Up until the 1950s, Biarritz (Miarritze) was the Monte-Carlo of the Atlantic coast, transformed by Napoléon III during the mid-nineteenth century into a playground for monarchs, aristos and glitterati. With the 1960s rise of the Côte d’Azur, however, the place went into seemingly terminal decline, despite having been discovered by the first surfers in 1957. But from the early 90s, Biarritz was rediscovered by Parisian yuppies, a new generation of the international surfing fraternity and a slightly alternative family clientele, who together have put the place back on the map.
The focus of Biarritz is the Casino Municipal, just behind the Grande Plage, now restored to its 1930s grandeur, while inland the town forms a surprisingly amorphous, workaday sprawl, where you’ll find fancy shops and restaurants on main drags and cosier eateries light up the otherwise tenebrous side streets after sundown.
Of Biarritz’s six beaches, three are surfable, although in summer months and especially at weekends there’s not always a lot of space in the water. Parking is near impossible at any time of the year, let alone summer so consider taking the free navette service.
Grande Plage is the legendary beach to show off your board and sun tan; it’s sited on the north edge of the old town by the famous casino. With its golden sand, beautiful views and famous backdrop, people come in their droves to see and be seen. Consequently restrictions on the number of bathers and surfers come in to force at busier times. Plage Miramar, extending north east of Grande Plage, offers more space but deadly currents so there’s no surfing here. Plage Marbella and Plage de la Côte des Basques, south of the rocky outcrop, have two clear kilometres of sand and surf although the latter loses its sandy beach at high tide leaving perilous rocks to circumnavigate the way back to land. A number of surf schools and board-hire companies can be found at the north end near the old town.
Plage Port Vieux, a petite little cove beach in the old town that has gentle waves and Plage Milady on the southern edge of town are ideal for non-surfing beachgoers and families. The latter has better parking provisions and a playground although the waves can still be pretty choppy.