meta name="p:domain_verify" content="8b08da541f8a920e6 Marie Z Johnston: Biarritz: Three days (and nights)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Biarritz: Three days (and nights)

Bayonne ham, assorted meats, puree de piment d'Espelette and Sangrilla make a fine late lunch
It is a quick trip to the South West coast of France, an easy escape from Paris when you’ve had your fill of the weather, the pavement or the ongoing, gloomy economic news. A friend and I hopped aboard  the TGV (train of great speed) from Montparnasse at 10am; by 3:15pm we were sitting down to a late lunch with an ocean breeze and ringside view of the Bay of Biscay.
The lighthouse and palatial Hotel built by Napolean 3 and Eugenie in the distance.
Here is the South West of France, skies are blue in mid October. While the holiday crowds may be gone, the weather is splendid and beaches are inviting.  Stroll the wide esplanade, take off your shoes and walk in the fine, warm sand - there is plenty of space to watch the surfers and work on your tan.
The view from 'l'Hotel du Palais' bar window is not so bad.... this is only 45% of it!
Long reputed as one of the most beautiful spots in France, Biarritz was much loved by Napoleon 3 and his wife Eugenie.  Their sumptuous beach front home, now a luxury hotel complete with Spa, stands as the reminder of a time when “grand” meant luxurious as well as large.  Gentlemen are required to wear jackets at dinner in the spacious dining room (which offers their prix fixe menu at a hefty 125E, Entrees 20 - 25E, Plats 30 - 50E) but  there is no dress code for an excellent glass of wine (8.50E) in the bar while you enjoy the unparalleled, unobstructed and glorious sunset.
People of every age and walk of life gather at the cliffs edge at sunset for 'aperos'
Looking for something a little more laid back? Head on over to the ‘Les 100 Marches’ (the 100 steps) high on the bluff facing the  sea.  This place is strictly outdoors.  Here you can enjoy the company of a hipper local crowd, leaning against the cliff side balustrade or sitting at pick-nick tables quaffing local plonque (red, white, rosé 3.00E) and eating Tapas (1 - 3E) with jazzy bosa-nova in the air. The crowd quickly disperses once the sun has set.
100 Marches has a counter on 3 sides but no inside seats, just a great view
Unlike Paris, the dinner crowd in Biarritz settles in around 8:15ish (coincidentally, just the amount of time it takes to walk up from the favorite sunset look-outs)  A couple of hopping spots worth checking out are Bar Jean (where seafood tapas and steak-frites reign supreme)
This is just before the crowd arrived...
This one in the front is Tuna with pickled sun dried tomato... yum
and Le Comptoir du Foie Gras which has a specialty of (guess what) served tapas style with an amazing black cherry jam - a true Basque specialty.  Getting a spot at either the two counters or the half dozen barrels is challenging, and again, there is no indoor seating at this very popular spot - which certainly speaks to the fabulous weather year here!
This tiny U shaped cafe serves up great tapas and Basque wines
It did not escape my notice that both of these popular spots are separated by (and both across the street from) the bustling covered market of Biarritz (open every day but Monday)
Most of the folks outdoors have their own small farms (except maybe the banana guy on the left)
"Biskotx" is a simple sugar, butter, flour 'cookie dough' cake filled with Basque black cherry jam
Basque cake plays such a prominent part in the local culture that it has it's own museum in the town of Sare,  about 10 minutes from Biarritz.  Based on Dori Greenspan's article about this historical cake, I won't miss that on my next trip south... 

Much like the covered markets in Spain, there is someplace yummy to eat within the market
The Basques are a warm and friendly bunch - even in the market - which is not always the case in Paris.
Don't miss the Bayonne ham (from 5 minutes north) a local specialty
This part of France is the Northern most part of the Basque country; 25% of it, to be precise, sits within French borders while the remainder lies in Spain - so it is no small wonder that the Basque language and culture dominate in this SW corner of 'la France'.  Now that the EU has eliminated border crossings, it's possible to jump in your car and skedaddle to San Sebastion (home of the inimitable El Buli ) for lunch - an easy 40 minute drive... and you can be back in Biarritz by sunset.
Built in 1928, this roller coaster (on a concrete track) sits at the tippy top of Monte Igueldo, San Sebastien
At the end of every day we would walk home to our quiet, cozy room at Villa Vaureal. Ours was at the far end of the garden, away from pretty much everything. The bedding is great, the mattresses top notch, and the bathrooms are big and sparkling with HUGE fluffy bath-sheets (anyone who's stayed pretty much anywhere in France knows that is beyond rare)
Homemade crepes are another breakfast treat at Villa Vaureal
This lovely place (a bed and breakfast in the heart of the historic district and a short block from the beach) is owned and operated by Christine Ader, who speaks perfect English and a couple of other languages as well. Christine designed the place for comfort and harmony, and she makes all the jams and jellies served with breakfast from organic fruits - my favorite is the pineapple-lime.
That bright triangle?  A swath of sunlight across the grass....
I could go on and on as there is plenty to do in Biarritz alone (The Musée de la Mer is pretty cool). If you have a car, then driving out of town for just a few miles will give you rolling hills, hiking, river rafting, farm visits, vineyards - the possibilities are endless.  

I can't wait to go back.

Gero Arte (a bientot)

Even the fishies know a good thing when they see it

1 comment:

The Mistress of Spices said...

Lovely post! Now I've put Biarritz on my list of places to visit in France.