Biarritz is located in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department in the Aquitaine region. It is adjacent to Bayonne and Anglet and 11 miles (18 kilometres) from the border with Spain. It is in the traditional province of Labourd in the French Basque Country.
It was in the mid 19th century that Victor Hugo discovered Biarritz, a charming fishing harbour in the Basque country. Since then, Biarritz has remained one of the most welcoming towns in France. Biarritz also comes first with sports such as golf and surfing, fitness with seawater therapy, a rich tradition of fine cuisine and prestigious hotels, and the casino. Today, it is moved to the renovated “Municipal” Casino.
Biarritz keeps the traditions of the surrounding Basque countryside, a region that has managed to preserve its own charm and mysteries right up to the present day. Biarritz has often been ahead of its time, from its heyday, in the middle of the 19th century under Napoleon III, to the charms of the Belle Époque and the Roaring 20’s, and later with the post war festivities and the 60’s, when Biarritz was the first town in France to practice an amazing new sport called surfing
Vikings who invaded Gascony in 840 settled in Biarritz, which later participated in the whaling trade. Biarritz is a Basquename with locative suffix -itz (cp. Isturitz) attested Bearriz in 1170, Bearids in 1186, Bearritz in 1249. The Scandinavians settled in the area above the Gardague Beach. It has been suggested (disputedly) that the remaining Vikings became “Agots”, a social group in Gascony not allowed to mix with the population at large. Segregation among these communities—there were many in Gascony and Navarra— disappeared only in the early 20th century. Biarritz has long made its fortune from the sea: as a whaling settlement from the twelfth century onwards, in the 18th century doctors recommended that the ocean at Biarritz had therapeutic properties, inspiring patients to make pilgrimages to the beach for alleged cures for their ailments. Biarritz became more renowned in 1854 when Empress Eugenie (the wife of Napoleon III) built a palace on the beach (now the Hôtel du Palais). The British royal family regularly took vacations in Biarritz: European royalty such as Queen Victoria,Edward VII, and Alfonso XIII of Spain were frequent visitors. Biarritz’s casino (opened 10 August 1901) and beaches make the town a notable tourist centre for Europeans, and East Coast North Americans. The city has also become a prime destination for surfers from around the world, developing a nightlife and surf based culture.
- the Asiatica Museum, which houses a significant collection of Asian art primarily from India, Nepal, Tibet, and China.
- The Museum of the Sea, which has 24 aquariums containing sharks and seals
- The annual Biarritz Surf Festival founded in 1993 at the Côte des Basques is one of the premier surf events in Europe and longboarding events in the world.St.Martin’s Church, constructed in the 12th century, and restored in the middle of the 16th century.
- The Russian Orthodox Church, which was constructed in the 19th century for visiting Russian aristocrats, with its famous blue dome.
- The Chapelle Imperiale built for Empress Eugenie, which has an intricately decorated roof interior, and elegant wall tiling. She also built a palace on the beach which is now the Hotel du Palais
- A Museum of Chocolate, which explains its history and manufacture.
- Two large Casinos, the Barriere and the Bellevue, on the waterfront by the Grande Plage.
Cliffs and lookouts lie to the west of the main beach.
Surfing in Biarritz is of a world-class standard and first appeared in 1957. The town has a strong surfing culture,and is known worldwide for its surfing scene and the competitions it hosts yearly, including the Quicksilver/Roxy Jam tournament. In July 2011, Biarritz also hosted the Roxy Pro event, a tournament part of the ASP Women’s World Tour. The town is home to a prominent rugby union club, Biarritz Olympique. Basque pelota is a very popular sport of the Basque country. Several local and international competitions take place in Biarritz. The golf course near the lighthouse (Le Phare) was created in 1888 by British residents. In addition to this the town has a large circular golf range area on the border with illbaritz.
A Town where it Feels Good to Be in Shape
Biarritz has long beaches, big waves, mild weather all year round and has always seduced many fresh air and sea lovers. Two sports are particularly popular in Biarritz: golf and surfing.
Scriptwriter Peter Viertel came to Biarritz from America in 1957 with his wife Deborah Kerr to shoot his film “The Sun Also Rises”. He brought surf boards with him to practise surfing, an original sport imported from Hawaii, on Biarritz’ “Large Beach”. A spectacular sport, surfing rapidly started to attract many followers in France, including Joël de Rosnay. It was such a success that surfers founded the Surf-Riding Federation in 1964. A “Sports and Study” department involving surfing was included in the curriculum of the town’s high school soon afterwards.
Very quickly, the Large Beach gained a reputation as one of the best spots for surfing in Europe and now attracts surfers from all over the world.
Ball games are a tradition in the Basque country, a region where one of the fourth greatest tennis champions of the pre-war period, Jean Borotra, originated from. Since then, tennis has been widely practiced by Basque people, including tourists. Created in 2003, the international ENGIE tennis OPEN welcomes each year in September the best European female tennis players on the Biarritz Olympique courts.
