The city of Biarritz is located on the Bay of Biscay, in the 64 department of France, called the Pyrénées-Atlantiques. It is located along the Basque coast at the Cape of St. Martin, closely adjacent to Anglet and Bayonne, and has been a health resort in France for more than one century – in the “beautiful era” it was a place of rest and treatment for the aristocracy, now – modern high-ranking officials. Thanks to “right” waves of the Atlantic ocean Biarritz is a renowned surfing center.
The history of prosperity and popularity of this area can be associated with the names of two outstanding women – Alienor of Aquitaine and Empress Eugenia. When Alienor married Henry Plantagenet, king of England in the 12th century, the English built the Fortress Farragus next to a fishing village. When this country was appreciated by Empress Eugenia, a popular resort for the aristocracy arose here. The traces of the English fortress have not survived to this day, but there are many sights associated with Eugenia. For example, the most emblematic building on the shore – Villa of Eugenia, originally built as the empress’s rest and reception house, is now called the Hotel du Palais (now under reconstruction), and is used to accommodate the wealthy public. The Church of Saint Eugenia also beautifies the Biarritz coastline and is a local sight.
The main local attraction, in a manner of speaking, is surfing. Particular waves arising due to the specific bottom configuration and the processes of the Atlantic Ocean that are difficult to understand, make it possible to relatively easily master mysteries of this sport. For a good wave, it’s necessary to know the time of high and low tide, and all local surfers have it timetable.
In practice, in order to surf “from scratch”, it takes a week of classes at a surf school. Our group mastered cherished skills just on the date indicated. Although, personally, this type of activity does not suit me, and with great enthusiasm I visited coastal cafes. I also photographed schoolchild surfers.
One of the emblematic sights is the local lighthouse, built in 1834 on Cape Saint-Martin. You can mount it to appreciate the stunning view of the Central Beach, as well as take a photo at the observation deck located at its foot. Hotel Le Regina is nearby, in the restaurant of which you can enjoy tasting dishes prepared by an eminent chef. It’s suitable for gourmets, of course. We were not lucky at all – at that moment there was no eminent chef, we had to suffer with the usual menu 🙂
We prepared for this our visit to Biarritz and booked a sightseeing tour with a private guide through a special resource – Excurzilla. We learned a lot of useful things (in just a couple of hours!), looked at all the most famous places in the city, and in general, had a great time. For example, we became0 familiar with the history of the emergence of the Russian Church, located (oh, miracle!) on Russian street of Biarritz. In general, I have to say that since the 19th century wealthy Russians have chosen this city and the region where the Russian Church is located, now a respectable place, studded with luxurious villas. The villa is still located here in which the great Russian composer Igor Stravinsky once lived. And now, according to stories of the guide, Russian residents occupy more than one villa in this region.
The history of the settlement, in the place of which modern Biarritz grew up, is closely connected with whaling. And to this day, a whale is depicted on the city’s coat of arms. Poor animals nearly disappeared from the face of the earth – I did not even think that until recently streets of European cities were illuminated by whale oil lamps. Horror! We can say that new technologies (gas and electricity) have saved poor animals from complete extermination. Old Port of Biarritz was exactly the place from where whale hunters set off on their shaky little boats to stun an unfortunate whale with an accurate blow and pull it on shore. Now we cannot say that such horrors were happening in this reputable place.
The oldest street in Biarritz – Gambetta has maintained its charm, showing restored old buildings. One of which is the old city market, where it’s possible to still buy fresh fruits, groceries and everything else, and in the evening public life flourishes around. A large number of cafes, restaurants and bars are concentrated around the old market – perhaps not something else, but the French love (and know how) to eat.
There is also an unremarkable clothing store called 64 on this street. Another tourist would not attach it any significance, but for the locals it’s a symbol of national identity to a certain degree, – this is the number of the department of France, in which Biarritz is located. In general, instead of souvenirs, you can buy some clothes with the symbol of this brand.
Gambetta street leads to the former town hall square, where now the reorientated town hall building is not at once recognizable, a bank, shops and other organizations are located here. We can say that it’s the very center of the old city. However, one historical place still remains on it – it’s the Miremont cafe. Even now, there you can taste unusually delicious desserts, custard (a rarity in Europe) tea and a huge number of variations of coffee service. Both with stunning views, local desserts in surroundings of the historic interior of this cafe will help you get your impression of why Biarritz was so loved by hedonists of the past.
In addition to the aforementioned Hotel du Palais (one of the best hotels in Biarritz), a casino building is also on the Central Beach, which also houses a public swimming pool (not without reason the city has a history of a balneotherapeutic health resort), as well as cafes, restaurants and shops. Since it’s quite difficult to swim in these places (Atlantic Ocean, even so!) and often cold, beaches here are more convenient for promenade. In general, the guide told a quite large number of stories about ships that could not cope with peculiarities of the Bay of Biscay, the most difficult in the way of navigation, and sunk in the local waters even in recent history.
By the way, this is why Biarritz does not have a yacht berth and corresponding infrastructure – during the storm season, waves gain enormous sizes. For centuries, local authorities have tried to protect the city bays with the help of breakwaters, but it did not work out to build properly – the ocean breaks all attempts to establish artificial restrictions for it.
For example, a representative story is associated with one of the sights of Biarritz – cliff of the Holy Virgin. In the 19th century, a natural rock at this place was yet broken by order of Napoleon III to arrange a port-refuge, however, it was not possible to install full-fledged breakwaters. All in all, a statue of the Holy Virgin was installed here, making this a tourist place, by building a bridge by the Eiffel atelier to the rock from the shore, starting from the Museum of the Sea.