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Biarritz France. The name just rolls off the tongue with pizazz. It conjures up visions of an exotic life with a French twist.
Its name does not lead you astray. Biarritz is sublime. Beaches stretch out lazily, the Pyrénées soar in the not too far distance, surfers wait patiently for the big waves, the historic lighthouse beckons with its evening beam, and coloured beach parasols invite you to sink into the golden sand and allow time to stand still.
Is that exotic enough? Add in the distinctive Basque culture and Biarritz’s proximity to Spain and you have plenty of exploring to keep you satisfied for days on end.
Thinking you might like to visit Biarritz France? It is situated in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of France and has been a popular beach destination since Napoleon III and the Empress Eugénie started coming in 1854. Their trip would have taken over 20 hours by train, which makes the 4-hour trip from Paris seem like a breeze.
Here Are 11 Top Things To Do In Biarritz France:
1. Be On The Lookout For The Basque Culture
Biarritz, known as the California of France, is a coastal paradise and that in itself makes it a desirable destination. But, its appeal deepens with the palpable and distinctive Basque culture. Taste the Basque cakes with their smooth, creamy filling, listen for the Euskara language and watch for the Basque cross. Even the names of stores such as the espadrille store, Chistera, have a Basque connection. This one, to the popular local sport pelota. A chistera is the wicker basket used to scoop the ball. Who knew?!
But it was a Sunday morning at les Halles (the market) where a group of Basque men sat chatting and singing at the top of their voices (acapella) that stopped my sister and me in our tracks.
The sheer vocal passion of the Euskara language floating through the market had us pulling up a stool at the corner café/bar, L’Ameuse-Geule. It was noon, the perfect time for a mini-draft beer (une pression) and one Euro tapas, all the time serenaded by the nearby voices.
2. What To Do In Biarritz: Sip An Apéro At The Beach
Fresh off the evening train, a jaunt to the sea is inevitable. Head to Carlos – Waves and Sunset, grab a table by the ocean and sink into the Biarritz lifestyle. It’s the perfect way to start a visit.
Once you’ve seen one glorious sunset, you’ll be heading each evening to the seashore for another.
3. Peruse The Market, Les Halles, In Biarritz
When you visit Biarritz France, don’t miss the market! What I loved about the market in Biarritz France was the combination of fabulous outdoor stalls where delicious jams, casual clothing, woven bags from Madagascar and handsewn change purses make the browsing beyond tempting. Different vendors are there on different days, keeping it lively and interesting.
Inside the covered market which is open from 7:30 am to 2 pm daily (longer hours in the summer) is the perfect place to pick up delicacies for a beach picnic. Basque cakes, fresh vegetables, local chicken, olives, and local sheep cheese such as Ossau-Iraty will fill your basket in no time. I discovered Ossau-Iraty on my cheese adventures in Paris and it ranks as one of my favourite French cheeses. Little did I know, I’d be eating Ossau-Iraty right in Biarritz!
4. Hang Out At La Grande Plage (The Big Beach)
It’s perfect. Striped umbrellas. A sandy expanse. Waves rolling in. A few surfers. Lots of swimmers.
Do whatever it is that you love to do at the beach. Read. Chat. Walk. Sip a kir. It’s holiday time.
5. Things To Do In Biarritz: Admire The Lighthouse
At 73 metres above sea level, the historic white lighthouse keeps watch over Biarritz. Built in 1834, the Biarritz Lighthouse offers tremendous views over the sea, the Pyrénées mountains and the coast. Sit in the park amidst pink hydrangeas, have a refreshment at the café and lean on the railing to soak up the vista. Feeling energetic? Climb the 248 steps to the top (currently closed in July 2021).
Pro Tip: Washrooms are available by the Biarritz Lighthouse.
6. Visit The Rocher de la Vierge In Biarritz
Go in the evening. Walk across the metal bridge (once wooden) to the grand rock with the Virgin perched atop. Breathtaking views of the Pyrénées and the Spanish coast will keep you lingering for a while. Wait for the sparkling lights of Biarritz and the lighthouse beam. The views leave a lasting impression.
7. Find Traces Of Napolean III And Empress Eugénie
In 1854, Napolean III and Empress Eugénie built a summer home (the little palace pictured above)) in Biarritz. The proximity to Spain was favourable for Empress Eugenie who was Spanish. The tiny fishing village was transformed as the aristocracy started flocking to Biarritz France. Even today there remains a chic elegance about Biarritz.
