Biarritz for Beginners
Just a 15 minutes drive away from the Spanish border and facing out onto the tempestuous Bay of Biscay, the French town of Biarritz is something of an enigma. This small, seemingly innocuous seaside town gets a lot of press - it begs the question! Well, for what the picturesque Basque resort lacks in stature, it more than makes up for in terms of status.
The truth is that, for a whole host of reasons, Biarritz is known for attracting tourists of the highest social calibre. The fact that Biarritz acts as a holiday haven for the rich and famous is, however, by no means a recent phenomenon - Napoleon III was chiefly responsible for the transformation of this working whaling port into chic resort when he commissioned the building of a summer palace for his wife, the Spanish countess Eugénie de Montijo. The palace remains, but in the form of the splendid Hôtel du Palais. Nowadays, Biarritz caters for all tastes.
Although maintaining its allure to the wealthy, it is now also possible to do Biarritz on a budget, taking advantage of the fundamentals of near-guaranteed hot and dry weather from June to September, some of Europe's best beaches, an extensive choice of restaurants, superb transport links and an impressive calender of events. The holiday-maker is able to choose a level of expenditure somewhere in-between the bare minimum and unregulated extravagance.
If you're thinking of travelling to Biarritz, your transport options should be a serious consideration. Should you go by channel-ferry, the drive down from the north of France is not going to be any less than 10 hours. Alternatively, the 24-hour Portsmouth to Bilbao ferry is a popular option though at a significant price. Meanwhile, Bilbao to Biarritz by car is around 2 hours.
If you're looking to fly, it is strongly advised that you book well in advance. Ryanair flights operate daily from both Stansted and Dublin. Taxis from the airport into the centre of town should cost no more than 15 euros.
If you wish to rely on public transport, you will be glad to know that the excellent TGV service runs regularly from Paris to Biarritz. The train station is a short bus ride away from the town centre. The local bus operator is named STAB and if you take the time to familiarise yourself with the bus network and pay close attention to Dimanche (Sunday) and Jours fériés (bank holiday) timetables, taking a bus could save you money and show you a bit of the local area. A single will set you back 1.20 euros, five trips will cost 4.75 euros and 10 trips will still be the reasonable sum of 9.50 euros.
Biarritz is not expansive, but a trip on the 'Petit Train' is a pleasant way to spend an hour if you're a first-timer. Typically not travelling any faster than your average OAP, this guided tour enables you to really appreciate the visual delights of Biarritz. The train departs from the Grande Plage to the Côte des Basques via the Port des Pêcheurs and the town centre approximately every 40 minutes everyday.
Biarritz is one of the leading exponents in the sea water spa treatment termed thalassotherapy. The premise of thalassotherapy lies on the holistic health benefits of salt water. Even French rugby hard man Serge Betsen is known to be a firm advocate of it's health restorative properties. Biarritz houses a number of highly-reputed spa establishments which should be taken advantage of if you are in need of a little pampering.
Surfing at Biarritz is of a world-class standard, and the town has a strong surfing culture. The main event comes every July with the Biarritz Surf Festival, when hopefuls from all over the world assemble to compete for the ultimate prize.
However, rugby union is also extremely popular, with the local club, Biarritz Olympique (BO), playing just out of town at La Stade Aguilera. BO are one of France’s top teams and compete against the best of Britain in the Heineken Cup. If rugby is the reason for your visit, a great place to while away the hours disputing rugby matters is the Red Café, on Avenue Foch.
For more traditional sports though, Basque pelota may be worth a look. Pelota is the national sport of ''Payes Basque'' and can be compared to Lacrosse. The main pelota arena is adjacent to La Stade Aguilera and plays host to local and international competitions throughout the year. Look out for flyers around the town advertising matches.