Last Updated on March 14, 2023

Once a sleepy fishing village and later known as “the resort of kings,” Biarritz is a stunning seaside resort located in the southwestern French Basque Country. As a matter of fact, Biarritz is only 35 kilometers (22 miles) from the border of Spain. Among activities in Biarritz, surfing is the most exceptional for Europe.

A famous exile from the Basque Coast, Eugénie de Montijo was destined to become empress of France. As a child, she vacationed here with her family, fell in love with Biarritz, and then set about building her own palace once she married Napoléon III. Throughout the years, many crowned heads of Europe were summer guests in Eugénie’s unique wedding-cake palace, now the luxury Hôtel du Palais, on Biarritz’s main seaside promenade.

Biarritz is today an up-and-coming and more popular tourist destination most noted for its surfing culture. For those who visit, there are plenty of other activities in Biarritz if you don’t want to “hang 10” in this lovely city on the Bay of Biscay.

Biarritz Aquarium

Visitors are invited on a voyage along the Gulf Stream, traveling through the North Atlantic before arriving in the warm, fish-laden waters of the Caribbean Sea, passing Cape Horn into the Pacific Ocean, before finally arriving in Indonesia.

Save time to experience the sea life, flora and fauna of each unique region along with its two large pools, a Caribbean lagoon and a myriad of educational workshops and multimedia everyone will love.

Hôtel du Palais

This former palace remains one of the town’s most enduring landmarks. However, in the 1950s, it began falling into disrepair. Biarritz showed a great deal of insight purchasing the hotel and equally monumental casino and restoring them to their former glitz and glamour.

Even if you’re not a guest, it’s worth dropping in for a drink and “oohing” and “aahing” at the opulence and fascinating history of this Atlantic coastal gem elegantly appointed with a Napoleon III flair along with sweeping views of the waterfront.

Port des Pêcheurs (Fisherman’s Port)

Fishermen came to settle here around 1780 after a huge storm made the larger Port Vieux (old port) unusable. Lined up with fishing boats, this section of the town has old wooden houses and shacks backed up against a tall cliff.

Harborside and restaurants and cafes add a touch of charm to the bustling port that feels more like a quaint Italian or Greek fishing village.

Villa Belza

This neo-medieval style villa was built between 1880 and 1895 on the rocky coast of Biarritz. The unusual location of the villa on the rocks, its proximity to the “Devil’s Hole” (a chasm where the waves pass under the road during strong storms) and the name “Belza” meaning “black” in Basque, have fueled legends of witchcraft and ghosts throughout the years. The name of the house however was given by owner Mr. Dufresnay in tribute to his wife, Marie Belza Dubreuil.

Through the years it served as a country inn, was divided into individual apartments, and then fell into disrepair after a fire. Today, the property is high-in-demand privately owned condominiums, but it’s still worth seeing this eclectic and fascinating villa when you’re in Biarritz.

Eglise St. Martin

One of the vestiges of the port’s early booming whaling days, Eglise St. Martin dates back to the 1100s and was restored in 1541 in a flamboyant Gothic style; in 1630, a coat of arms was added. The stained-glass windows in the choir section are stunning.

Those who are here during mass when the choir is singing will be treated to almost-angelic sounds as the acoustics here are most impressive.

Catch a Wave at Biarritz Beaches

The birthplace of surfing in France, Biarritz is famous worldwide for its diverse surfing spots and for hosting international surfing competitions.

Well-known for its impressive reef break reaching up to six meters (19.5 feet), Parlementia Beach is where you’ll see the experienced local surfers and beach hipsters. If you were into the movie Point Break with the late Patrick Swayze in search of the perfect wave, head to Saint-Jean-de-Luz and hope to catch the infamous Belharra reef break.

Even beginners can take to the waves at Côtes des Basques and Grande Plage de Biarritz and find instructors who will gladly teach them the tricks of the sport.

Rocher de la Vierge

This spectacular rock formation is one of the area’s biggest attractions that can be credited to Napoleon III whose idea it was to hollow out this stone known as Rock of the Virgin. Surrounded by a beautiful reef, the formation is linked to the coast by a metal footbridge.

Resembling a long ship hull, the rock is located between the Old Port and Fisherman’s Port and topped with a statue of the Virgin Mary. Visiting is one of the top activities in Biarritz.

Legend has it that a group of fishermen were hunting whales on a stormy 19th-century evening. As they were returning to port, the seas became very rough; just when they believed their lives hung in the balance, a divine and guiding light appeared at the top of the rock formation. As a result of their safe return, they placed the Virgin Mary statue on the top of the rock.

Phare de Biarritz

This Biarritz lighthouse built in 1834 overlooking Cape Hainsart boasts 248 steps to the top. For those who want to walk the spiral stairs, panoramic views of Biarritz and the Basque countryside from the top are worth the effort.

Sunsets in this area offer incredible photo opportunities if you’re there at the right moment.

Chapelle Imperiale

This beautiful chapel was built in 1864 on the request of Empress Eugenia to be a place of worship for she and Napoleon III. The combination of Roman, Byzantine and Hispanic-Moorish architecture designs makes this church a stunning work of art.

The chapel is dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico to commemorate the war that France was fighting there. The interior is richly decorated and every aspect of this church is impressively stunning.

Les Halles de Biarritz

This is one of the largest French food markets and a must-do activity in Biarritz for foodies. The covered market is full of shops and vendors selling their wares and promoting local craftsmanship.

Visitors will find chocolatiers, cheese mongers, pastries, macarons, clothing, shoes, and a complete range of household items for the kitchen, table and bath.

Author

  • Noreen Kompanik

    Noreen Kompanik is a retired registered nurse, legal nurse consultant, and military spouse turned travel writer. She launched her travel writing career in 2014 and has over 600 articles in both digital and print publications.

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