This Art Deco city has an abundance of beaches, offering world-class surf and ample space for sunny lounging.
In the sparkling water of la Côte des Basques, a surf lesson is taking place, newbies wobbling on their boards as the waves plunge them towards the beach. Though only half make it standing, the instructor applauds all their efforts, before gesturing them back to the water to try again.
In south Biarritz, this is one of the world’s best surf beaches. It gained notoriety in the ’50s, when screenwriter Peter Viertel shot his film The Sun Also Rises in the city. A keen surfer schooled in Hawaii, Viertel was so impressed by Biarritz’s waves he had his board sent over, effectively introducing the sport. The city ran with it, and now hosts world-class championship events.
Instructor Emmanuelle Vargas is a second-generation surf pioneer. “My father surfed on this beach when he was little,” she says. “He made his own board from wood – he was very committed!” She waxes her own board while bobbing to the reggae music emanating from the school where she works, L’École de Surf Lagoondy, housed in a striped tent. “I inherited my father’s passion and have surfed all over the world, but nowhere compares to here – not just the waves, but the atmosphere and people, too.”
Surf culture spreads beyond the beaches. Shops stocked with flip-flops and local clothing labels like BTZ and 64 (named after the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department number) line the main shopping street of Rue du Port Vieux, frequented by sunbleached shoppers. This board-toting crowd are a far cry from Biarritz’s early visitors. The city found favour when Napoleon III began holidaying here, cementing its status among high society sunseekers who left an impressive architectural legacy – particularly during the city’s Art Deco heyday. The Casino, still a functioning gambling hall, sits proudly on the long promenade behind the wide sweep of sand at the main beach, La Grande Plage, while Le Musée de la Mer has to be one of the world’s most striking aquariums.
The enduring lure has always been Biarritz’s beaches – and with six to choose from, they rarely feel crowded. In the small, calm cove in the Old Town, Plage Port Vieux, couples picnic on Basque goods bought at Les Halles market. Over at the rocky outcrop of Le Rocher du Basta, a solitary artist, painting an Atlantic Ocean panorama, surveys a broad stretch of coast stretching from the city lighthouse to Spain.
Completed in 1907, Le Regina Biarritz was once popular with visiting aristocracy and has recently been restored to its former glory. The vast and impressive lobby has a beautiful skylight and is framed by birdcage-like balconies. The Belle Époque-inspired bedrooms are inviting and elegant, and there’s a swimming pool and spa to enjoy, too.
Take a surf lession at Ecole du Surf Biarritz Lagoondy.