean and pleasant, but fairly quiet on that particular afternoon. I later found out where most of the people were.
Let’s start this tour of Biarritz at the grandstand in St. Eugenie Plaza, overlooking the Bay of Biscay. St. Eugenie Church would be on the left.
A few steps takes you to the Esplanade and the Old Harbor, looking out to the Bay of Biscay. Biarritz’s history dates back to the 12th century when fishing and whaling became prominent. The Basque fishermen would venture far out into the North Atlantic, often with tragic consequences. On this afternoon, the seas were calm and brilliant blue. The seawall or breakwater protects the smaller boats and shoreline from the crashing waves.
From this point, looking toward the lighthouse, the coast looks rugged with large cliffs. However, there’s something hidden that we’ll walk to very soon.
Here, I stopped and watched the waves rush under the bridge and along the seawall. Looking up the Esplanade, toward the footbridge that takes you to…
Le Rocher du Basta, The Rock of Basta. From the rock, there were beautiful views of the Bay of Biscay, the coastline, and…
La Grande Plage, the largest beach in Biarritz. The city boasts six kilometers of beaches. Let’s take a closer look.
On the right is Casino Barriére de Biarritz, originally opened in 1901. The Biarritz nightlife is vibrant with clubs, bars, restaurants, and the casino.
Biarritz is one of the top surfing destinations in all of Europe. In fact, many call it The Surfing Capital of Europe. Each July, the city hosts Le Roxy Pro, the world female longboard championship. There are ten surfing schools that welcome surfers of all levels; truly a world-class destination.
For over a century, Biarritz has been a popular destination not only for tourists, but for royalty and other dignitaries from all over the world. This is the Hotel du Palais, originally built in 1854 for Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III. Queen Victoria is also known to have also stayed here.
After a quick look around the grounds of the hotel, with its magnificent views of the Bay of Biscay, let’s continue toward the lighthouse. The Biarritz Lighthouse dominates Cape Hainsart, and was built in 1834 to aid fishermen and sailors. A climb of 248 stairs awaits, and from the top, there is a panoramic view of the beach, city, coastline, and the bay.
From the grounds near the lighthouse, the view back to the giant cliffs below the hotel, and a much quieter secluded beach.
Back to where I started this tour, but this time, looking at the grandstand and the plaza. The downtown awaits, and has shops, bars, and cafés to keep you busy.
Oh yes… Chocolate. Don’t forget to stop at one of the bakeries or chocolate shops. The Basques are well-known for their fine chocolate. If you have time, make sure you include the chocolate museum, Planète Musée Du Chocolat, in your itinerary. My lunch consisted of two of these pastries, and an assortment of Basque chocolates. Not necessarily healthy, but oh so good.
One can’t spend time in this area, and skip the nearby medieval city of Bayonne. It’s a sharp contrast with Biarritz with ancient buildings along narrow streets, stone bridges, and the scenic location at the at the confluence of the Adour and the Nive Rivers. You could easily spend a day or two there, visiting shops, monuments, gardens, and the cathedral, Cathédrale Sainte-Marie de Bayonne.
A short bus ride south of Biarritz takes you to another beautiful resort city, Saint-Jean-de-Luz. Here, you can spend time on the popular beach and go for a walk along the promenade. The old city, with its bustling shops and cafés, is another popular destination. After a short bus ride south of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, you arrive to the town of Hendaye, where you can walk across the border into Spain. This is Saint-Jean-de-Luz.
Another major destination in the area is St. Jean Pied de Port, and the start of the French Way of the Camino de Santiago. The train from the Bayonne Gare leaves every four hours, and takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes. The ride to the Pyrenees is scenic and you may find yourself wanting to stop at one the peaceful villages along the way. Even if you’re not planning to walk the Camino, visiting St. Jean Pied de Port itself is a worthwhile day trip. Don’t forget to make the short climb to the citadel for views such as these.
I hope you enjoyed this tour of Biarritz. Although the time I’ve spent in this area was relatively short, one day, I hope to visit in a more relaxed manner. I’d imagine a week in this part of France would be amazing.
Randall St. Germain is the author of Camino de Santiago In 20 Days. which recounts his 20 day walking journey across Spain on the 500 mile French Way of the Camino de Santiago. Last summer, he completed his third Camino, the 530 mile Camino Del Norte. Randall blogs at his website, Camino My Way, where there are over 70 posts, and 1,000 photos from his journeys. He enjoys photography, writing, reading, nature, hiking, long-distance walking, and sometimes, relaxing.
If you would like to buy Camino de Santiago in 20 Days you can do so here.