Biarritz boasts its very own 6km stretch of fine, sandy beaches, internationally popular with surfers who come from far and wide to test their skills on the waves. The annual Biarritz Surf Festival, founded in 1993 at the Plage de la Côte des Basques (the town’s principal surfing beach), is one of the premier surf events in Europe and longboarding events in the world. But there’s a more laid-back association with the sea here, too: the water contains large quantities of seaweed, whose iodine content is known to have beneficial effects on the body and has encouraged the growth of thalassotherapy centres in Biarritz (‘thalassotherapy’ being the medical use of seawater as a form of therapy).
You can hear the waves wherever you are in Biarritz – but make a beeline for the Grand Plage (chocka-block in summer, yet eerily deserted in winter), Plage de la Milady (a flat arc of sand backed by golf courses and a children’s playground), Plage Miramar, and the adrenaline-pumping swell crashing onto the beaches of neighbouring Anglet which stretch northwards for over 4km.
The Basque language
Dating back to Roman times and unrelated to any other known language, Basque is spoken by a number of residents in and around Biarritz, so listen out for it. There are around 800,000 Basque speakers in Europe and it’s spoken in Spain (in the autonomous communities of Euskadi and Navarra) as well as in France’s Pyrénées-Atlantiques department. These territories are collectively known in the language as ‘Euskal Herria’: the Basque Country. Basque uses the Latin alphabet, with the exception of certain letters – and like Spanish, it also uses ‘ñ’.
Lying just 8km inland from Biarritz, Bayonne is the oldest bullfighting town in France and proud of it. The first Spanish-style bull run dates back to 1701 and took place in an arena on the Place de la Liberté, in honour of King Philippe V of Spain. The modern day version of the bullfight which so fascinated Hemingway emerged in France, again in Bayonne in the Saint-Esprit area. The neo-Moorish-style arena was inaugurated in 1893 and, with a capacity of 10,400, is the largest of its kind in south-west France. Every season, the world’s top matadors fight prize bulls on the sandy floor of this legendary arena. It’s an adrenaline-pumping experience not to be missed.
- Les Fêtes Musicales, April: classical music festival
- Big Festival, July (www.bigfest.fr):five days of rock, reggae and electro, always with a great international line-up of artists
- Festival de Biarritz Amérique Latine, end of September (www.festivaldebiarritz.com): anannual film festival founded in 1992