The best way to tackle Biarritz

The cradle of European surfing, the resplendent Cote des Basques. But there is so much more to Biarritz than just surfing.

I never tire of Biarritz.
This most recent visit lived up to all expectations once again, with a bonus point win in the discovery of a campsite which proved such a great base and the best way to tackle Biarritz.
For the word of me I can’t understand why it has taken me so long to hit on Biarritz Camping. This is in the running for the best campsite I have experienced; it’s so well located and fitted out. It’s owned by the Biarritz and French rugby international, Dimitri Yachvili. The campsite and its staff are a credit to the star scrum-half.

The neighbourhood at Biarritz Camping, a wide variety of tourers from all over.

Biarritz may well be still playing second fiddle to some of its ostensibly more illustrious neighbours of Bordeaux on the way down that west coast drive and San Sebastian, the foodie’s favourite across the border in Spain, although they both boast their Basque heritage.
This suits me just fine as this classy seaside city is already busy enough for my liking and it gets really mobbed in the high season.
It was initially surfing opportunities on La Cote des Basques that attracted me via Ryanair to Biarritz. But it is a love affair that has prospered and persisted over the years. It remains a favourite destination and well worth the long drive down off the ferry from Roscoff or Cherbourg.
Surfing here still has its allure with the in-town options supplemented by other breaks either side of Biarritz in Hendaye or Anglet. It was in Biarritz that I was first tempted to splash out on a custom board, the San Diego shaped 9’2” Gordon and Smith beauty from the specialist longboard shop, More and Less (4 Avenue Reine Victoria). It’s here that I also bumped in to free surfing legend, Rob Machado.

Beach life in Biarritz - there are lots of beautiful spots to choose from along the city's coastline.

Have surfboard, will travel.

But there’s so much more to this beautiful town than surfing.
Family friendly and delicious food are also part of the delights of Biarritz, and while there are pricy posh joints, it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg if you shop around wisely, particularly in the Mercado Les Halles, the city’s covered market in the heart of the town, offering the finest of fresh fruit, veg, fish and victuals.

The delights, fruits and spices of Les Halles in central Biarritz.

It opens from 7am each day, but be aware that it wraps up promptly by 2pm, so no time for sleeping in if you plan a visit to Les Halles which oozes the heart, soul and belly and the city, a great spot to grab a €1 or €2 freshly made tapas on the go after you have the shopping sorted, or if you fancy something more leisurely there are numerous local cafés and restaurants, such as Bar Jean, nearby dishing up the local Basque favourites and delicacies with value to be had in the lunchtime plat du jour.
We idled one slow morning into a lazy afternoon after stocking up at Les Halles, thanks to those scrumptious tapas and a sweet and fruity number, Domaine de Joy St André from the Famille Gessler on the Cotes de Gascogne. They don’t do ceremony or credit cards, it’s serve yourself and cash only at the L’Amuse Gueule tapas bar.

There are other spots to hang out nearer the main surfing beach of La Cote des Basques, regarded by many as the cradle of European surfing,  but I have only ever found Le Surfing and the trendy outdoor Etxola Bibi (albeit with their excellent views of the panoramic coastline and sunsets) to be self-regarding and cliquish.

Biarritz terraced slopes over stunning views and are super for sightseeing.

Far more welcoming and relaxed with views to trump them all is the Pavillon du Phare up at the 1831 lighthouse on the opposite end of the expansive Plage de Marbella along the bay. It’s well worth the spin in a city that is mostly bike friendly with lots of cycle lanes.

But there is far more to Biarritz than it’s stunning beaches, spectacular views across the Bay of Biscay into San Sebastian or its sensational sunsets tucking down behind that seemingly endless horizon.
On one hand there is the annual Wheels and Waves biker festival which takes place mid-June each year and attracts over 10,000 participants and on the other Lourdes which is only 150km down the road.

Bikers too flock to Biarritz each summer.

Etxola Bibi overlooking Cote des Basques is a popular hang-out.

There always appears to be some festival or other in bustling Biarritz. And be aware that in France church holy days are still marked as national public holidays often leading to congestion and tailbacks, extra pressure on campsites and accommodation and traffic restrictions to facilitate open air entertainment and festivities.

