On the south-west coast of France, just 40 kilometres from the Spanish city of San Sebastian, lies Biarritz. This is a magical and beautiful town of whaling origins, as evidenced by the fact that its flag bears the coat of arms of a large whaling ship.
However, the essence of the city changed in the 19th century. It was at that time that doctors began to recommend bathing in the therapeutic waters of its beaches, which is why it became a renowned seaside resort. However, its tourist boom came when the wife of Napoleon III, Eugénie de Montijo, fell madly in love with Biarritz. So much so that she decided to build herself a palace, now the Hôtel du Palais, to enjoy her summer holidays.
It was in 1854 that this building was erected on the seafront, which meant that the nobility and even European royalty also decided to spend their summer escapades in this French town.
With the passage of time, this type of tourism that came to Biarritz was joined by a totally opposite type. In this case, surfing enthusiasts and professionals began to arrive and found the perfect place to ride the waves on these beaches. So much so that it is considered that it was precisely in this city that surfing was introduced to the old continent. It has also become the surfing capital of Europe.
All of this has resulted in the city today being a spectacular mixture of people of very different kinds. On the one hand, there are those who have the money and enjoy the best hotels. On the other hand, there are those who have a free spirit, those who only need to enjoy the sand and the sea, i.e. the surfers.
What to see and do in Biarritz?
Anyone who has the chance to visit Biarritz will realise, from the very first moment they set foot on its soil, that it is a city full of possibilities, with a wide variety of forms of entertainment and a great leisure agenda.
In this sense, we would have to highlight that one of the main actions to carry out is to visit the most magical monuments and corners that it possesses, among which are the following.
1. Hôtel du Palais
As we have already mentioned, it was in 1854 when Eugénie de Montijo decided to build a summer residence in this town, as she fell madly in love with its beaches. The former, through various vicissitudes, has now become this hotel establishment, located by the sea, which is a reference point and a symbol of local prosperity as well as of the luxury that runs through every corner of the city.
The five-star accommodation, which has held the “Palace Distinction” since 2011, has a number of interesting features. For example, it is worth noting that it is in the shape of an E as a tribute to the name of the aforementioned empress and that it has hosted illustrious guests such as the famous Sissi.
2. Fishermen’s Harbour
Bearing in mind the whaling origins of the city, we must be aware of how special it is to see this place in situ, which was built in 1870. When you walk around it, you can enjoy not only spectacular views but also admire the unique houses of the professional fishermen. It is also worth noting that this area is one of the best places to enjoy the best fish and seafood, thanks to the many restaurants in the area. In summer it is an ideal place to eat on one of the terraces.
3. Municipal Casino
Another of the emblematic places in Biarritz is this one, built in 1929, which stands out for its spectacular art deco appearance and for being located in the heart of the city.
4. The Rock of the Virgin
A stop and visit to this unique enclave is a must. It is characterised by a carving of the image of Mary that gives it its name and which was erected by order of the fishermen. According to legend, in the mid-19th century, a beam of light became the lighthouse needed by some fishermen who were returning from the sea and encountered a very strong storm that endangered their lives.
That beam of light guided them back to this place and that is how it became a sanctuary that can be reached by crossing the Eiffel Bridge, which Napoleon III ordered to be built and which bears the name of the architect who built it. From there you have the opportunity to discover the beauty of the French coast and also to visit the Museum of the Sea, which was inaugurated in 1933 and shows the richness of the local flora and fauna.
No less important in Biarritz is this construction dating from 1834, which is 74 metres high and allows you to admire a magical, spectacular and fascinating sunset. However, to get there you have to climb the almost 250 steps on foot.
6. Imperial Chapel
The faith and devotion of Napoleon III and Eugénie de Montijo were the reasons that led to the construction of this space, next to what was then their summer residence and current hotel. Here they found the privacy they needed to perform their prayers.
Among the singularities that identify this building are that it is dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe and that it is the result of a mixture of architectural and artistic styles, such as Byzantine and Moorish.
7. Russian Orthodox Church
When the Empress fell in love with Biarritz, she encouraged European nobility and royalty to visit the city. Not only that, but she also took it upon herself to invite illustrious figures of the time, such as important Russian leaders and nobles, who increased the prestige of the city.
Therefore, in order to satisfy the needs of the numerous Russian aristocrats who spent their days in the town, it was decided to erect this temple, which is renowned for its spectacular blue dome.
8. Chocolate museum
The most gourmand tourists should not miss this centre which revolves around cocoa, its plantation, its production and its many uses.
The Asiatic Museum, with its spectacular collection of oriental art, is another must-see in Biarritz, as is the 12th century Church of Saint Martin, or the Old Port, which was used by the old whalers to cut up their catches.
As well as visiting these monuments, popular sites and exhibition centres, it should not be forgotten that there are a multitude of activities to be enjoyed in this town. Other highly recommended activities include attending the Surf Festival, which is held every year; enjoying typical dishes in one of its many restaurants or taking a stroll through the Marché Les Halles market. This market, located in Place Sobradiel, dates back to 1885 and is open every day in the morning, allowing you to discover the best local products.
Today, the main tourist attraction of this town on the French coast is its beaches, which stretch for six kilometres. They are ideal both for surfing and for the iodine that the seaweed brings to the waters, which is very beneficial for the body in general and for the skin in particular.
For this reason, every year a multitude of visitors come to spend unforgettable days on each of these sandy beaches.
- Grande Plage: If there is an important and special beach in Biarritz, it is undoubtedly this one. In the past, it was known as the “crazy people’s coast” because its “medicinal” waters were frequented by many people with various kinds of problems. Pebbles and golden sand intermingle here, allowing a multitude of people to choose it to enjoy a wonderful day of sun and sea. It is surrounded by a promenade full of restaurants and leisure facilities.
- Plage Miramar: Although it is usually calm, it is true that, on occasions, there are strong currents in its waters which mean that it is not recommended for surfing. However, the sea is usually calm, which is why many families visit it for a full-fledged day at the beach. It is located between the Hôtel du Palais and the lighthouse.
- Plage Port Vieux: One of the best beaches, without a doubt, to enjoy a quiet and windless bath is this one. Its main problem is that it is very small, so it is often crowded, especially if we take into account its proximity to the city centre.
- Plage de la Côte des Basques: Amateurs and professionals from the south always choose this beach to practise this discipline, as it has some truly spectacular waves. It should also be noted that it is sheltered by some amazing cliffs.
- Plage Marbella: Water sports lovers, on the other hand, tend to choose this other enclave.
- Plage Milady: To speak of a fascinating beach that will leave anyone’s mouth agape is to refer to this one, with its fine golden sand, as it has an incomparable and unforgettable rocky setting.
How to get to Biarritz from San Sebastian
To get to Biarritz from San Sebastian, take the A63. Exit in the direction of Irún-France. Once on this road, follow it for 50 km and take exit 4 (Biarritz-Parme).
How to get there from other cities
Getting to Biarritz is not a difficult task as, fortunately, due to its tourist nature, it is very well communicated by various means of transport.
One of the ways to reach the city by train is via the high-speed line (TGV) that connects Paris with Hendaye, as it makes a stop in Hendaye. Specifically, those travelling from Spain have several possibilities, including both the regional trains that depart from the Basque coast, and the ALVIA trains that depart from Madrid (Chamartín Station). In the latter case, it should be noted that they go as far as Hendaye, and there you would have to take one of the TGV trains that connect Hendaye with Biarritz.
The city’s train station is located on Avenue Allèe du Moura, about 3 kilometres from the city centre. To get there, just take one of the Chronoplus buses.
The best way to get to Biarritz by plane is to fly to Biarritz-Anglet-Bayonne airport, 5 kilometres from the city. Once there, you can take one of the Chronoplus buses, which leave every fifteen minutes from platform number 14 and cost 1 euro.
If you are on a budget, you can also get to the city by bus. From Spain you can take buses from the PESA and Conda companies, which operate in the north of the country, or ALSA, which operates from Madrid.
You can also reach the French city, specifically Square d’Ixelles, from other nearby towns such as Anglet or Bayonne, using the Chronoplus or ATCRB bus lines.
Biarritz can be reached by road in several ways:
– From Madrid, via the A1 and AP1 and then taking the E70 and continuing along the A63, completing a journey that takes approximately five hours. The last two are also the ones to take from the Basque Country.
– From Paris, you should choose the A10 or the N10.
– From Lyon, you can choose between the A9 or the N117, although some people prefer to drive on the A7.