Biarritz Villa holiday guide
Gateway to the Pays Basque, old-school Biarritz charms with Empire-era houses overlooking sandy beaches where surfers ride the Atlantic waves. Though French, a Spanish influence reigns, with tapas on menus and bull fights a regular feature of Biarritz holidays. In May, villages near St. Jean Pied de Port are the setting for transhumance, when shepherds drive their flocks through town to summer pastures. Take in the sea air at St.-Jean-de-Luz and walk flower-scented hills around St. Palais.
Towns and Villages in Biarritz
Sandwiched between the sea and the mountains, cosmopolitan Biarritz has been a seaside resort since Empress Eugenie fell in love with the Pays Basque and built a palace on the seafront—today’s Hôtel du Palais. In Spanish-influenced Bayonne, traditional bull fights play to a backdrop of half-timbered houses. Foodies visit chocolate-box Espelette, home to the spicy chilli pepper of the same name. St.Jean-de-Luz is rich in cafes and historic architecture, including the Venetian-style Maison de l’Infante, where Louis XIV’s future queen, Marie Theresa of Spain, stayed in 1660.
The Biarritz countryside
Descend into the belly of the Pays Basque at Sare, whose prehistoric caves harbour colonies of rare bats; or at St.-Martin d’Arberoue to see cave-paintings and rimstone pools amid stalactites and stalagmites in Les Grottes d’Isturitz and d’Oxocelhaya cave systems. Pink, sandstone St.Jean-Pied-de-Port sits near the southern stretch of the St. Jacques de Compostelle pilgrimage route, which snakes its way through undulating landscapes close to the Pyrenees mountains. Grandiose seascapes await you along Biarritz’s littoral (coastline), where waves crash and the looming Jaizkibel mountains remind you that Spain is not far away.
Eating and Drinking in Biarritz
From stuffed chipiron (squid) in Biarritz to tapas of jambon (ham) from Bayonne, Spanish-influenced basquaise cuisine mixes the best of the surf and the turf. In St.Jean-de-Luz you can devour barbecue-roasted sea bass in tangy, tomato and pepper donostia sauce, or mop up the tomato sauce from cod pimentos del piquillos (stuffed, roasted peppers) with your baguette. Bread accompanies smoky idiazabal sheep’s cheese in most inland restaurants. Dry, white Txakoli wine goes well with everything, or sip cool Basque apple cider on village squares alongside locals clad in red Basque berets.
The Biarritz Coast
Surfers bob in the water like seals around Biarritz’s Grande Plage beach while bathers—cooled by the Atlantic breeze—soak up the sun on golden sands. You will not have to fight for space in St.Jean-de-Luz’s quiet bay, where red-and-white beach villas built in the early 1900s add turn-of-the-century class. At low tide, twenty five kilometres of sea views await between Bidart and Hendeye. Park your car at Erretegia beach and follow the paths over the grassy cliffs for panoramas as far as the jagged Labourd mountains.
Active Pursuits in Biarritz
Try for a hole-in-one at Biarritz’s 18-hole golf course, which has views over the Bay of Biscay on one side and the town’s terracotta rooftops on the other. Thrill seekers should head to the Pyrenees for white-water rafting in mountain torrents, or to Anglet on the coast for adrenaline-pumping surfing in the powerful Atlantic waves. To shake fins with the fishes, Ciboure-Socoaoffers diving excursions in the shadow of a 17th-century fort, built by Vauban, Louis XIV’s military wiz.
History in Biarritz
Turreted Château d’Etchauz, near the Spanish border in Saint-Etienne-de-Baïgorry, has Medieval architecture and rooms once frequented by Charlie Chaplin. Six centuries of Pays Basque history played out in the Château d’Urtubie in Urrugne: Kings Louis XI and Louis XIV both stayed there, and Wellington visited during the Napoleonic Wars. For impressive religious architecture head to Bayonne, where the stained glass of Gothic Cathédrale Ste.-Marie rivals even the windows of Chartres cathedral, in northern France.
Shopping in Biarritz
Traditional Basque arts and crafts make fine presents. Buy elegant wicker baskets, hand-made since 1857 in Anglet. Rounded leather gloves called pasaka or laxoa—used for games of pelote, the Pays Basque’s answer to squash—can be bought in France’s only workshop of its kind in Saint-Jean-de-Luz. For some of the finest knives in France head to Bidart, where artisans still make the Basque Mizpira, a hunting knife with a steel blade and hard, wooden handle.
Arts and Culture in Biarritz
In the region around Biarritz, Basque men display brute force in Force Basque challenges: teams compete in tugs of war, stone-raising, and tree-chopping competitions. Folk dancing and singing are still part of local life: in the southern region dance displays often recount stories of giants and knights. Look out for choral performances by all-men Basque choirs, often held in Catholic churches.