For those who are not so keen on running on a hard court, but prefer riding, Biarritz also has something to offer them with Horse-riding Ilbarritz club. Gamblers can also bet on horses in July with the “Hippodrome des Fleurs” horse races.
The people of Biarritz, just like the rest of the Southeast of France, are fond of rugby. The Biarritz rugby experts do fully agree that this is a “hooligans’ sport
played by gentlemen”. Serge Blanco, Serge Betsen, Pascal Ondarts were international rugby players from Biarritz.
Last but not least, Biarritz people love Basque pelota before everything else, a sport at which they excel. Biarritz offers many possibilities for amateur players of
such a unique sport, either with bare hands or using a chistera or a pala… However, the real speciality of the Basque country is Cesta Punta, a more intense and
stronger version of pelota, introduced in France forty years ago.
Seawater Therapy Becomes Fashionable
Seawater therapy has become more and more popular in France over the last few years, as many people go on programmes. Sea bathing is an ancient practice – the Greeks and the Romans were renowned for the sea baths they had installed on the Atlantic and the Mediterranean coasts. Seawater therapy became popular again during the 19th century as beach resorts sprang up. In fact, the term seawater therapy (“thalassothérapie” in French), was invented by a French doctor who came from the French Southwest town of Arcachon. Sea bathing in warm waters, mud and seaweed baths, tonifying showers, seawater steam baths and water physiotherapy are today the sophisiticated techniques of seawater therapy. These techniques are based on the good effects of the sea air and sea water which “cleanse”, invigorate and slow down the rhythm of the body, giving it a revitalising effect and, above all, giving it back all the precious minerals contained in seaweed and sea mud.
Biarritz is asserting itself more and more as a “capital” for seawater therapy and it cures 15% of people taking the waters thanks to the town’s three complementary
Seawater Therapy Becomes Fashionable. Seawater therapy has become more and more popular in France over the last few years, as many people go on programmes. Sea bathing is an ancient practice – the Greeks and the Romans were renowned for the sea baths they had installed on the Atlantic and the Mediterranean coasts.
The Municipal Casino made the town’s history when it was built in 1929. This historical building, which was erected on the site of the original Municipal Casino (1901), helped to build Biarritz’ wonderful reputation by accommodating the biggest “gamblers” and greatest artists (especially after the Second World War). King Farouk squandered a great part of his fortune on the gambling tables. Meanwhile, the famous ballets of the Marquis of Cuevas, and also Edith Piaf, Yves Montand, Charles Trenet, etc., were appearing on the town’s stages.
Partially destroyed in 1957 by a fire, the building of the Casino was gradually deteriorating. Since June 1994, the Municipal Casino has been offering besides gambling (managed by the Lucien Barrière Group), conference rooms, a party room, a theatre and, last but not least, a swimming-pool that looks out – supreme luxury- onto the ocean.
Biarritz offers a wide diversity of natural landscapes: from Saint Martin to the Basque coast, going through the Large Beach, the seashore is an infinite source of nook and cranny to discover.
However, centuries of history have given to Biarritz an incredible variety of buildings and structures: from the Orthodox Church to the Byzantine Chapel, from the
Medieval Villa to the Art Deco style of the Municipal Casino, the extraordinary architectural heritage of the town shows this past and lives with the present, especially since the creation of the ZPPAUP in 1997 (Protected Zone of the Architectural, Urban and Landscape Heritage). It has allowed the classification of 830 buildings and the enforcement of numerous restoration works.
Biarritz is also an excellent starting point to explore the Basque country. By foot, by car or all terrain vehicles, on horseback (or pottocks, little Basque pony), numerous visits are possible to discover the hills, traditional villages, dances and, of course, the gastronomy.
A Truly Natural Region
Biarritz is a real feature of the Basque country, a region whose history has been preserved by its own people, with deeply rooted traditions and a lively language, the “Euskara”, which origin is not well known. Biarritz also has a regional culture that has combined the richness of outside influences without ever denying its own identity. The Basque region has kept its own originality throughout the centuries and encompasses seven provinces, both in France and Spain.
When approaching Biarritz, one can see the foothills of the Pyrenees. Cheerful white houses with red or green shutters squeezed around steeples, stand out from the Pyrenees’ bluish hills. Here, amongst dozing wildlife, people can enjoy going for walks or any form of outdoor activities. The sight of children playing pelota
against the village walls, a flock of sheep contrasts against green meadows, the pottocks (Basque ponies) running away at the unexpected approach of an intruder, the “toros de fuego” running into a crowd and the sound of txistu (flutes) or tambourines at the villages’ fiestas should all be experienced.
