Right at the beginning of our Iberian Peninsula summer road trip, while staying in Donostia San Sebastian in Spain, we popped back for a day to France, thanks to JF’s addiction to the weekly newspaper Le Canard Enchainé. This satirical journal is published every Wednesday and seeing as we were only minutes from France, we decided to visit Biarritz and the nearby beaches on the Wednesday rather than any other random day, so he could get his weekly fix of French satire. Somehow it seemed odd to head back to France having only been in Spain for 3 days but some would say we weren’t in either Spain or France at all but in the Basque country. This region, called Euskal Herria in the Basque language straddles the Western Pyrenees and covers parts of both Spain and France. The people, language, traditions and culture are bound together historically, with Basque nationalism stronger in parts than others, but for all intents and purposes (in this case, the need to buy a French newspaper) we definitely felt we were going back to France!
As well as hunting down a Canard Enchainé we spent a lovely day searching for beaches JF used to go to on family holidays as a child, failing to find one particularly elusive place which seemed to have changed beyond recognition in 35-40 years. The Basque coast is wonderfully dramatic as the mountains meet the Atlantic, with cliffs and rocky outcrops breaking up the sandy beaches and huge skies blending into the blue sea.
We had fabulous weather – something that isn’t always guaranteed in this part of France, just look at how green the fields are and you know there’s no shortage of rain – which meant sunbathing and surfing were very much on the agenda. For us Mediterraneanites (is that a word?) the waves on the Atlantic coast are the great attraction (even if the water itself is a tad chilly) and the boys were chomping at the bit to start surfing.
We spent several hours on a beach in Bidart, just south of Biarritz and then moved on to Biarritz itself for the afternoon. JF and I last visited when I was pregnant with the teen who is just about to turn 17. It was our second to last holiday as a couple before children and together with St Jean de Luz, where we actually stayed, holds a special place in my heart. Despite being very glamorous and utterly European there’s something about the main beach that reminds me of Bondi beach in Sydney.
The building (above) with colonnades full of cafés and surf shops, that quite strangely also houses a municipal swimming pool, makes me think of the Bondi Pavilion, and anything that reminds me of Sydney makes me happy. (I’m talking about the Bondi Pavilion of the late 80s to early 90s here, who knows whether it still looks the same…it’s been so long since I was last there).
The main beach, Grand Plage, in Biarritz is busy and crowded there’s no getting around that, but it’s colourful and fun with brightly coloured stripy beach tents running along the back wall. It is dominated by a massive hotel built by Napoleon III as a palace for his bride Eugénie and a jumble of classical buildings aside a hideous modern block of flats, but somehow the whole thing works.
As a town beach it’s elegant and trendy at the same time. Surfers rub shoulders with chic Parisians, Quicksilver next to Louis Vuitton, in a surprising mix that gives it a unique character. Having originally gained fame as a summer resort for wealthy Parisians Biarritz is now also a surfing mecca. The two worlds seem to coexist harmoniously; I loved it and would happily go back for more.
Biarritz and St Jean de Luz, which we didn’t leave enough time to go to other than just to drive through the centre and along the beach unfortunately, were both places I had wanted to return to for several years now and thanks to JF’s obsession with “the duck” as I call his paper, we made the effort to go. I’m so glad we did and I can easily see us spending more time there in the near future.
Have you been to Biarritz and the Basque coast?
Looks beautiful. We are planning our first trip to the region in the Spring and I can’t wait to explore and eat our way through this region.
Drinking fizzy wine is always a good thing to do Cathy!
That’s a good enough reason Lolo!!
I love Biarritz – went years ago with a friend and seemed to spend most of it on our balcony drinking fizzy wine. I’m sure we must have done something else, although not surfing – I do remember gazing out at the breakers for ages. #citytripping
I’m intrigued! Great to re-read for #citytripping – good to have you back x
I am totally love those adorable colored changing tents!! I’m tempted to go just because of that haha! #CityTripping
What lovely memories Rosemary, I dare say it’s changed in 40 years!
Wow Clare your French must be excellent as it’s not an easy paper to read, difficult language and full of cultural inuendos and in-jokes that many foreigners can just never hope to understand. I’m impressed.
Now that’s a thought! I hope you get to Biarritz one day and jog your memory, it’d be interesting to see hat you think.
Thanks for your kind words Jill, it’s easy to photograph such a photogenic place (and boys!!)
Good to have you back Elizabeth…it’s a pretty special newspaper! (And my husband’s a pretty unique character!)
Ha ha Liene, no I don’t suppose Biarritz is like anything in Sth Carolina!! 😉
Go for it GGG, you won’t regret it. That list of a zillion places is never going to go down!!
I’m pleased this brought back fun memories, it certainly sounds like a memorable trip to team build. Glad to have you join in #AllAboutFrance
It’s so close to San Sebastian that we combined the two. I hope you get there one day Catherine Rose
It’s definitely worth it if you do Julie….so different from Provence but equally as beautiful.
It is a really lovely part of the world.
It was fun to combine a little part of France into our Spanish/Portuguese adventure…I know what you mean about the never ending pull of places to visit in France!
They are perfectly photogenic aren’t they?
Interesting to hear that this also reminds you of California. Happy to be back after a good break, thanks Swags.
Another place to add to your list Tanja!!
My pleasure Annette.
We were given a few free jetons but as the boys weren’t allowed in, we didn’t go!
Thanks Anne, aren’t the tents just lovely?
Wow, those little umbrella tents are absolutely to die for! Love your photos, thanks for sharing a bit of your vacation 🙂
Did you sample the delights of the casino?
