Biarritz became the haunt of affluent French families after Napoleon III and his wife Eugénie took to holidaying there in the mid-19th century. It was unceremoniously abandoned for the Mediterranean’s hedonistic hot spots and the cheap resorts of coastal Spain in the 1970s and 1980s, but now everyone from surfer dudes in camper vans to the jeunesse dorée (golden youth) of Paris is rediscovering Biarritz’s gorgeous beaches.
Biarritz’s main draw is spread out before you along the Bay of Biscay: The powdery gold of the Grande Plage sweeps on to the Plage Miramar, making one of the greatest pleasures a stroll along the seafront. Explore the rocky headlands, meander past tiny cottages in the old port, bask on the Plage du Port Vieux, and marvel at the massive breakers on the majestic Plage de la Côte des Basques. Surf or try some other water sports, visit the shops and restaurants on the promenade, or simply soak up the sun.
Biarritz is widely considered the European capital of surfing, so your visit might be the perfect occasion to take the plunge into this exciting sport, or feed the habit if you’re already hooked. The annual Biarritz Surf Festival
is one of Europe’s most important surf events and an internationally significant longboarding event. There is a long surfers' beach on the Boulevard du Prince de Galles, called Cote de Basque, and the surf beaches at Anglet are easily accessible with car hire or by bus.
One of the last reminders of Biarritz’s prosperous past as a booming whaling centre is Eglise St-Martin, on Rue St-Martin. Dating back to the 1100s, it was renovated in 1541 to include a Flamboyant Gothic chancel. This is one of Biarritz’s leading attractions, and it’s easy to see why. You should also pay a visit to Eglise Orthodoxe Russe. This Byzantine-Russian monument was built in 1892 to give holidaying Russian aristocrats a place to worship. The gilded dome is spectacular, and the interior is a stunning sky blue.
Rugby Union Central
The local team, Biarritz Olympique
, plays rugby union (15 a side) in the French Top 14 competition and also features regularly in the European Heineken Cup (called the "H Cup" in France). If you’re lucky, your trip will coincide with the rugby season, when BO play most of their home games at the Parc des Sports Aguiléra in Biarritz. They also play some home matches across the Spanish border in Estadio Anoeta in Donostia-San Sebastián.
Museum of the Sea
The Museum of the Sea
houses (if that’s the right word) a massive collection of different species of sea life from the Bay of Biscay. Observe saw fish, sharks, and the guitar ray, but if you have children with you, the main draw will be the seal pool. You can also see remnants of ship cargoes from Roman times.
Museum of Asian Art
The Museum of Asian Art
, on Rue Guy-Petit, presents exotic works of art in a setting that allows visitors to absorb the culture. Learn about the regions and times from which the pieces came, particularly those of China, India, Tibet, and Nepal. View treasures made from bronze, porcelain, and jade, and see a collection of Tibetan exhibits believed to be one of the best in the world.