When I was a little kid, we used to go to the beach at least once or twice a year and fewer things in my childhood brought greater joy than catching a great wave on my boogie board (I think our best waves might’ve been in Myrtle Beach right before a storm). Fast-forward to today, and you’ll rarely see me at a beach. I mostly blame my German-Irish skin (I burn), but also a bit of beach overload in my youth. I’ll wager I’ve visited no more than 10 beaches in the last 20 years. And I’ve only been in the ocean maybe five times since I graduated from college (Sorrento & Capri, Italy; Miami Beach, Florida; Maui, Hawaii; Barcelona, Spain; & now Biarritz, France). But a recommendation from our friends at Fat Cat as well as our trip to Barcelona a couple weeks ago inspired me to plan some quick weekend trips to the coast here in France. Thus, our less than 48 hour trip to Biarritz.
If you’re not familiar with Biarritz, it’s a coastal resort town on the southwestern tip of France, in the heart of Basque country, not too far from Bayonne or San Sebastian (in Spain). We’d also heard it’s where the French go to surf.
I’d never heard of Biarritz before Emmy and Quentin recommended we visit. They told us it was their favorite spot in all of France (and they’re French). It was recommended we go when it’s warm, but before July/August, when it’s too crowded to really enjoy it. As such, we booked a rental car and headed west for a weekend of sun, sand, and amazing waves.
It’s about a three hour drive from Toulouse, and I’m happy to report we made the trip there without any (real) traffic. Normally we listen to music in the car, but for this trip we opted to “binge” the Ringer’s Binge Mode podcast, which recaps all 60 episodes of Game of Thrones thus far in preparation for Season 7 (drops in July). If you’re a GOT fan, I highly recommend listening as they provide a lot of background (they both read the books) and actually answered a lot of questions/cleared up a lot of things I’ve been curious about for 6 seasons. They’ve only completed Season 1 so far, but I think Season 2 starts this week (you bet we’ll be tuning in again). I think we got through episodes 1-5 on the way to Biarritz, which was perfect.
Once we arrived we checked into our hotel, changed into our bathing suits, and set out for the Grande Plage/Plage Miramar to start our day at the beach, stopping along the way at one of the cutest tea houses (Miremont) for some gelato (for me) and pastries (for Jim). If you’re looking for a treat, this spot is gorgeous and also has an amazing view of the beaches. Two big thumbs up. As we walked with our treats, we approached the beach and were taken aback by all the flowers. Hydrangeas were EVERYWHERE, growing upon every cliff and near every step. Not only did it smell amazing, but it was beautiful. In fact, I can’t think of another beach (anywhere) where I’ve seen so many flowers. Special & memorable, indeed.
We settled into a spot on the beach between the two blue flags (for swimmers), applied copious sunblock, and began our vegetation Saturday in the sand. Jim opted for an afternoon nap, while I people watched.
After about an hour in the sun, we decided it was time to go into the water for a swim. At this point, the beach wasn’t too crowded and neither was the water (see above), so we were able to slowly maneuver our way pretty deep into the ocean and start our wave jumping. Let me just say, this is maybe the most fun I’ve had at a beach in a long time, years, even. Maybe since the last time I used a boogie board. The water was ice-cold, but it warmed up after you’d submerged yourself in it, and the waves were huge and frequent. I bet we were out in the water for almost an hour, jumping and diving in the waves, laughing all the way. After a fateful mistake (turning my back on the ocean), I inhaled a lot of water and decided I need to dry out before heading back in the water later. So, it was time to enjoy the sun again.
When we first arrived it was moderately busy. By the time we approached our second swim, attendance had nearly tripled, maybe quadrupled while the size of the beach had decreased (the tide was coming in, fast). This time, we felt we had perfected our wave swimming/diving techniques and were rather impressed with just how far out we had swum. Interestingly, the waves seemed a bit stronger (maybe we were just a little more tired), and we seemed to constantly be carried out to our right (you can get a better idea of the size & frequency in the photo below). We stayed out longer on our second trip, and laughed more than we probably have in months. That is until we decided it was time to get out. We were walking (with our backs to the ocean) and a huge wave came and knocked both of us over. Unfortunately, the wave dragged me on my bottom against the rocks and Jim on his knee (which we noticed was bleeding once we got back to our blanket). If there’s any lesson I learned, it’s to never turn my back to the ocean or waves in Biarritz. At this point, we decided it was time for a drink and a trip to a pharmacy for a little first aid.
