France - bitesize Biarritz: a short break guide

by deeda

Biarritz on the French Atlantic Coast is the perfect weekend get-away. For what to do during a three day break to make the most of this beautiful town (without spending a fortune), read on

When you land in a small, quaint, quiet airport you just know that you are going to have a relaxing time. And this was so true for our weekend break. Biarritz is a typical French coastal town with its backdrop of hills, mixture of architecture, and streets that twist and turn to suit themselves. Hosting stunning landscapes and seascapes, nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pyrenees, is it any wonder that so many famous people in history visited here? Even Picasso honeymooned here.

Biarritz airport is small and you can be outside the terminal in three minutes, where you have the option of a taxi or bus transfer to the centre ville. The bus is great value for money at less than €1,20 for a journey into Biarritz that will take 10-20 minutes, although it doesn't run very frequently on a Saturday. A taxi will cost €12 - €15 (further information www.biarritz.aeroport.fr). By taxi you are a maximum of 10 minutes' drive from the heart of the old town.

The village began as an agricultural and fishery-dependent town before it was transformed over time with the social promotion of the age of healthy swimming and beach huts, the 19th Century forerunner to today's surfer's paradise. When you look towards the sea today you have a fantastic view of the ocean rollers crashing towards the shore as an ant-like colony of surfers bob on the waves. The sea is the centre of life in Biarritz and wherever you stand you are aware of the bay, with its headlands like outstretched arms hugging the sea, willing it closer to the town. Watching the change in the sky and sea is mesmerizing, and people watching is great too!

Biarritz is very walkable although sometimes quite hilly and steep. There is true mix of old and new in that you are as likely to see a typical French Madame dressed to the nines walking a little dog with a coordinated doggie jacket and accessories, as you are to see a surfer, barefoot in wetsuit, running towards the sea, board in hand.

Accommodation is easy to pre-book and good value for money. We chose Le Grand Large (1, Rue Dalbarade, 64204) due to its studio rooms with self-catering options, and a guaranteed balcony (best views are from floors five to eight looking towards the sea). Friendly, helpful, English speaking staff; clean, well kept accommodation; excellent sea view (some were town views) from a large balcony; and the five minute walk to the centre ville and 10 minutes to Grande Plage make this a great choice hotel.

In three days you can see the majority of Biarritz at your leisure on foot, here are some ideas.

People watch on the Quai de la Grande Plage, have a coffee al fresco at Dodin (05 59 22 10 43) a great café with the best views. Take the time to walk along a stretch of coastline to work up an appetite for lunch or dinner in Place Sainte-Eugenie, a lovely square edged by restaurants with a wide range of local specialities.  Freshly caught local fish is a must and the moules marienière at Hotel de L'Océan are to die for! Watch out for the prix fixe menus that offer great value for a fixed three course meal. La Baleine Blue's has a comprehensive fish menu and has a range of fixed price menus starting at €18 - €20.Remember that this is the Med and places will close for a few hours over lunchtime.

Visit the Museé historique de Biarritz to get a real feel for the town. Hidden on Rue Broquedis in Saint Andrew's, an old Anglican church, the museum is like an old curiosity shop or raiding your granny's attic (http://musee-histo-biarritz.monsite.wanadoo.fr; €4 adults, €2 children). Although small in size the range of artefacts provides you with an eclectic mix of life through the ages in the town from pictures and maps to costumes, furniture and trinkets. The only drawback is that most of the displays are in French and not translated, some are, but the staff are amazingly helpful and will answer any questions. Allow an hour for an in-depth visit.

Depending on the exchange rate, prices to eat out and drink (especially beer) can be expensive but there is a good supermarket Shopi (2 Rue de Centre, 64200; www.shopi.com) where wine and beer can be bought very cheaply. A perfect way to plan for an aperitif watching the sunset from your balcony. Another cheap way to enjoy local produce is to go to the markets Les Halles de Biarritz (http://www.halles-biarritz.fr), where everything from fish to cheese, meats, fruit, pastries and bread are available. Worth a visit for the atmosphere and smells! But get there early, open from 7am to 1pm.

If you feel energetic why not walk to the lighthouse? This takes you around the headlands at sea level, along the promenade and then up a 115 step climb over 30m to the lighthouse cliff top. Great views of Miramar Beach, Le Grande Plage, the Pyrenees and the Spanish coastline. The lighthouse itself is disappointing as it’s not open to the public and there is little to do once you get there but the walk and views are worth it.

If you don't feel energetic take the Petit Train and hear a commentary as you are driven around Biarritz (www.petit-train-biarritz.com; 06 07 97 16 35).

A must see is the Museé de la mer (Esplanade du Rocher de la Vierge; 05 59 22 75 40; www.museedelamer.com). This has four floors that house aquariums, massive skeletons of marine creatures, geology and fossils, a history of fishing and sea faring, but best of all is the seal pool on the roof terrace where you can watch the seals being fed daily (10.30am and 5pm). At €7.80 for an adult, it’s well worth the visit. Allow 1-1 1/2 hours.

Biarritz is a great get destination for a short break.