Adventure Travel

Biarritz: France’s Forgotten Surf Haven

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view of the city center of Biarritz, France

Image: Shutterstock/valerylilas

Surfing In Biarritz

Once a glitzy vacation spot for royals, France’s forgotten city, Biarritz, is now a surf haven. Walking along the coast of the Grand Plage (most popular beach) during a surf competition in July, you’re sure to hear the locals sigh C’est très Californie (That’s so California!). Located in the Pyrenees region just 20 miles from the border of Spain, Biarritz belongs to the Basque Region, home to the indigenous Basque people who have their own language, also called Basque. Equestrians, surfers and general health enthusiasts are sure to find something they love about this sleepy beachside town that blends California charm with classic French flair.

History Of Biarritz

Biarritz first came to prominence in the mid-19th century when Eugénie de Montijo, wife of Napoleon III, built a large home on the water (now the Hôtel du Palais) where she vacationed and entertained other royals. As the last Empress Consort of France, the popularity of the vacation spot declined. In 1945 just after the war, a brief revival came about with the establishment of an American G.I. University in Biarritz which enrolled about 10,000 students over the course of three semesters before closing in 1946.

In the 1950s, Biarritz became known for what it is today, a prime surfing locale. Peter Viertel, husband of Scottish-born actress Deborah Kerr, is credited for introducing the sport to the beach town. Today, surf culture continues to be a driving force that’s never quite lost its upscale appeal. In the busy summer season, you’re equally likely to see affluent Europeans and scrappy surfers together on the shores of the Grand Plages.

Surfing

You can’t visit this beach town without surfing in Biarritz. The annual Biarritz Surf Festival is one the island’s busiest activities. The surf festival features a day of longboard contests, surfing demonstrations and more than 150,000 surfers and surfing enthusiasts gathered on one beach. The city is home to an abundance of surf schools and even the Biarritz Surf Hostel, which includes a bike and surfboard with every stay.

Basque Pelota

Basque pelota is a court game native to the basque region played with a ball, wooden racket or bat, and a basket. There are slightly different variations of the game played in France, Spain and throughout the Basque region. Local tour and adventure operators like Takamaka organize lessons for curious travelers. So when you’re not surfing in Biarritz, there are plenty of other activities to fulfill your adventurous needs.

Paramotor Flights

To enjoy a ride over the scenic Basque region and to see the waves from a higher point of view, consider a paramotor flight over the Atlantic Ocean and Basque flatlands. Paragliders are strapped into a chair with a large fan propelling them under a giant parachute. Taking a paramotor flight in Biarritz, you’ll encounter a wide variety of scenery from lush green meadows to the glistening Atlantic ocean and local wildlife.

The Basque region culinary fare includes French delicacies such as peppered axoa (veal stew) Basquaise (chicken in tomatoes, onions and peppers) and of course fresh fish. The city offers an eclectic mix of locally-owned boutiques from surf shops to soap stores and even a chocolate museum. Regardless of your reasons for visiting, you will learn a lot and fall in love with the mystical French beach town of Biarritz.