Head for Biarritz to enjoy all the style and glamour of a Cote d’Azur break, but without the crippling costs
Once the destination of choice for the European royalty set, nowadays Biarritz is more of a laidback surfers’ town. However, it can still carry a hefty Cote d’Azur price tag - but the good news is, if you look hard enough, you can easily do Biarritz on a budget.
Getting there needn’t cost an arm and a leg: travel via Eurostar (advance bookings to Paris from £59) and then get a super-fast TGV train direct to Biarritz (advance fares from just £22 single). It’s a great way to travel and leaves you free to relax and watch the countryside flash past as you travel deeper into southern France. The station is about two miles from the centre, so jump on the bus that leaves just outside the station for a 10-minute trip to the centre.
The Hotel Florida is right in the middle of town, with lavish sea views, which makes it a perfect base; prices start from €90 for a double. Ask for a room facing the square, as they have small balconies where you can enjoy a picnic dinner and indulge in two of life’s greatest pleasures, both of which come for free: watching the waves and the super-stylish people.
Getting around Biarritz on the cheap just needs a little planning. Most of the town is easily within walking distance. However, if you plan to venture further up the coast to historic Bayonne, the town that introduced chocolate to Europe, or to the picturesque seaside town of St Jean de Luz, then visit the bus station next to the tourist office on the Rue Louis Barthou and buy a discounted pack of five or 10 tickets. You can also buy a day or week pass; these are not available on the bus and will definitely save you money.
If you fancy doing things on foot, you can make a day of it exploring the two-mile coastline that stretches from the Grande Plage to the Cote des Basques. Start off at the lighthouse (a bracing 248 steps up) for breathtaking views along the coast. You can also see the staggeringly expensive Hotel du Palais, which Napoleon had built for his wife, the Empress Eugenie, and is shaped like an ‘E’, and the equally pricey and no less wonderful Hotel Miramar, which is shaped like an old-fashioned ocean liner.
It’s all painlessly downhill along the Grande Plage, past the gaily coloured bathing huts, to the Port des Pêcheurs, where you can stop and have a coffee and watch the endless stream of beautiful people effortlessly surfing the waves. Then head up to the Rocher de la Vierge, a rocky outcrop that has a statue of the Virgin Mary on top. Just around the corner is the Aquarium, a must-do for fans of seals, sharks and other sea creatures.
Follow the road around to the Cote des Basques, which, according to legend, was where surfing was first introduced to Europe in 1957 by Deborah Kerr’s husband, Peter, who took a plank out to sea one day and kick started a trend! It’s still one of the best places to hang 10 in Europe and if you want to learn it’s worth signing up to one of the many surf schools for a group lesson. They operate from here and from the Grand Plage. It’s well worth asking around, as prices change and you can often haggle a discount, but expect to pay around €35 an hour.
As you can see, Biarritz is all about the sand, surf and sea - but what about its delicious seafood? Usually great food comes at a price but if you visit Les Halles, the market (open from 7.30 am to 1.30 pm), you can enjoy the freshest oysters shucked right in front of you at L’Ecaillerie, a simple seafood stand that supplies most restaurants in town. For under a fiver you can have six oysters and a small glass of wine, which would cost at least triple that in a restaurant! Les Halles is also the place to pick up local delicacies to enjoy instead of splurging on meals out. Stock up on the melt-in-the-mouth Ibaiona ham and the Brebis fermier cheese at the Chailla stall, and make sure you try the gateau Basque as well. Just across from the market is the tiny Bar Jean, which is worth a visit to try their amazing beignets of baby squid, a bargain for just €8.50.
With so many surfers, Biarritz is quite the party town and there are free beach bashes to enjoy most nights. The stylish spot in town is the Arena Café, which doubles as a pricey (and delicious) restaurant and then becomes a fab seafront bar and club. Dodge the spendy dinner and pop down later to enjoy the excellent sounds and superb people-spotting. Another tip for clubbing on the cheap is the casino, which boasts a free nightclub in the basement that doesn’t close until late.
One treat you will be able to enjoy every day is the gorgeous glaces, the ice creams that everyone from tots to grans tucks into all day and all night long. The best that we found were at the glacier on Rue de Mazagran: home made and utterly delicious, they seemed to taste best at sunset on the beach…