Finding a good bar or restaurant around 4pm (almost 5pm) is harder than one might think. We stopped at close to four different places before finding a gem in Puig & Daro, which was conveniently located next door to our hotel. If you’re in Biarritz and looking for a late afternoon drink and snack, this spot delivers. We had a little rose along with some jambon and brebis. Fact – this was the best jambon I’ve ever had. It was like butter. Yum.
After our snack we returned to our hotel to get cleaned up before heading back out to explore a bit more and have dinner. In the photos below you can see a photo of Eglise Ste-Eugenie. There’s something quite interesting about seeing such an amazing church right up against a seascape. While on the Grande Plage you cannot see the church, but once you’ve entered the water it’s in amazing, gorgeous view (one of the coolest things to see, I think). There’s something special about being surrounded by such wild architecture in a beach town that feels positively European.
We had dinner at Chez Albert, at the recommendation of Emmy. Funny story – we went to Fat Cat on Friday night and saw Emmy, told her we were going to Biarritz (which she recommended before) and when we were leaving, she chased us down the street to let us know she wanted us to check out her favorite restaurant (“It’s delicious and not touristy like many of the other places.”), which she had written down on a sheet of paper for us. It’s times like these that Toulouse really feels like a home.
Chez Albert did not disappoint. We ordered a dozen oysters, which tasted just like all the salt water I’d been drinking from earlier, but paired quite nicely with the balsamic/shallot dressing, which Jim convinced me to try (it was amazing…I should’ve been adding this to oysters for years!). For our main, we split the St. Pierre au four, which was really tasty (grilled fish, potatoes, tomatoes, and fennel) then finished off our meals with two great desserts. As we finished up our feast, the sun was setting, just for us. Not a better way to end a perfect evening with Jim.
We opted to enjoy the sunset from the spot in the photo in the upper right. From there we could see the beach at night as well as the rocks in the ocean with the sunset as a background. The city really does twinkle at night, doesn’t it? To our surprise, there was still a lone surfer out in the water (brave guy).
From here we opted for a cocktail at the fancy Hotel Palace at the end of the beach, close to the lighthouse. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t meet the dress code. Next time. Instead, we enjoyed some armagnac to close out the night and recount our day at the beach. Perfect.
The next morning was met with cooler weather and cloudy skies. As such, we decided to head back to Toulouse after lunch at Les Halles or the large market across the street from our hotel. We highly recommend checking out this spot, as it’d be great to pick up local produce and meals for a picnic or as a spot to eat lunch. Unlike Victor Hugo here in Toulouse, Les Halles is a little bit more like Reading Terminal in Philadelphia or Marche des Capucins in Bordeaux, where there’s a mix of prepared foods, restaurants, as well as produce/raw meats.
We picked up some local pastries (gateaux basques) and had a proper sit down lunch at the counter of Au P’tit Dolmen. Jim and I both ordered crepes (mine was jambon & brebis while jim’s was truffle jambon and chèvre). Both made me wish crepes here in Toulouse could be ordered with more than emmental cheese. They also had a pretty amazing juice bar. Totally recommend.
On our way out, we wandered through the outdoor shops and found ourselves at Robert Paries where we tried some mouchou or macarons without the filling. Interestingly, I had read about these a few days earlier in my Pierre Hermes macaron book. Apparently, these are made by adding water to the pan to release the shells. It sounds near impossible, which makes it a little more interesting. I prefer macarons, but these were pretty interesting and worth a try.
After our snack we packed up and made our way back to Toulouse, listening to the remaining five GOT podcasts. Now back in Toulouse, I can’t think of a more fun beach vacation that we’ve taken. I would easily go back to Biarritz, and I wholly recommend it to anyone/everyone who loves swimming with big waves. I think 10 year-old Victoria enjoyed it just as much as 30-somethings Victoria and Jim. What a great and necessary break from reality.