Where Medieval Meets Movie Star: Biarritz and Bayonne

Client: Back-Roads Touring

Biarritz and Bayonne

Two towns with completely different atmospheres. Biarritz and Bayonne are akin to two siblings that grew to appreciate different interests from one another. The former prefers the glamorous lifestyle of high-octane surfing and the glitzy allure seaside resorts, while the latter enjoys the subdued appreciation of beautiful architecture, rich histories, and authentic cuisine.  Biarritz and Bayonne enjoy a friendly rivalry as each town strives to highlight the differences and attractions which are exclusive to their own. The two towns are perched on the sunny Atlantic coast of Southern France and are separated by a 15-minute drive. This makes for an incredibly short journey for a momentous change in atmosphere and scenery, culminating in a remarkably complete holiday experience.

Biarritz

Biarritz gleams with an air of refined tastes and gentility, but this does not mean exclusivity. The town is underscored by its ritzy and aristocratic background which is made flesh in the form of stunning vistas of Art Nouveau architecture and heritage-listed villas which are brazened in art-deco flourishes. Amid this backdrop, however, is a refreshingly chic and modern appeal that make the town a list-topper for those that enjoy the fun and electric beaches with surfing inspired sensibilities.

The town is famous for its picturesque seaside strolls, with routes adorned with inspiring landmarks and exquisite buildings. One of the most striking is the Hôtel du Palais, which began its existence as a seafront summer villa for Empress Eugénie, which was lovingly gifted to her by Napoleon III in 1895. This hotel is perched upon the Grand Plage (grand beach), and it exudes a boisterous air of authority, as a bastion for an earlier age which is uncompromised by its modern surroundings. A fantastic view of the palace can be had from the 1834 lighthouse which is at the most northern point of the town. From here, you can also take in the sights of the pretty fisherman Port des Pêcheurs to the south, which is rife with quaintly chic restaurants and shops.

There is a myriad of options for beachgoers, ranging from the serene beauty of Plage Marbelle to the hive of activity that is the Grande Plage. The latter beach has the accolade of being the spot where surfing began in Europe. It started in 1957 when Hollywood screenwriter Peter Viertel was on location for the filming of ‘The Sun Also Rises’. He was undoubtedly bemused in the fact that nobody was harnessing the exhilarating thrill of tackling the impressive waves, and immediately set about to correct this by having his surfboard transported all the way from California!

Bayonne

After a 15-minute drive from Biarritz, you’ll be transported to the fairy-tale waterside town of Bayonne. It is the capital French Basque Country amid the Nive and Adour Rivers and is lauded as one of the most beautiful sites in Southwest France. Bayonne is a product of its history and it embraces its rich past as a bulwark against all foreign incursions. Its strategic importance has left old ramparts such as the Porte d’Espagne, all of which dot the outskirts, and shield the colourful half-timbered houses, and winding cobblestone streets that characterise Bayonne.

Bayonne uniqueness is owed to the Nive and Adour which have effectively split the city into three distinct districts which form a whole. On the right bank of the Adour is Saint-Espirt, which is famed for vibrant chocolatier scene. Then we have the cultural hub, the Petit Bayonne, which is home to two outstanding museums which give insights into Basque history. One of which, the Musée Bonnat, houses a grand collection of works by Léon Bonnat. Lastly, we have the commercial heart of the city, the Grand Bayonne, which is dominated by the imposing, yet flamboyant Sainte Marie Cathedral which was built over the span of 400 years from the 13th century all the way to the 17th.

Biarritz and Bayonne are towns of small size. So close, yet so different, but each is brimming with unrelenting charms and beauty.

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