Biarritz is a feast for the eyes, whether it’s on elegant seafront villas, wide sandy beaches or views out to the sparkling Atlantic. But the town also hoards visual treasure in its numerous museums and Imperial Chapel – and delights visitors with a festival of dance in September too.
Musée d’Art Oriental Asiatica
The Asiatica museum on the edge of Biarritz is an unexpected treasure trove, housing a significant collection of Asian art, primarily from India, Nepal, Tibet and China. There are statues, monuments and temple artwork, with information cards (in several languages) clearly explaining the significance of the objects. The museum is generally considered as having the finest collection of its type outside Paris.
Cité de l’Océan
This is Biarritz’ newest sea-themed attraction, which takes a fun approach to learning about the sea in all its forms – it’s partly a museum, partly a theme park and partly an educational centre. You can explore a marine lab and take a simulated dive into the depths in an underwater chamber. Good fun for children and adults alike.
Musée de la Mer
Biarritz’ aquarium and museum of the sea is housed in a wonderful Art Déco building near the old port. It’s teaming with underwater life from the Bay of Biscay and beyond, including vast aquariums of sharks, grey seals and tropical reef fish, as well as exhibits exploring Biarritz’ whaling past. Visit late at night to avoid the crowds and enjoy a more relaxed experience.
It was Napoléon III’s wife, Empress Eugénie, who commissioned the extravagant Chapelle Impériale, built in 1864 in half-Byzantine, half-Moorish style. It was classified as a monument historique in 1981 and from the plaza in front of it, the view of the Grande Plage is superb.
Elevated sea views
For the best views of Biarritz’s coastline, you need to get up high– and there are two places well worth the climb. Cross the footbridge at the end of Pointe Atalaye to Rocher de la Vierge, named after its white statue of the Virgin and Child. According to legend, a ray of light from the Pointe once guided a stricken fishing boat safely to shore, prompting fishermen to erect a statue of the Virgin on the here in 1865. The bridge that connects the Pointe to the mainland is known as the Eiffel Bridge, built by none other than Gustav Eiffel, also responsible for France’s most iconic tower. Looking out from here on a clear day, you can often see the Basque mountains across the border in Spain. And for a different vantage point, climb the 258 twisting steps inside the 73m-high Phare de Biarritz (the town’s 19th-century lighthouse), which also rewards you with sweeping views of the Basque coast.
Every September in Biarritz sees the three-week-long festival of Le Temps d’Aimer, which features ballet and modern dance performances throughout the town. Dancing can be witnessed everywhere from parks and churches to larger auditoriums. And in May, Biarritz comes alive with Festival des Arts de la Rue, whose street performances run for five days.