Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Biarritz - Surf and Sun on the Atlantic

Biarritz is a seaside town located on the Northern coast of France on the Bay of Biscay, just a short trip from the Spanish border. Its Atlantic location and close proximity to the UK made Biarritz a popular attraction for wealthy tourists (and royalty) starting in the mid-19th century. While it still attracts a higher clientle, today Biarritz caters to all budgets and has become increasingly popular for its good surfing.

It also has an interesting mix of heritages, considering it has strong ties to the Basque Country of Spain. This is apparent in the local cuisine.

I had the pleasure of staying a few days in Biarritz in June of 2005 though it was more or less by accident. I had originally booked a hostel in San Sebastion, Spain, but upon my arrival, had found that the hostel didn't exist and that all other "clean and cheap" accomodations were full.

Thanks to my early arrival (7AM) in the beautiful Basque town, I was able to find an internet cafe and book a resonably priced hotel in nearby Biarritz through hotels.com (Biarritz is about an 1 hour and 1/2 train ride from San Sebastian).

I'm not going to go into the details of how I ran out of money in Biarrtiz though because that is another story all together. But so as you know, my time spent there was on a very strict budget. Instead of exploring the cafes as I normally would have done, I had to survive on 7 Euros worth of groceries.

OK, I did eat a cheap nicoise salad at an adorable cafe...but that was my last meal out for a very long time.
The cafe (blue awning) in the scenic Port De Pecheurs

Because Biarritz is a happening seaside town you can expect plenty of sand, surf and seascapes on all sides.

I have no idea how these boats get in or out of this secluded harbour

The best place to view all of this is the popular penninsula of Plateau de L'Atalaye and Rocher de La Vierge, where the Musee de la Mer is located. From this scenic vantage point you can get a real feel for Biarritz as it stretches up and down the coast.
The Rocher de La Vierge (Virgin Mary)

If you get sick of salt water and sand in places it shouldn't be, the town itself provides a nice respite with...
its clean streets...

and fanciful surfside promenades, aswell as wonderfully diverse architecture ranging from...

stoney farmhouses...

to bright marine cottages

and grandoise chateaus

As I sheepishly mentioned before, I spent my days in Biarritz without much of a dime, however not all was lost. Just walking around the town and around the headlands with my camera provided me with plenty of memories. When you don't have much to do but take pictures, even things like doors become art.

At one point during my walks, I came around a beautiful bridge that led to a cliff jutting out into the sunset.

The haunting wail of the saxophone filled the air, as the lone silouhette of a musically gifted busker came into view. It was such a magical moment, that other people stopped beside me and took in the scene. The crashing waves, warm sea air and free amateur concert was the highlight of my trip.
Not counting the sunfilled hours I spent soaking up the Atlantic sun ;D

Practical tips:

*Cheap hotels can be found but fill up early in the summer months. Reserve ahead.

*Backpackers aren't as plentiful as in other beach resorts and you may find yourself sharing them with a lot of surfers. If you are single female, this may well work out in your favour;) though the nearest HI is located 40 minutes from the town...great for waves, not so convenient otherwise.

*I stayed at the Hotel Marbella. It wasn't a great bargain, considering the price was quite high for what it offered. But it did have a mini fridge, a seaview, a balcony and convenient location. Otherwise, I heard good things about the cheap-ish and cheerful Hotel Palym.

*The train station is 3KM out of town, so taking a taxi is the most convenient option, though it will run you about 10 Euros or more. A cheaper but less frequent option is the bus which takes you directly into town...just make sure you know where your hotel is.

*There are no direct trains to Spain, Paris so plan on stops in border towns and Bordeaux.

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