Singing and dancing are an integral part of such festivities, just like pelota or the festivals where Basques compete to be the strongest man. On the markets, one can admire with delight cherries from Itxassou, chillies from Espelette, which are used to give a bit of colour to the French Basque dish piperade (a kind of ratatouille) or bottles of Izarra, from which either the green or yellow colour stands out from the red of the hams. One can also find a great selection of cheese from the Pyrenees that should be eaten with some wine from Irouleguy, an internationally renowned village.
It would take too long to mention all the wonders of the region. Here are a selected few:
Bayonne: “entrance door” to the Basque country. Places to visit are the cathedral,the cloisters and the Vauban town walls.
Anglet: surf destination, offers amongst the best spots of the coast. All board sports are at hand in the city. It goes from ice-skating to skateboarding and surfing. Anglet, romantic town, stir dreams with its legendary cave of the Chambre d’Amour (Chamber of Love), ultimate evidence of the tragic destiny of the two lovers surprised by the sea.
By the rocky hills, you finally reach Biarritz, a real enchantment for the guest. In the old days, tiny port where fishermen harpooned whales, Biarritz is now one of the most famous cities of the coast, queen of the craziest nights since Napoleon III and Empress Eugenia chose the town as their summer residence, until the end of the 19th century. Once, heartland of the royalty, Biarritz is now the fief of artists and famous people who seek calm and discretion.
Saint Jean de Luz: a tuna fishing port where Louis XIV married Marie-Therese, the “Infant”. It is interesting to wander around the old port, along the pier and visit the old church, the Infant’s house and Louis XIV’s residence. Along the seashore, the mansion houses stand up next to the former ship-owners’ residences and the wonderful seaside villas. Most of the streets are pedestrians: it is very pleasant to roam the streets in search of coolness. For shopping lovers, it is a real paradise with its little coloured shops, its latest fashion items and its traditional craft industry. On the Louis XIV plaza, painters exhibit their works of art around the bandstand. It is not unusual that a Basque choir liven up the town centre. When night comes, the “toro de fuego” (pyrotechnic show) brings happiness (or fear) to the crowd under a rain of confetti.
Hendaye: a 4 kilometres long beach with fine sand.
Arcangues: a town with halftimbered red and green houses, where it is recommended to stop to visit the town’s 13th century church. Singer Luis Mariano is burried in Arcangues’ old cemetery where there are some very old and beautiful tombstones.
Cambo les Bains: a spa town where Edmond Rostand had a residence built, the famous “Arnaga”.
Espelette: a village to visit in October for the Chilli Festival, the Pottocks’ Fair held in February and the village itself which is charming all year round.
Ainhoa: a walled town found on the way to the pilgrim town of St. James’ Way (“Camino de Santiago” in Spanish), Ainhoa has some very beautiful 18th century
The Ibardin road: a road where, if you are lucky, the Pottoks (small pre-historic semi wild horses) can be seen.
The Rhune: a mountain that offers a breathtaking view of the ocean, the Landes Forest, the Pyrenees and the Bidassoa valley. Beware of the “Betisoak” wild cows!
Saint Jean Pied de Port: its citadels and the Vauban town walls should be visited.
The Basque country goes all the way to Spain, near the town of San Sebastian with its elegant bay and picturesque streets. The local plazas have their tremendous ferias in Bilbao (1h30 driving) or Pamplona that compete with the French town of Bayonne. The Basque country is a truly natural region.
If it has things in common with the traditional Southwest cuisine, Basque gastronomy still has its own original characteristics inspired from the ocean and regional products.
The very famous “Bayonne ham” (“Jambon de Bayonne” in French) has to be named in first. Before savouring the ham, it has to dry for at least six months depending on the ancestral rules. It has to be accompanied by a glass of Irouleguy wine, which, already in the 11th century, delighted the pilgrims of St. James’ Way. Today, vineyards spread across the mountains’ steep and sunny sides which surround the Baïgorry valley. The original grape varieties of the Basque country mould this tasteful wine.
One also has to discover some other specialities: “baby eels” (“pibales” in French), cod-fish, hake, “Chipirons” or grilled squid and “axoa”, veal stew with peppers and chillies. All these dishes are the pride of the Basque gastronomy. It is tasty but also spicy thanks to the Espelette peppers (a variety of chilli pepper). They bring joy in every single dish.
Likewise, one will enjoy filets, foie gras, Marengo cheese (made from the milk of sheep) served with a delicious black cherry jam, and the “cojones”. It is a very special dish made up with stuffed testicles of the heroic bull from the arena. Some sweet treats at the end of the meal are not to be missed: chocolates (a very long tradition that comes from the Jews of the Iberian Peninsula settled in the region in the 17th century), the traditional Basque cake, the “túrron”, a sort of nougat and the “muxus”, a kind of macaroon filled with almond paste. In Basque, its name means “kiss”.
All these delicious dishes and many other typical delicacies are to savour in the traditional “bodegas”, cider houses or typical restaurants of the region. However,
Biarritz and its surrounding area offer also numerous prestigious sites for more conventional dinners as for example the Hotel du Palais and the Casino.
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