I have some Australian friends staying with me at my holiday home in Brittany at the moment who have just joined me after touring other parts of France. They loved Biarritz. Your photos help me to visualise where they have recently travelled. Thanks
No, I haven’t but I’d love to visit it:)
I can’t wait to get to Biarritz someday, I’ve only heard awesome things about it!! Love those beach tents and your description of the place. It reminds you of Sydney, and your descriptions remind me a bit of LA/Orange County in California! Wonderful to have a fun beach holiday together, and great to have you back in full swing on #AllAboutFrance! 😀
I absolutely love the little colourful umbrella huts you photographed. For those alone you have tempted me to go to Biarritz…
This part of France is still on the “must get to” list. We’ve been reasonably close to this area before but haven’t quite got there. Looks amazing. I simply love the striped beach huts too ! I remember seeing the hotel that is in the background on the news recently as the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge stayed there! Just when I think I need to leave France alone and go somewhere else…… #allaboutfrance
I haven’t visited but your photos and description really make me wish I could go!
It sounds wonderful there.
I remember visiting St Jean de Luz & Biarritz with my parents on one of our touring holidays when I was younger but haven’t been back since and realise now that was nearly 40 years ago!! The boys original plan for their summer cycle was to head through there on the established cycle route, but plans changed – I’m sure though we’ll take a trip across one day!
I’ve been to Spanish Basque Country but never to that part of France, so it’s cool to learn a little more about it. It looks gorgeous! Now I’m longing for summer!
Phoebe – your post and the excellent photos brought back memories of one of my ‘oddest’ French trips. My French boss decided at some point that a trip to Biarritz and St Jean de Luz would be a great “team building” experience…but in OCTOBER! None of the crowds you feature in your lovely pictures…but also none of the sunshine, and many of the seasonal restaurants were closed. Still, it is a town full of beautiful architecture, the hotels are great, and the power of those Atlantic waves pounding on the beach made it a memorable trip. Thanks for this, and thanks too for #AllAboutFrance !
I’ve been to nearby San Sebastian in Spain, but never quite made it over to Biarritz and St Jean de Luz. It’s on my bucket list (along with a zillion other places – why can’t I just retire???). My girlfriend keeps promising I can tag along with her next time she visits her friend in St Jean de Luz, still hoping that happens!
Lovely photos! We didn’t make it to this region during our time in France, and there’s certainly nothing like it here in South Carolina!
I almost went to Biarittz a few years ago and have wanted to visit ever since. The Basque country is a fascinating area. I loved San Sebastián when we went and would love to explore more of the region. I love how you trip was motivated by a newspaper- it must be good! Great pics of your boys with their surf boards. It’s lovely to go back to places with older eyes and reminisce. Thanks for hosting #allaboutfrance – good to be back. X
I admit wanting to comment, before I’d even read: I WANT TO GO HERE.
I’ve got Basque Country on my mind, Biarritz for sure. You got some excellent photos, the beach tents are exceptional and they look just as good in black-n-white (sort of a vintage appeal). I love the one of your son with the French flag waving in the back. Thanks for sharing this and of course, thanks for #AllAboutFrance. Cheers!
Unfortunately, we’re not travelling yet – not until well after we’ve finished the works, but I have a long list of places to go when we can and Biarritz is on it. Thanks for the teasers.
I visited Bondi a long time ago, but can’t remember it well. Perhaps going to Biarritz will jog my memory without having to travel so far!
Great to read about Biarritz. I really enjoyed my stay there pre children. It would be fun to go back one day. Sounds like such a brilliant day surfing on the beach. I used to read Le Canard Enchainé when I lived in Paris. Happy days! Lovely to be back on #AllAboutFrance
Biarritz was the first beach I ever went to in France – and we’re going back 40 years here! I had a post in nearby Pau as an assistant English teacher and everyone kept telling me about the wonderful and “dangerous” surfing beaches in Biarritz. I finally spent a month there in France’s hottest summer ever – 1976 – though this year might beat the record. I saw my first Bastille Day fireworks on the beach in front of the Casino. It was not until several years later that I went to Saint Jean de Luz which, like you, is my favourite.
I’m glad I’m not alone in seeing the similarity, and extra happy to hear that from you, a Sydneysider!
Well at least you knew it was “south”! Lol!! I think the tents were for hire but as they were all well and truly occupied we didn’t even make any enquiries.
I don’t know either place well enough to compare, I’ve only been to Corsica once, about 7 years ago, but I know I loved both areas. We didn’t spend enough time to explore things like cycle tracks I’m afraid Harriet, will just have to go back!
Umberta, I’m so glad to hear the Bondi Pavilion still looks like I remember and glad you share the same feeling as me. I didn’t do that walk, shame as I love the walk from Bondi to Coogee, I’ll just have to go back and do it anther day.
I’ve been to Biarritz for the first time 2 months ago & said exactly the same thing: it looks a lot like Sydney & especially Bondi!
The Bondi pavillon still look like that btw! & have you walked from the cotes des basques beach to the main beach – doesn’t it look like walking from Bondi to Coogee?
have a nice day,
Yes – when I first came to France I fell in love with the Basque coast and wanted to live in Bayonne / Anglet/ Biarritz. Do you feel there’s a taste of Corsica there, with the mountains so close to the beach? Another question: are there suitable cycle tracks for rollerblading? Great photos, by the way.
I have a confession to make. I always thought Biarritz was on the Med and only when I was talking with a friend earlier in the Summer did she put me right. So no, I have never been. I imagine you have to hire those fabulous beach tents or are they like beach huts and people own them? #AllAboutFrance
No I have not been to Biarritz but I see exactly how it reminds you of the old Bondi pavilion. It looks great.