Biarritz and Anglet: Basque charm on the French Atlantic coast

There it is again, that scent of salt and iodine that makes your breaths deepen a little on the spot. As I step off the plane, a cloud of spicy sea air envelops me. The smell of freedom and endless space.

After having spent the last two years rather in the north of the country, in Brittany, in Paris and along the Seine, in Normandy or Alsace, my longing for the south of France became stronger and stronger. The invitation from the Nouvelle Aquitaine tourist board to explore the region on the French Atlantic coast came at just the right time.

Atlantic coast France: palm trees, palais and waves – Biarritz is sophisticated and casual at the same time

Biarritz gives me a stormy welcome. The Atlantic foams, palm trees bend in the wind, drizzle dusts my face. I wish there were glasses with windshield wipers. Nevertheless, it is still pleasantly warm in the evening.

Where is Biarritz?

On the west coast of France, just before Spain. Biarritz is a small town on the Bay of Biscay, with around 25.000 inhabitants. In winter. In summer, about four times as many people live here. Holidaymakers, vacation home owners, surf freaks. Reasons are many: the sea, the flair, Mediterranean and sophisticated at the same time, the sun. The Pyrenees greet you in the distance. Hiking in the mountains in the morning and relaxing on the beach in the afternoon – in Biarritz this is possible.

It takes me less than ten minutes by car from the airport to the city, past avenues of hydrangeas in pink, blue and white, past villas and houses that look like castles. One, the Hôtel du Palais, served as a summer residence for Napeleon and his wife Eugenie. Today everyone can feel like a king during a Thalasso treatment there.

Biarritz is popular not only as a beach resort, but above all because of the waves that the Atlantic Ocean piles up on the coast of the Bay of Biscay. Côte de Basque was the first beach where surfers were sighted in France. In 1957 the. Meanwhile Biarritz is France's surfer capital. Unfortunately, there were no surfers dancing on the waves during my visit; even for the bravest, it would be too risky.

Restaurant Le Surfing in Biarritz - directly on the Côte Basque Tuna flip-flap at Le Surfing in Biarritz

I could have watched them from the restaurant Le Surfing, in good weather from the terrace. Inside, the tables and chairs are placed parallel to the panorama window – in two rows, the rear one elevated, so that everyone has a clear view.

The lamps are fixed with ropes, the surfboards on the wall look like they are hanging there to dry for a short time. The beach house atmosphere at Le Surfing is a perfect place for a sundowner, even if it's just out of sight.

The white wine is cool and refreshing, accompanied by some smoked anchovies – wonderful. Pleasure can be so simple. Specialty of the house are – how appropriate – the surfer makis, crispy fried sushi rolls.

Restaurant Tip: Sea Air and Surfer Sushi on the Côte Basque

Everything on the menu sounds delicious, whether it's regional appetizers like ham (Bayonne is just around the corner) or goat cheese, which they eat here with a jam of black cherries, burgers for surfer's appetites, and fish.
Once again, it's hard to decide (that's why I like tapas bars so much): do I take hake with green qinoa risotto or tuna flip-flap, i.e. only briefly fried, still pink inside?. By the way, both fish are caught here in front of the Atlantic coast of France.

After the wonderful meal (the tuna was cooked to perfection) a little walk is good for you. The Hotel du Plage, where I'm staying, is just a 5-minute walk from the ocean. From my window I can see the small headland with the Rocher de la Vierge (see cover photo), where the waves break.

Biarritz Sights: Aquarium and Cite Ocean – more than a bad weather program

The plan was to have a short swim in the sea in the morning, because the hotel is located directly on the beach, separated only by a small shore road. At least, the Atlantic Ocean has calmed down a bit over night. The weather in the Bay of Biscay changes as fast as in the mountains and so later the sun will show up again soon.

Nemo lives in the aquarium of Biarritz At the old harbor of Biarritz

So, first to the Aquarium and the Cite Ocean, both of which are more than just a bad weather option. I am always fascinated by the underwater world with its variety and colors. In the Cite Ocean I learn a lot about the sea itself, also the fun does not come too briefly. Where else would I dare to surf a giant wave or deep dive – no problem with virtual reality goggles, just thrilling.

From the vantage point in front of the aquarium, the view stretches across the entire bay to St-Jean-de-Luz, a small fishing village on the Spanish border.

It doesn't get any fresher than this: eating oysters at the fishmonger's in the market hall

Before I go there right away, I stop at the market hall of Biarritz, which is open daily until noon. For me it is every time again a pleasure to walk through the rows, to discover here and there an edible souvenir. In Biarritz: Piment d'Espelette. The chili from the Basque Country (with AOC seal) is a great all-round spice, not too hot and slightly fruity.

The normal hall is followed by the fish market with everything that the Atlantic offers here: Ray wings, hake, tuna, whose fishing season is just beginning now in June, sea bream, sardines, sea snails … and of course oysters from Oleron. The hit: the half dozen plus a glass of wine for a measly 6.90 euros, to enjoy directly at the stand while standing up. Also the smoked anchovies, of which the fishmonger hands a sample over the counter, are delicious.

The plate is quickly empty and, voilA, already here and there a sunbeam flashes through the clouds.

Speciality of the region: Piment d

Tips for enjoying Biarritz

Excursion tip from Biarritz

Time for a little detour to St-Jean-de-Luz, a fishing village in the Basque Country, just before the Spanish border. Also directly on the Atlantic coast like Biarritz and yet completely different. More contemplative somehow, which does not mean, however, that the surfer metropolis would be hectic in any way.

Bathing mermaids instead of surfers – the sandy beach in the bay is a paradise for idlers (what a wonderfully old-fashioned word), which they owe to the emperor. Napoleon once built the big dam in the sea that protects the bay.

I stroll a bit along the harbor and soon end up back on the main shopping street of St-Jean-de-Luz with all its specialties of the Basque Country: Ham, cheese, macarons, kanougas … Especially pretty: the colorful Basque table linen with the traditional stripes.

Atlantic coast France: Chilling on the beach of Anglet

Beach of Anglet Beach House on the beach of Anglet Beach house with pool

I spend the evening at the beach in Anglet, which adjoins Biarritz to the north. The beach is four kilometers long, perfect for romantic walks.

Nearby is the famous grotto Chambre d'Amour, where according to legend a couple was surprised by the tide. The cave actually exists, whether the story is true, there is no consensus, there were no selfies in the 17. Century.

Really cozy (and safe ;-)) is the Beach House, where I end the day comfortably. The ambience is casual, a bit retro, a bit shabby chic. The kitchen is also a lively mix: Asia meets Europe – and it's really good.

During the day the restaurant is not open, but you can still relax by the pool and get some snacks at the food truck next to the house. A really cool place where I would have loved to stay a little longer.