Ravishing Côte Basque: Biarritz, Anglet, Bayonne, St Jean de Luz, La Rhune and Hendaye

14 May

What do you get when you match a charming Aussie surfer and wine buff with a French yoga goddess? Answer: Nathan, Sophie, their 20-month-old daughter, River, plus a bijoux, stylish Biarritz garden flat within cooee of the ocean. They went on holiday, we moved in for nine nights, the longest we’ve stayed anywhere that we can remember…
Biarritz, on the Bay of Biscay, part of the Côte Basque region of France, is a place we keep getting drawn back to, and with good reason. Turning right out of the flat we were immediately in Anglet with kilometres of wide sandy beach and rolling surf stretching to Bordeaux. Turning left past the lighthouse we were quickly in the thick of uber-trendy downtown Biarritz and its more groomed beaches. As ever a fresh food market is crucial to our happiness. Biarritz Halles is sporting a new roof, smarter stalls, another cafe and a whole new seafood section since last we shopped there. Ringed by bars and restaurants (Cafe de Commerce is excellent) it proved a magnet.

Rather than give you a blow by blow account of our sojourn, I’ll mention some standout features and gorgeous day trips.

Beaches: Northern beaches cater for clothed, topless and nudists. No signs demarcate one from another, it’s a gradual progression and no one blinks an eye. Surf can get huge here. A walking-jogging boardwalk hugs the beach and is dotted with beach bars and surf schools. Southern beaches around Biarritz lose much of their sand in the strong north-south current swirling around the headland. Three bulldozers on Grand Plage rearrange the beach daily.

Golf: Two impressive links courses, one public and one private, dominate the north side of Biarritz.

Shopping: Biarritz has attracted the monied and status conscious ever since Emperor Napoleon III built a summer villa (which became Hotel du Palais) there in 1855 for his homesick Spanish wife, Eugenie. Luxury brands dominate the boutiques, however this is also hipster-surfer territory, hence stylish start-up local designers are doing well. Everyone covets the exquisite striped Basque linens for table and home furnishings and authentic espadrilles come in a hundred variations. The Bookstore at 27 General Clemenceau, has to be one of the most appealing book shops I have ever seen, even though their English language section is tiny. My shopping was confined to Galleries Lafayette. Sad to report my underwear has suffered from constant travel and dodgy washing machines. Time for replacements. What could be better than being fitted for French-made lingerie by a Galleries Lafayette specialist? I love my new coral pink bra with lace sides. Just wearing it improves my posture. It’s not trivial to wish every woman could have the same experience.

Yoga: Heaps to choose from. I sampled three classes at Lole, an active wear store located by the ocean walk downtown that has a yoga studio in the basement. Stuart came to one session but he prefers to do his own thing.

Good motto: ‘Live fully each day’.

Shows: The big touring acts always book out the Gare du Midi Theatre, Biarritz. I was lucky to catch ‘Revolution’, a fast-paced dance show by 18 incredibly talented Cuban dancers. Mixing ballet pointe with hip hop, contemporary and much, much more, they had me dancing in my front row seat.
Day Trip: Summitting La Rhune (670 metres) – Spines of the Pyrenees hug the coast in many places making for marvellous hill walking. Our hike up the mountain called La Rhune entailed a train ride to St Jean de Luz then a taxi to the start of the walk at Sare (there are only two buses a day). The track starts parallel to the 1924 electric train track then diverges to wind uphill through a forest before emerging into open sloping grasslands where wild and semi-wild ponies graze. Wave upon wave of green mountain ranges fold into the distance except where they dip into the sea. The final third of the two-hour ascent is a steep, stony path. 

After being surrounded by the sights and smells of nature it’s jarring to reach the top to find two bar-restaurants, a gift shop and gaggles of tourists who’ve come up by train. We returned on a different route and missed the turn for Sare. When we asked a passing hiker what he suggested we do to get back he said ‘hitch hike!’. So we did. The sixth car that passed slowed then stopped. The driver was the sweetest French woman who gave us mints, chatted gaily about the thirty years she has lived in Pays Basque (she came with her fisherman husband) and dropped us right outside St Jean de Luz train station. We were an hour too early for the next train to Biarritz so went for tea in the main square where we watched a wedding party then strolled around town.

Day Trip 1: Bayonne by bus – Two euros for a ticket and 25 minutes to reach the riverside in central Bayonne. A free electric bus does a city loop but we wanted to walk. The Cathedral and Cloisters, the old chateau and the riverside walk with its restaurants, bars and market make Bayonne a very attractive town. We celebrated four years to the day that Stuart walked out of Northwick Park Hospital’s stroke unit (following his mid-flight stroke). Link to blog post here.

Day Trip 2: Hendaye by train and electric bicycle – Hendaye sits on the border with Spain with no cycle paths between it and Biarritz so we took the bicycles on the train to Hendaye station and cycled to the coast. We lunched overlooking Hendaye’s wide, flat beach, then cycled out to Observatory and Chateau Abbadia and along the Corniche before returning by train. Hendaye is a super tidy beach town and would be ideal for a family holiday as the beach is shallow and quite protected. Stand up paddle boarding and sea kayaking are popular along the coast.

Unabashed, unsolicited plug for these guys. They just started the biz and are trying really hard. Bikes are brand new and super quick.

Eats and Drinks: We had to have a stupidly expensive cocktail at the five star Hotel du Palais. Happy to say it was an enjoyable experience. Charming staff and a pianist who played 50s standards. A return to Miramont Tea Room on the other hand was disappointing. After waiting 10 minutes to be served we gave up and left. Award for best pizza goes to Fernanda at Majestic Pizza on Victoria Street. Fernanda is Portuguese and has been making pizza since she was six years old. Her vegan special (mushroom, red pepper, olive, artichoke, courgette, garlic) with a drizzle of parsley pesto and chilli oil is mind blowing. Best lunch was La Tantina de Burgos on the south side of Biarritz. Stuart found it while out walking so he scored two lunches there! We love no nonsense family owned institutions run professionally. If you go on a weekend book ahead!Nine days passed too quickly….time to say goodbye to Sophie and Nathan’s Francis Francis espresso machine (mastered by watching a youtube tutorial) and their library of travel mags, pack up and move on to Santander, Spain. This time it was my turn to drive the rental car!

 Hotel du Palais above and two photos below.

PS Big shout out to Señor Adelino Manuel Lopes Ferreira wherever he is. Former Portuguese fisherman Señor Lopes has been cycling the globe since 2003. I met him on the promenade of Grand Plage. He has bicycled through most European countries at least once so I asked him the obvious question, ‘Which country made him feel most welcome’. Diplomatically he said that he liked everywhere (even though he got roughed up in the UK). He has no plans to stop travelling any time soon but does miss his home town. If you see him help him if you can.

2 Responses to “Ravishing Côte Basque: Biarritz, Anglet, Bayonne, St Jean de Luz, La Rhune and Hendaye”

  1. David Gardiner July 12, 2016 at 3:37 pm #

    Beautiful photos & write-up ! My son James here in Australia is a life-long mate of Nathan, & I’m sure , he’d love to be in Biaritz as well ! Continue having a great time……you ‘ lucky buggers ! ‘

    • Sharon Tickle July 12, 2016 at 9:27 pm #

      Thanks David, we do our best! Hope you all get to Biarritz. It’s worth the effort. st

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: