A BACKPACKER’S GUIDE TO BIARRITZ
As a part of the BAB, Biarritz-Anglet-Bayonne metropolitan area, Biarritz represents the only decent sized French city south of Bordeaux and west of Toulouse. But that’s not why we’re here. We’re here because this French-Basque beauty offers an almost impossibly picturesque combination of 19th century beach-resort swank, wave-filled bays and beaches fringed by surf-crashed cliffs, French bistros with a Basque twist, the impossibly green foothills of the Pyrenees that fringe the city, and the surf-town “joie de vivre” that you won’t find in the more stuffy coastal towns along the French Riviera.
Biarritz is where we love to come and surf, explore, taste and party, especially with their Fetes de Bayonne, that go down every August. It’s honestly one of the nicest, most picturesque, fanciest towns we’ve ever surfed in, if not ever been in. Biarritz absolutely belongs on your backpacking bucket-list. Bonjour!
Facts About Biarritz
Population of Biarritz: 30,000 in Biarritz, 125,000 across the BAB Biarritz-Anglet-Bayonne urban area
Tourists to in a year Biarritz: 2.5 million people visited the region in July and August alone in 2016
Languages spoken in Biarritz: French, overwhelmingly French, a little Basque (but less than on the Spanish side of the Basque Country)
Price of things in Biarritz: a night in Napoleon’s wife’s beachfront palace €320, a serving of moules frites (mussels and fries) €14, bottle of rose €9, one hour surf lesson €40
Average summer temperatures in Biarritz: high 24°C, low 17°C
Average winter temperatures in Biarritz: high 11°C, low 5°C
Getting Around Biarritz
Walking around Biarritz: you can definitely walk around Biarritz, following the beachside path that runs along the Grande Plage main beach and follows the cliffs and coves along the city’s shore, taking in La Petite Plage, the little beach, and Les Cotes Basque, the long surfing beach at the south of the city. Anywhere from the coastline you can walk up into the town and get lost in the mostly pedestrian streets filled with bars, restaurants and very expensive shopping boutiques.
Biking around Biarritz: the city centre is pretty busy with cars, but the local government is currently making more bike paths. If you’re staying in Anglet it might be nice to ride into Biarritz, but be aware that it is quite far with some hills. Maybe not the best city to bike in.
Public transport in Biarritz: the local buses are called STAB and are a great way to get between BIarritz, Anglet and Bayonne, and into neighbouring villages and beach towns. There’s also a train line that runs along the coast and you can take it down to the French-Spanish border town of Hendaye, and from there grab the Euskotren into downtown San Sebastian.
Taxis in Biarritz: a great late night option for getting around Biarritz and back to your accommodation. Look for the taxi ranks around the city.
Driving around Biarritz: it’s definitely doable, and necessary if you want to surf. Be prepared for narrow roads, one way streets and a lot of difficulty with parking. We wouldn’t recommend driving in if you just want to explore the city. Park outside and take a bus in, or walk, as parking is an infamous nightmare in Biarritz.
Biarritz Accommodation Options
Where to stay in Biarritz: it’s most expensive in Biarritz itself, especially within strolling distance from the beach, as this is one of the playgrounds of Europe’s rich and famous. Further back in Biarritz, near the train station, there are some cheaper options. Moving into Anglet, an area more famed for its surf than Biarritz, you will find cheaper accommodation, although it’s mostly residential here and in Bayonne there are the cheapest options, but you will be on a river and not really near the sea at all.
Couchsurfing in Biarritz: if couchsurfing is what you like, then you can definitely try your luck in Biarritz. There is a shortage of beds here, so it might be difficult, but why not try?
Where to sleep in your car in Biarritz: there are some carparks by the beach in Anglet that allow overnight sleeping, and you can also park in residential areas and be safe from the police moving you on.
Camping in Biarritz: there was once upon a time the most wonderful campground in Anglet, the place where Stoke Travel’s surf camps were founded. It was called Fontaine Laborde, and really only allowed young people to stay there, but it has been closed for almost a decade now and there is a big void in not only youth tourism to Biarritz, but in European surf culture as a whole. Now there are a bunch of campsites to the south of Biarritz, in the beach towns along the French Basque coast, but they do get very full in summer, check Bidart, St Jean de Luz, and Hendaye. There is also the Biarritz Camping, just out of town, and Camping Bela Basque.
Airbnb in Biarritz: can be a good substitute for the too-expensive hotels, but you’ll still be looking at about €40 for a room, and €120+ for a studio apartment. There is definitely a supply and demand issue, too, and the local government is making it harder for Airbnbs to operate in the city.
