Eglise St-Martin, rue St-Martin (tel. 05-59-23-05-19), is one of the few vestiges of the port's early boom days. In the 12th century, Biarritz grew prosperous as a whaling center. The mammals' departure from the Bay of Biscay marked a decline in the port's fortunes. The church dates from the 1100s and was restored in 1541 with a Flamboyant Gothic chancel. It's in the town center between two of Biarritz's major arteries, rue d'Espagne and avenue de Gramont. It's open daily 8am to 7pm. Admission is free.
Biarritz's turning point came with the arrival of Queen Hortense, who spent lazy summers here with her two daughters. One of them, Eugénie, married Napoleon III in 1853 and prevailed on him to visit Biarritz the next year. The emperor fell under its spell and ordered the construction of the Hôtel du Palais. The hotel remains the town's most enduring landmark, though it was originally dubbed "Eugénie's Basque folly." Edward VII stayed there in 1906 and again in 1910, only days before his death. In a commanding spot on Grande Plage, the hotel is worth a visit even if you're not a guest. You can view the palatial trappings of its public rooms.
Before the Revolution of 1917, members of Russian nobility arrived -- so many, in fact, that they erected the Eglise Orthodoxe Russe, 8 av. de l'Impératrice (tel. 05-59-24-16-74). Across from the Hôtel du Palais, this Byzantine-Russian landmark was built in 1892 so that wintering aristocrats could worship when they weren't enjoying champagne, caviar, and Basque prostitutes. It's noted for its gilded dome, the interior of which is the color of a blue sky on a sunny day. It can be visited only Saturday and Sunday afternoon from 3 to 6pm.
After you pass the Hôtel du Palais, the walkway widens into quai de la Grande Plage, Biarritz's principal promenade. This walkway continues to the opposite end of the resort, where a final belvedere opens onto the southernmost stretch of beach. This whole walk takes about 3 hours.
At the southern edge of Grande Plage, steps will take you to place Ste-Eugénie, Biarritz's most gracious old square. Lined with terraced restaurants, it's the most popular rendezvous. Right below place Ste-Eugénie is the colorful Port des Pêcheurs (fishers' port). Crowded with fishing boats, it has old wooden houses and shacks backed up against a cliff. Here you'll find driftwood, rope, and plenty of lobster traps along with small harborfront restaurants and cafes.
The rocky plateau de l'Atalaye forms one side of the Port des Pêcheurs. Carved on orders of Napoleon III, a tunnel leads to the plateau to an esplanade. Here a footbridge stretches into the sea, to a rocky islet that takes its name, Rocher de la Vierge (Rock of the Virgin), from the statue crowning it. Since 1865, this statue is said to have protected the sailors and fishers in the Bay of Biscay. Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel (designer of the tower) directed construction of the footbridge. The walk out onto the edge of the rock, with crashing surf on both sides, is the most dramatic in Biarritz. From the rock, you can see far to the south on a clear day, all the way to the mountains of the Spanish Basque country.
Here you can visit the Musée de la Mer, 14 plateau de l'Atalaye (tel. 05-59-22-33-34; www.museedelamer.com), which houses 24 aquariums of fish native to the bay. The seals steal the show at their daily 10:30am and 5pm feedings. The museum also houses requins (sharks) that are fed on Tuesday and Friday at 11am and Wednesday and Sunday at 4:30pm. Admission is 7.80€ adults, 5€ students and children 4 to 16, and free for children 3 and under. It's open in July and August daily 9:30am to midnight, June and September daily 9:30am to 7pm, and October to May Tuesday to Sunday 9:30am to 12:30pm and 2 to 6pm. Closed 2 weeks around the end of January.
The only remaining building in town designed according to the tastes of the Empress Eugénie is La Chapelle Impériale, rue Pellot (tel. 05-59-22-37-10). Built in 1864, it combines Romanesque-Byzantine and Hispano-Moorish styles. Open July and August Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday 2 to 7pm; October to November and February to May Thursday and Saturday 2 to 5pm, and July and August Thursday and Saturday 2 to 7pm. Admission is 3€.
Musée Asiatica, 1 rue Guy Petit (tel. 05-59-22-78-78; www.museeasiatica.com), has an unusual collection, mostly from India, Nepal, Tibet, and China. The art dates from prehistory to the current age. Admission is 7€ for adults, 5€ for ages 13 to 25, and 2€ for children 8 to 12; free for children 7 and under. From September to June, it is open Monday to Friday 2 to 6:30pm, Saturday and Sunday 2 to 7pm. In July and August, it's open daily 10:30am to 6:30pm.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.