By Caterina Salvatori
Immediate relief! That’s Biarritz. Case in point, my 48 hour visit left me feeling physically and emotionally rejuvenated; it was the perfect respite before starting the Camino pilgrimage. An easy train trip from Paris, followed by a quick bus ride to the tourist information centre for free maps and tips; within a half hour of arriving, I already felt relaxed and ready to experience this eclectic city. Once situated geographically, I winded my way through Biarritz’s circuitous streets, and pedestrian friendly core. The second I passed the concrete curtain, I was rewarded by a never ending view and an enthusiastic ocean; the sound of waves continuously crashing against the Grande Plage soothed my weary traveler’s soul. Another striking characteristic of this seaside town is the wacky incongruous architecture that made me feel as if I fell down the proverbial rabbit hole; the quirky mix of both historical and modern buildings left me intrigued .
Mid – March in Biarritz met me with a grey-blustery-torrential-downpour-kind of day, by the time I reached my hotel on the other side of town, my lips tasted of salt and my hair was wind swept into an unfortunate beehive and I couldn’t wait to explore. Visiting off season allowed me to stay in a good hotel without taking a major chunk out of my travel account. Le Gamaritz is a quaint, clean hotel, where I immediately felt safe (my number one criteria as a solo traveller). Regardless of your budget – there is even a seaside campground only 2 kms from the city centre – Biarritz’s natural beauty does not discriminate; it stuns everyone.
The many boardwalks, walkways and sidewalks give you instant access to Biarritz’s different beaches, tourist spots, parks and amenities. If shopping is your game, the rue Mazagran is the main street for shops that sell a variety of merchandise for all tastes and budgets; the street also leads you to the Plage du Port Vieux. Previously a vacation spot for royalty and the well to do, its acquired surfer designation invites a mix of tourists making Biarritz accessible to all travellers.
Another curious aspect of Biarritz’s urban planning are the unexpected passageways that either confuse you or bring you directly to your desired street. For whatever reason, I usually ended up confused but happily discovering new streets, cafés, and shops. When I travel, my preference is to eat like a local which means shying away from city centres, neon signs and glitzy restaurants. If you are the same, locate Rue Gambetta and walk towards the historic Les Halles market for picnic provisions and a wide selection of well priced restaurants with impressive wine lists and tasty local food. My first night I wandered around Les Halles and experienced Biarritz’s hometown charm when the bustling Bar Jean welcomed me without hesitation and seated me at a great table despite the line up. My meal, the ambiance, and dedicated service far exceeded my expectation.
Suggested walk: Plage de la Côtes des Basques (surfers beach) to the Lighthouse . This walk took most of the day because the scenery called for a leisurely pace where pictures were captured, food was consumed, thoughts were written down, and decisions were made. Every step of this route was filled with wide-eyed wonderment and gratitude. Start at the Plage de la Côtes des Basques off the Boulevard du Prince de Galles (Côtes des Basques bus stop), check out the incredible surfers as they master the intensity of each wave. Back on the sidewalk, make your way to the swimmable Plage du Port Vieux beach for a safe dip.
When you are ready to leave, keep your camera handy as you walk towards the Rocher de la Vierge (guardian to all fisherman). Every inch of Biarritz is a photographer’s dream, even if you are not a pro, the forgiving landscape makes you look like a veritable National Geographic photographer. Before taking the Passarelle Eiffel to see the Virgin, visit the Esplanade de la Vierge and the Esplanade des Anciens Combattants; sit, inhale the freshness of the sea spray, and enjoy the cacophony of crashing waves. Note the Paserrelle is closed during high winds. When you are ready to continue, there are 3 options; visit the Aquarium, or stroll through a tunnel to a continuing walkway…
or take the stairs to the left of the tunnel; you’ll end up at the same fisherman’s wharf located on the other side where you can eat at one of the many restaurants or wait till the next stop.
After leaving the wharf, make your way to the Eglise Sainte Eugenie (French link only) to see its ecclesiastical marine themed decor and stained glass windows; the church is situated in the Place Sainte Eugenie square which is also the gateway to restaurants, stores and shopping.
Back on Boulevard du Maréchal Leclerc, wind your way down towards the Casino, I bypassed it for the thrill of walking alongside the waves slamming against the beach during a temperamental storm. To protect the beach from erosion and its citizens from being swept away, a crack team of city workers laid out huge sand barricades to stop the roaring waves from bashing onto the Quai de la Grande Plage walkway. From this vantage point, if it is a windy day, you can’t help but notice the waves crashing against the cliffs of the Hôtel du Palais.
Another photo worthy moment is the beautiful Carrousel that graces the Grande Plage park. After strolling through the park, visit the Hôtel du Palais; the former palace commissioned by Napoleon’s third wife, Empress Eugenie; the majestic entrance is astonishing .”
If time permits, enjoy a drink in the elegant restaurant for the ambiance and the views. Two options when you leave the hotel; walk back to the Grande Plage for the beachside trail, Allée Winston Churchill, or take the Avenue de l’Impératrice towards the lighthouse and stop at the Orthodox church (French link only) to admire its beautiful blue dome and appealing architecture. If possible, arrive at the Lighthouse before dusk, find a peaceful spot, put your camera away and behold the sun as it sets beyond the booming thunder of the operatic ocean, and marvel at a day well spent.
In the end, it was a great decision; Biarritz enriched my senses with its unforgiving coastline and its natural beauty; it left me wild and hungry for more spontaneous adventures.
Visit Caterina’s blog page at https://caterinasparis.wordpress.com