Grand old resort once favoured by royalty
www.biarritz.fr. ‘The pleasant Brighton of Bayonne’ wrote Richard Ford in 1855, and just as that famous English south coast resort traded on the royal patronage of the Prince Regent, Biarritz was practically invented by Empress Eugénie in the mid-19thC. She brought Napoleon here and built a monumental red and white seaside palace, Villa Eugénie, now the luxurious Hôtel du Palais. Biarritz cannot be said to have fallen on hard times, but it is no longer frequented by royalty, though the price of a drink in the central place Clemenceau may yet set you back a king’s ransom. However, the beaches are packed, the boutiques expensive, and fat cat automobiles still squeeze down narrow streets en route to the casino, which floats above the ocean on perpendicular gardens smothered with clouds of pink, blue and white hydrangeas and fringed tamarisks.
It is a pleasant stroll down the sea front, starting from the Hôtel du Palais on Plage Miramar, past Grande Plage to the look-out point on the Rocher du Basta. On the landward side, place Eugénie, with its church and old-fashioned hotels, is edged by a colourful array of café umbrellas; across the road the carefully-preserved fishing enclave has two pint-sized boat basins and a popular seafood restaurant. If you have an eye for kitsch, there is plenty of outrageous Victorian Gothic seaside architecture, including the extraordinary house-cum-castle on the cliff top sprouting a forest of turrets. Around the next headland, the Musée de la Mer is worth investigating for a whistle-stop introduction to the local fishing industry and aquariums full of fishy things from evil-looking eels and rays to cute nurseries of tiny seahorses. A walkway links the promontary to the Rocher de la Vièrge, so named for its pristine white statue. To the south the popular Plage du Vieux Port shelters between rocky outcrops, and then the seashore sweeps round into the Plage de la Côte Basque, Plage Marbella and Plage Milady, all served by handy beach shuttle buses in summer.