Best Hostels in Biarritz: there’s not much to choose from, but check out the Biarritz Surf Hostel, HI Hostel Biarritz, which is the Auberge de Jeunesse, which might mean big school groups. Unfortunately, Biarritz is more geared towards high-end tourism and so hostels haven’t really flourished in the city. Make sure you find a hostel that is right for you.
Best Hotels in Biarritz: oh you really can’t go past the giant and opulent Hotel du Palais, and other five star hotels along the main beach shore. The Hotel du Palais was built as a summer palace for Napoleon’s wife, so you know it’s alright.
Biarritz Food And Drink
What to eat in Biarritz: if this is your only stop in France, make sure you get stuck into all the French specialities that you’d find elsewhere in the country. Being a coastal city, it’s always nice to eat something not typically from Biarritz, but that suits the ambience, like moules frites, or other seafood. Basque food includes poulet Basquaise, chicken with tomatoes, vegetables and spices, or Brebis, the local sheep’s cheese.
Best places to eat in Biarritz: look around the many restaurants for a menu du jour that’ll give you a few local options at a reasonable price. For seafood the small Port de Pecheurs port just south of the main beach has a couple of reasonable options, where you can get seafood served to you on plastic tables while the fishy pong of low tide wafts over your tastebuds.
What to drink in Biarritz: well it really is a town that suits rose drinking, even though it’s not made in the region. Who cares, drink it anyway. There is also a local fruity white wine from the village of Irouleguy and a herb liquor called Izarra.
Scams and crime in Biarritz: none really to talk of, maybe some break ins at more remote beaches. Surfers can be pretty territorial around here, again at the more remote breaks. We’ve been warned to never surf the beach at Boucau, but we surf it anyway. Sometimes they let your tyres down, or put surfboard wax on your windscreen. Like always make sure you avoid pickpockets by not being a target.
Terrorism and public danger in Biarritz: none to speak of. There was a time when ETA terrorists from the Spanish Basque country would hide across the border in France, but those days are done. Biarritz doesn’t seem to have the same strikes and public disruptions that you’ll find in the rest of France, either.
Best Places To Visit In Biarritz
Best Biarritz beaches: the Biarritz beaches are Grande Plage, Port Vieux and Les Côtés des Basque. Grande Plage is the main beach and is rather busy in its southern end, although towards the north there is hardly anyone. Port Vieux is a small beach and looks like it can be anywhere in Europe. It remains calm in even the biggest storms. Les Cotes des Basque is a real long, straight beach that is great for beginner surfers, although the beach does disappear at high tide. To the north the beaches of Anglet are long, yellow and broken not by bays and headlands, but by small jetties. The Anglet stretch is really one long beach, but the jetties do break it up into separate zones. Cavaliers has some of the best waves, but you’ll find waves anywhere along the stretch, and you’ll see the most penises at Dunes and Ocean, if that’s your thing (of course it is).
Biarritz sights: the walk from Grande Plage to Cotes des Basques is how you will see the best of the city, from the aforementioned palace, and the other opulent mansions that surround it, and various lookouts, bridges, monuments and castles. Near the Rocher de la Vierge, where a statue of the Virgin Mary sits out on a rock surrounded by crosses commemorating lost fishermen, you can jump off the cliffs on calm days. Heading further towards the Cote des Basque you’ll pass the Villa Beltza, which is the mansion that features in most Biarritz instagram shots and fills the imagination of anyone who visits of a future life living in one of its turrets. At the end of your walk head up the 100 stairs that take you away from the beach and end up at the bar Cents Marches and treat yourself to a rose as the sun dips into the Bay of Biscay.
Biarritz Festivals And Parties
Biarritz music festivals: there was once a festival called Big Festival, but it’s not clear if it will be running in the future. There are also parties around the Roxy Jam women’s surf contest, that are super fun.
Biarritz clubs: ok, so here’s a little list of places you should consider going, but may not like. There’s the Newquay pub, that is pretty fun with a surfy feel, the Playboy NIghtclub, Le Duplex and Maona Beach on Grande Plage. Over in Anglet there used to be a spot called Discotech La Love, and if that’s still open you should check it out for its very low ceiling, small, weird central pool and solitary stripper who takes her clothes off very slowly over the course of the whole night.
Biarritz cultural festivals: the biggest event of the year has the be the Fetes de Bayonne, that take place in the urban area just north of Biarritz. This is a big street party, without any discernible reason more than just having a good time. It’s absolutely huge, with millions coming from around France and the world just for the party.
Biarritz food and wine festivals: Les Casetas run from the 23rd to the 28th of June alone the Cotes des Basque beachfront. This is a chance for the bars, restaurants and food producers of the region to get together and showcase what they’ve got in little tents. Why not take in all the establishments in the one place, over a couple of days?
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