Biarritz lies on the Bay of Biscay on the Atlantic coast in South Western France. It is located in the Pyrénées-Atlantique department in the Aquitaine region and is one of the principal resorts of the Basque Country. One of Europe’s most beautiful and stylish cities, it embraces three cultures (French, Basque and Spanish) and, with a temperate climate and stunning beaches, it attracts a wide variety of visitors. Adjacent to Bayonne and Anglet and only 11 miles (18 km) from the Spanish border, Biarritz is fiercely proud of its Basque heritage and is in the traditional province of Labourd.
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The region was conquered by the Romans in the 6th Century giving it the name Aquitania. During the Roman Empire, the lands of Aquitaine were extended towards Gascony and it was inhabited by Iberians whose main tradition was raising horses. The town’s first settlers are believed to have been Vikings who discovered the area during their invasion of Gascony in 840 AD. Originally a small fishing village, it was soon recognised as a suitable place for the development of the whale hunting industry and the Scandinavians made their settlements near the beach calling it Bjarnihus, from which its current name derives. However, Aquitaine had a divided community until the early 20th Century with the local Basque inhabitants living a very different way of life from the descendants of the Scandinavians who became known as the Agots.
Biarritz’s more recent history began in 1854 when the city’s character was enhanced by Empress Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon III, who built a palace on the beach. This new social elevation encouraged visits by the British royal family and Queen Victoria and Edward VII took holidays here, building Biarritz’s reputation as an exclusive holiday destination for the rich and famous. When the palace was sold, the Hotel Casino Palais was built above the bay, housing the biggest casino in the area and providing luxury, diversity and beauty all in one place.
During the French Revolution, the region was known as the Lower Pyrenees and was acknowledged as one of the calmest areas during a very difficult and turbulent era. In 1969 it became known as the Atlantic Pyrenees and is now one of the most favoured holiday locations in southern France.
Biarritz is renowned for the warm welcome it gives its visitors. From simple origins, this former whaling town has now become a fashionable summer resort thanks to its famous patrons, Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie, who did much to sing the praises of this very special place. It is now the haunt of royal visitors and celebrities as well as the less well off with cheaper travel opportunities giving easier access to everyone. With 6 km of natural beaches where all types of water sports are practised, to the wonders of its museums and churches, Biarritz is known as the pearl of the Basque coast.
Biarritz offers 12 golf courses within a 30-kilometre radius including the second oldest golf course in Europe, Biarritz le Phare, which was created in 1888. The golf courses are among some of the most challenging and offer the player spectacular vistas across the coast and countryside.
There are 5 thalassotherapy centres and 3 spas which help to promote the feeling of well-being and relaxation in beautiful surroundings.
Considered the European mecca for surfing, and one of the best places for water sports of every sort, the beach areas of Biarritz attract amateurs and professionals alike. To make the most of the exceptional quality of the waves, there are facilities for tuition if required (including diving) and, with 6 beaches to choose from, there is an amazing choice for visitors to enjoy. There are also sailing clubs with a yacht marina and small boats for hire for local trips and fishing expeditions from the Grande Plage. The Port des Pêcheurs is part of the old town at the foot of St. Eugenie church.
For those less inclined towards taking part in water sports, a visit to the Maritime Museum is a must. Opened in 1935, it exhibits a fascinating collection of fish in an aquarium which includes 150 different species as well as a seal pool and a shark tank.
The Biarritz Lighthouse is 44 metres high offering a breathtaking panorama of the Basque coast, the ocean and the mountains. Other cultural places to visit are the Asiatica Museum of Oriental Art, the Historical Museum of Biarritz, the Chapelle Imperiale and the Planete Musee du Chocolat.
Other activities include spectator sports, and rugby in particular with the Basque region having an international reputation for their enthusiasm for the game. There are also tennis tournaments, golf, trot racing and Basque pelota. Go-karts, horse riding, hiking, cycling and canoeing are all within easy reach but if all else fails, try your luck at the Casino where there are slot machines and 11 gaming tables to entice you !
Accommodation & Restaurants
With the popularity of this resort, there is a wide choice of places to stay including some of the finest hotels in France. The Basque country boasts 6,000 hotel rooms, 2,300 of which are in Biarritz. Most are located in the town centre and range from luxurious hotels, to private houses and apartments. For the adventurous, there are also several camping sites along the coastline and in the surrounding countryside.
Restaurants catering for all tastes are plentiful, ranging from gastronomic extravaganzas to family based eateries where children are welcomed and menus are simple. An accent on Mediterranean specialities and traditional sea food have made this area one of the most sought after places in Europe to enjoy fine dining.
The streets of Biarritz are full of amazing shops whether you are looking for designer clothes, the latest water sports equipment, chocolates, jewellery or antiques. There are chic boutiques and large department stores. The indoor food market offers local specialities including fresh curd sheep’s milk, cheese, spicy sausages, Serrano ham, fresh fish, fruit and vegetables as well as local Basque delicatessen treats.
Biarritz is easily accessible by road, air or train.
By road: Biarritz is about 7½ hour’s drive (775 km/480 miles) from Paris accessed via the D911, off the N10. These routes are close to the A63 which connects Belin-Beliet to Bayonne to the border of Spain.
By train: Biarritz train station is 3km (2 miles) for the town centre. Approx. 5 hours via TGV from Paris (there is also a night service).
By Air: The main airport is a couple of miles from Biarritz town centre although Bilbao or Bordeaux (each approx. 100 miles away) are feasible. Air France, Ryanair and Easyjet all have direct flights to Biarritz.
Square d’Ixelles, 64200 Biarritz
tel: (33) 05 59 22 37 00