There are no shortage of options for eating out in Biarritz with good value to be had if you check out the plat du jour options

So it pays to plan your trip well in advance to either avoid or embrace these events.
This is particularly the case on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption, a public holiday when Biarritz comes to a standstill for what is undisputedly one of the best fireworks displays in the world.
The city with its terraced slopes, which run right down to the ocean shore, across the expansive bay really lends itself to the staging of this pyrotechnic spectacular which in turn is reflected from the night sky into the silken seas below. It attracts tens of thousands of families but don’t worry there are lots and lots of vantage points to choose from, just be patient, bring a blanket and your own refreshments.

The 9-hole golf course at Bidart with its stunning views is just down the road from Biarritz Camping

Biarritz is of course in the heart of French rugby country, boasts some swish golf courses, high-end fashion boutiques, the 19th century lighthouse, its own traditional Fisherman’s Warf port, the Cite de L’Ocean science centre (which includes some cool 3D interactive animations and a 5D surf sensation); the Biarritz aquarium, museum, the Imperial Chapel (dedicated to the Notre Dame of Guadeloupe, the Mexican black virgin), a tourist train trip which is a big hit with children, an oriental art museum, the intriguing outcrop of the Virgin Rock (where I have seen local children collecting shellfish on low tide) as well as 6km of beaches with cliffs, rocks, and coves to choose from, including the dinky shady beach of Le Port Vieux close to the centre and ideal for families with young children.

On low-tide children collect shellfish between Fisherman's Warf and the Virgin Rock.

As for Biarritz Camping itself, well I cannot recommend it enough.
The facilities here are second to none. A modern services complex is convenient to all pitches with a good mix of campers from all over, tourers as well as French locals. We had great neighbours throughout our stay.

Plenty of space in the well fitted out and great services facilities at Biarritz Camping, including its own swimming pool.

The services block is the best I have seen in any campsite with the most spacious shower units. (I have only one complaint in this regard and that is the chemical-toilet disposal facility is bizarrely located across the road from the campsite in the overflow and overnight car park area?) There is no additional charge for the showers and the campsite also offers glamping and chalets to rent.

And I almost forgot, it has a heated indoor swimming pool which has sliding sections which can open up into an outdoor facility in the warmer weather, with other play areas, pitches and a playground for younger children; a cosy café-bar and a well-stocked shop which provides for virtually everything you might need including fresh baguettes and croissants each morning.

The campsite is conveniently located right next to the Number 10 bus route, with frequent services about three times each hour, giving easy access to Biarritz and even onwards as far as Bayonne for as little as €2 a day.

La Plancha D'Ilbarritz restaurant is a busy spot right on the beach

Only 500 metres across from the campsite just after you pass by the roundabout at the Cite de L’Ocean is Plage Ilbarritz the first of many beaches to choose from, but do be careful as there are restrictions on the parking of campervans and motorhomes here. I found this out to my peril in an unpleasant encounter with less-than-impressed women police officers. There are two popular restaurants (La Plancha D’Ilbarritz and Le Blue Cargo) on the Plage Ilbarritz. I thought the prices were saucy enough for what they were offering, but a fabulous location nevertheless.

Just around the corner is La Plage de La Milady, a large beach with parking facilities and a playground with access to the sea for disabled people. On low tide you can walk all the way right along into La Cote des Basques; whereas cycling in to town will take about 15 minutes and walking about half an hour, so all within easy reach of the campsite, where the staff could not have been any more helpful.

Biarritz is a handy place to get around on bikes, with lots of safe cycle lanes.

About one kilometre from Biarritz Camping there is Aire Milady with serviced overnight parking for €12.

Aire Milady is a handy option for an overnight.

Regarding the beaches at Ilbarritz and Milady it is important to be vigilant for submerged rocks on high tide and both beaches are prone to dangerous rip currents.

We paid €188 for 8 nights in June, which works out at €23.50 per night, including our ACSI card discount which they offered without even been requested.
Biarritz Camping we’ll be back!
·       The G7 Summit is scheduled to be held in Biarritz from August 24-26, which is likely to result in tight security restrictions and more stringent traffic and parking regimes than ever.

Security, traffic and parking restrictions in Biarritz this summer will be tighter than ever.