Biarritz: a 19th century location for 21st century vacations

By Julia Hunt, a Travel Professional

Read more on Biarritz.

Overall rating:4.0 out of 5 (based on 4 votes)
Recommended for:
Beach, Short Break, Spa, Expensive

From fishing port to elegant seaside resort, surfing zone to spa centre, golf and gastronomy hot-spot, Biarritz remains one of South West France’s most popular holiday destinations

When French novelist Victor Hugo visited the Basque coast in 1843 he proclaimed “I know of no other place more charming and magnificent than Biarritz.” A decade later, when Napoleon III’s wife, Empress Eugenie, chose the area for her holiday home, Biarritz’s transformation from small fishing village and whaling port to a fashionable destination was underway. Queen Victoria, the future King Edward VII, the King of Spain and other European aristocrats came to enjoy the sea bathing and social life. By the start of the 20th century, Villa Eugenie had become the Hôtel du Palais, welcoming a wider audience drawn to the first casino.

Thanks to its mild climate and large waves, Biarritz was one of the first places in France to attract surfers. By the end of the 20th century, the health benefits of the sea were recognised once more, as Biarritz became a thalassotheraphy centre. Into the 21st century, golf is one of the most popular sports, with 10 courses within 15 miles of Biarritz, while the gastronomic scene is also thriving.

Surfing: The first surf boards were brought to Biarritz in 1957 by Peter Viertel, husband of actress Deborah Kerr who was filming in the area. Adopted by a small group of locals, surfing became popular in the early 1960s. Biarritz became the headquarters for the French Surf Federation (FFS) and home to the country’s first surf club and surf shop. Today Biarritz hosts the Roxy Jam Women’s World Longboard Championships each July ( ) and has 10 surf schools offering lessons for all abilities. ( Expect to pay about 35 Euros for a group lesson (including equipment) or 80 Euros for an individual one.

Spas: Thalassotherapy is essentially spa treatments using sea water, seaweed and sea mud. The Thalmar Biarritz, at L’Hôtel La Biarritz on Marbella Beach, has a 350 metre square heated sea water area. Treatments include a half-day package with heated mud, hydro-massage and jet shower for 60 Euros, (Tel: +33 5 59 41 75 43; The Sofitel Thalassa is one of the area’s smartest spas with a large outdoor heated seawater pool overlooking Miramar beach, a smaller indoor pool and acres of treatment rooms. Packages which include accommodation, half board and three treatments a day available from 440 Euros.

Golf: Wedged between the Pyrenées and the Atlantic, Biarritz is the St Andrews of France when it comes to golf. Its first course, Le Phare (2, Avenue Edith Cavell, Biarritz; Tel: +33 5 59 03 71 80; was built in 1888, making it the second oldest course outside the UK. There are four Top 100 Continental European golf courses near Biarritz; Golf de Chiberta, (104, Boulevard des Plages, Anglet; Tel: +33 5 59 52 51 10;; Golf de Seignosse, (Avenue de Belvedere, Seignosse; Tel: +33 5 58 41 69 30) Golf d’Arcangues (Chemin Jaureguiborda, Arcangues; Tel: +33 5 59 43 10 56; and Golf de Hossegor, (333 Avenue du Golf, Hossegor; Tel: +33 5 58 43 56 99; while Golf de Moliets, ( Rue Mathieu Desbieys, Moliets; Tel: +33 5 58 48 54 65; a 27-hole course on the European Circuit, is about an hour’s drive. You can play at six regional courses for the price of five from 240 Euros with the Golf Pass Biarritz, available from Le Phare and other participating courses, (

Gastronomy: Neither French, nor Spanish, Basque food has a unique flavour. Local specialities include Piperade, a rich red sauce made from peppers, tomatoes, onions, aubergines and garlic; Brebis, ewe’s milk cheese; Gateau Basque, an almond cream pastry; and, of course, Jambon de Bayonne, a fine, salt-cured ham. For fish dishes, try the Port des Pêcheurs, where restaurants line the waterfront. Chez Albert (Allée Port des Pêcheurs; Tel: +33 5 59 24 43 84; is one of the best, with its wide terrace and spacious interior. Typical dishes include a platter of fruits de mer (from about 40 Euros), or dorade, sea-bream fried with garlic and white wine. For a chic dinner overlooking the Grande Plage, Opale (17 Avenue Edouard VII; Tel: +33 5 59 24 30 30; is a black and white pre-club haven with oriental nuanced cuisine. For lunch, Blue Cargo, at Bidart, 10 minutes' drive south of town, (Avenue d’ Ilbiarritz, Bidart; +33 5 59 23 54 87;, stretches out from its original villa to the sand. Enjoy dishes like grilled tuna or platters of gambas, ham and olives, interspersed with a glass of rosé and a paddle.

Accommodation: Like a giant cruise ship on the edge of the Atlantic, the Sofitel Biarritz Miaramar Thalassa is excellent for luxurious relaxation. The 122 rooms are all king sized, with generous balconies and limestone bathrooms, while the entrance lobby contains a piano bar perfect for pre-dinner tapas. From 250 Euros a night, room only. (13 Rue Louison Bobet)
A Member of the Leading Hotels of the World, L’Hôtel du Palais is still the most opulent place to stay in Biarritz. Most rooms are decorated in a traditional Empire style, while suites feature original details such as ornate fireplaces and painted panelling. Low season rates for a classic garden facing double from 375 Euros, room only. (1 Avenue de l’Impératrice)

Travel: Fly direct to Biarritz from Stansted with Ryanair from 30 Euros return, Flights are three times a week throughout the year and take about one hour 45 minutes. By train Biarritz is just over five hours from Paris; TGV tickets from 50 Euros return.

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More information on Biarritz: a 19th century location for 21st century vacations:

Julia Hunt
Traveller type:
Travel Professional
Guide rating:
Average: 4 (4 votes)
Total views:
First uploaded:
4 November 2010
Last updated:
4 years 38 weeks 4 days 49 min 39 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Trip types:
Beach, Short Break, Spa
Budget level:
Free tags / Keywords:
golf, surfing, spas, gastronomy

Julia recommends


Price from Rating
(out of 5)
1. Sofitel Thalassa Biarritz
2. Hotel Du Palais

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Community comments (4)

0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

You learn something every day! I knew nothing about Biarritz before reading this guide. No idea that all of these illustrious historical figures had stayed here and there was a Napoleon connection.

I like that you have included detail about the history of the place, such as the evolution of surfing. This makes the guide interesting as well as useful.

The layout of the guide is good with the sub-headings and short paragraphs making it easy to use.
A few more photos would be useful- perhaps a few more of the hotels to give readers an idea of what bedrooms etc look like. L’Hôtel du Palais sounds gorgeous!

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Hi Julia,

Your guide has reminded me how relaxing and luxurious a break in Biarritz can be, but you definitely need a few bob to make the most of it. I was going to say it would be nice to see a few budget hotels mentioned, but after going there myself I know there aren't any! Spending time on the beaches is free and enjoyable, as is crossing the little bridge designed by Gustave Eifffel to the islet off the coast.

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

D'you know, I have an auntie who goes to Biarritz almost every year. She's a very discerning auntie and I'd love to go along.
Yep, you certainly pack a lot of information in Julia- maybe too much in places (I glazed over at the golf but of course you're trying to reach a wide audience). Certainly like the sound of Gateau Basque! Would have liked a few more photos too. Cheers

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Very informative, I learnt a lot about Biarritz that I didn't know before - especially the golf. It's a bit out of my price range, but if I strike lucky, I might make it one day.

Thanks for the guide.

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