The Hôtel de Palais is now a luxury hotel. If you’re not staying in the hotel, you can make a reservation and go for a drink.
8. Things To Do In Biarritz France: Enter The Chapelle Impériale
Visit Biarritz and search out this little tucked-away chapel. The Chapelle Impériale was built in 1865 at the request of Empress Eugénie. This most peaceful and feminine chapel, in much of its original state, is tucked away on a quiet lane in a tranquil garden. Drink in the attention to detail. Glass from Murano (Venice), the intertwined initials N and E and an interior with painted pineapples, birds and golden bumblebees. The painted initials in the interior include the L of their only son, Louis.
During the summer, it’s open Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 2 – 6:30. The only way to enter is with a guide who is waiting for you at the door.
9. Watch The Surfers At Côte Des Basques
Apparently, this beach, Plage de la Côte des Basques, is where surfing first appeared in Europe in 1957. Now, even when the surf is minimal, tons of surfers and surf students dash out into the waves to catch whatever is on offer.
Wander down the long staircase to reach the beach and just watch the fun. Or partake. I’d love to observe on a more wild day!
There are several surf schools right on the boardwalk.
10. Things To Do In Biarritz: Nibble On Basque Tapas – Pintxos
Have one Euro handy? There are plenty of one Euro tapas to devour while in Biarritz France. The proximity to the Spanish border lends a decidedly Spanish influence to the gastronomy in Biarritz. Right by the covered market, stop by Comptoir de Foie Gras. Perch on a stool and dive into a local beer and a planche – smoked ham, local cheese and baguette. If you’re a foie gras fan, well the name says it all.
Stroll to the other side of the market and find Bar Jean. It’s been around since the 1930s and is a mandatory stop for any visitor to Biarritz. Dive into a platter of tapas and local seafood such as calamari, mussels and oysters.
And don’t forget to try some tapas at L’ Ameuse-Guele, right at the market.
11. Buy Espadrilles In Biarritz France
When you visit Biarritz, I bet you’ll leave with a pair of new espadrilles! Maybe two!
I love espadrilles. They just shout out SUMMER time. If you’re a shoe lover, it’s just not possible to leave Biarritz without a colourful pair of these iconic shoes tucked in your suitcase.
Wander into Art of Soule on rue Gambetta and be wowed by the fabulous patterns, colours and selection. Espadrilles Chistera on rue Mazagran is another tempting spot. The elegant white awning and window displays invite you to peruse and try on a variety of espadrilles.
If you’re in the area, on August 15th why not celebrate the annual “Fête de l’Espadrille” in nearby Mauléon.
How To Get To Biarritz France:
By Train From Paris:
Trains leave from Montparnasse Station in Paris and are either direct (4 hours and 10 minutes) or have one change in Bordeaux. Book the direct ticket to Biarritz France.
Arrival in Biarritz France:
Straight across from the train station is a bus stop. Buy a ticket in the machine. We took bus #5 which dropped us off a 5-minute walk to our hotel.
Wrong Train – Right Direction:
Don’t do what my sister and I did…
On our trip to Biarritz, we had a train change in Bordeaux. Simple right?
We cruised into the station at Bordeaux and headed to the track for our next train. No one was there to check our tickets, the train was headed to Biarritz and was full. I should have known as the car number was not visible on the carriage. But there was a panic as the whistle was being blown. People were madly looking for a place to stand. To stand…We crammed into a car, or the in-betweenness of two cars and came face to face with a host of others. In Coronavirus times.
As we lumbered off down the track, I saw the electronic sign saying that we were riding a TER (regional train) to Biarritz. We had reservations on a TGV. Clearly, we were on the wrong train.
We shuffled around, leant against the doorway and decided to ride it out or stand for 2 hours. In the end, we arrived in Biarritz, 15 minutes earlier than planned.
Our return trip was a direct train: Biarritz to Paris (4hours, 10 minutes) with no mix-ups. Except that the man in front of me was travelling with three huge dogs and one lay right where my feet were supposed to go…
I hope you love these things to do in Biarritz France as much as we did. Three days barely scraped the surface. And there’s plenty to do not far from Biarritz. A trip to Saint-Jean-de-Luz tops the list for my next visit and perhaps I’ll pop over to Spain for the day.
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