Biarritz, the European capital of surfing
Biarritz, situated on the Atlantic coast in southwestern France, came to fame in the mid 19th Century, when the wife of Napoleon III, Empress Eugenie, discovered the beauty of the Basque country and built a palace on the beach. The scarlet-and-cream-colored palace is now Hotel du Palais, and Biarritz saw most probably every king and queen worth mentioning. Decades later, in 1957, surfing started here and now surfers from all over the world come here to ride the waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
Being on the Bay of Biscay, Biarritz shares French and Spain cuisine, culture, architecture and habits. It is adjacent to Bayonne in France and just 18 km (11 miles) from the border with Spain. No wonder then that Michelin Guide has 55 Biarritz's restaurants on its list. For those of you inclined to good food, this historic fishing port has a lot to offer. There are small houses built into the rock, crampottes, in the heart of the old town, and there you will find seafood restaurants and cozy tapas bars.
Down town you can find the Bar Jean, a place with a simple but delicious menu, especially home-made calamari, you can enjoy all day long. And since you are in the Basque country, you should buy some local souvenirs and one of the best places for that is the Euskal Pack shop with gift baskets already filled with the finest products. Also, don't miss to visit Planet Museum of Chocolate and its shop with exquisite delectable treats.
Biarritz holds to its traditions and you can see that on every corner. On the first Sunday of every month you can see the traditional mutxiko dancers in front of the Casino. Then, its streets are the host of the Wine and Gastronomy Fair where you can buy directly from the producers if, of course, you remember what to buy after endless tasting of delicious samples one after another after another... This year the event is taking place from February 6 to February 9 so if you are near there's no excuse to miss it.
If you manage to escape the beauty of the local cuisine, or there's simply no place left in your stomach, you can take a walk to burn those calories and see why Napoleon's lady decided to build a home here. Navigating the town on foot is quite easy and a great way to explore its streets, enjoy its art deco mansions and the attractive promenades along the cliffs, in particular the one starting from the Grand Plage, the town's largest beach, around the rock of the Virgin, a famous town landmark, to the southern beaches.
Since every king and his dog were here, they all left a building or two just to be remembered. The Byzantine Russian Orthodox Church with its famous blue dome was built in 19th century. The Imperial Chapel was built in 1864 for Empress Eugenia in Roman-Byzantine and Hispanic-Moorish style. Historical Museum is an Anglican church, Rocher de la Vierge is the statue of the Virgin protecting the safe return of local fishermen, the same way Christ the Redeemer is guarding Rio... You may study world architecture here!
If you want to look a bit further down the road, or down the sea shall we say, be brave and conquer the 248 steps to the top of the Biarritz lighthouse that overlooks the Landes sands and the Basque country rocks. The viewing platform on the top offers a spectacular view all the way down to the Virgin's rock and the beaches of Spain. That 73 meters high landmark marks the boundary between the sandy Landes coast and the rocky coast of the Basque Country. After that, check the Maritime Museum with 150 aquatic species, including some you won't find here like sharks and seals.
If the sea is not in the center of your attention, no problem! There are 10 golf courses in the 20 kilometres radius around Biarritz. The Biarritz Cup in July and the Makilas du Golf attract the world's top amateur players. You can also enjoy horse-riding along wide sandy beaches and wild countryside. Popular sports include rugby, pelote basque and its variant called cesta punta. After that, a natural way to end the day is to visit one of the spas centres, or attend one of the festivals in this lively resort. ■
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