We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.
It was the kind of tired that sleep could not fix. It was that restless fatigue and a need to wander, without itinerary, without major expectation except a wide open horizon and the promise of some cured swine products and wine.
Thus what seemed like an endless three months of busy days/nights at the office found us en route to Biarritz – playground of none other than Napoleon III and his wife. A city on the Basque coast, known for its surfing and that certain je ne sais quoi that can only be found in France.
A small airport specializing in shorter flights, including Dublin. Not much else to say but do not be fooled into taking a taxi – you can catch a Chronoplus bus from just outside the airport to most central destinations in Biarritz and Bayonne for a euro one way. These run regularly and you literally cannot do a better price.
Where we stayed:
9 Place Sainte-Eugénie, 64200 Biarritz, France
Let me preface this by saying that I rarely – if ever – travel anywhere during peak tourist season. Call it snobbery or what you will – I hate crowds. I hate scrambling for a hotel room I’m not sure I’ll like and I very much don’t like a location packed to the gills with all of humanity.
I returned to booking.com and hit the books as Biarritz was over 56% booked when we got around to confirming dates and flights. After much research, I decided on this hotel and am very pleased with the results.
This is a lovely little boutique hotel right in the heart of Biarritz, with great proximity to both the grande plage and the cote des basques. Staff were incredibly friendly and helpful. The room was clean and well appointed, with a balcony overlooking the church. There were a few nit pick-y items: the 8.50 euro breakfast consists of 2 bakery items (croissant/baguette) with coffee or juice – not great value for the money. There is a buffet option for more – we didn’t bother trying that. You cannot control the temperature in the room – the front desk controls it, so you must ask them if you’d like the room warmer or cooler. While the room was lovely, the bathroom could use a bit of an upgrade (still very clean and serviceable though!). One final item – the hallways and stairways are rather dimly lit (could pose issues for someone who struggles to see in poorly lit areas). All in all – a solid performer and I would go back (I’m a sucker for nautical themes).
Where we ate:
La Grappe à Fromages
57 Avenue de Verdun, 64200 Biarritz, France
Cheese lovers of the world – this restaurant was made for us. Literally, the menu is cheese. They do a tasting of four cheeses to a slate, with matching wine pairings at extremely reasonably prices (the lower end slates are 20 ish euros)- the slate includes bread and a house salad. Our favorites – the tomme, the ossau iraty and a delicious goat cheese. Literally divine – and you can buy some cheese to take home with you in case you don’t have enough.
6 Rue Lavernis, 64200 Biarritz, France
Mild food obsession aside, this restaurant embodies what makes French cuisine stand apart. It’s not the avant garde soup molded into a tower, frozen – then lit on fire with sparklers. No, it’s not that far fetched. It’s simple food, prepared well – sometimes in an old fashioned way. L’Etable stands out as a restaurant that has mastered this art. A small, family run operation – reservations are a must during the height of busy season. Our order – duck hearts, a plate of local charcutrie (to include some yummy blood sausage), pork rib, entrecote with bourdeaux sauce – all paired with an incredible pinot noir. Dessert you ask? Chocolate fondant cake and salted butter caramel rice pudding.
Le CAB (Le comptoir à burger)
62 Rue Gambetta, 64200 Biarritz, France
Someone once (in reference to this blog) said “I’m not traveling to Paris to eat a hamburger.” To that I say – no one is asking you to… but I’ll make the following point: yes, we hold the hamburger dear as an American invention but that is not to say that similar fare was not already in Europe centuries before White Castle or Burger King. Like so many other things, hamburgers in France – at the right establishment – bring that French-y panache. You don’t want a burger in France. Fine, but if you’re hankering for one then CAB has you covered. Delightfully rare on home made buns, fresh ingredients and house made mayonnaise. Very nom!
A note on le petit déjeuner.(breakfast)….
Biarritz has a racket on breakfast – it’s unreal. Most places will charge you a minimum of 8.50 euro for a basic spread of croissant, baguette, butter with coffee and juice. It’s just a rip off. We did find the creperies, while more expensive, give a move substantial and vaguely less bread-y breakfast if you’re in search of variety (don’t get me wrong, I can do croissants every day all day if you give me butter).
What we did:
Day Trip to Bayonne
A 15 minute, 2 euro ride on the chronoplus will bring to the heart of Bayonne, a very charming Basque city. Wander the streets eating sandwiches of the delectable jambon de pays variety, shop for crafts and souvenirs and finish up with a trip to the museum of Basque culture and history. If you can, stop at Les Jolies Choses for some hand made items – from jewelry to prints and t shirts, all made by local artisans.
This is the capital of European surfing after all. You must. We took a 1.5 hour lesson from the Biarritz Surf Training School for 45 euro each (booking ahead is highly recommended). An absolutely amazing experience on the cote des basques.
An awesome afternoon – around 12.50 euro per adult. Open til midnight in the summers.