Eglise St-Martin, rue St-Martin (tel. 05-59-23-08-36), 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, and is 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 landmarks. When Biarritz’s star started to wane in the 1950s, the municipality showed a great deal of foresight in buying the hotel and the equally monumental casino, the essence of Biarritz’s fading glamour. In a commanding spot on Grande Plage, the hotel is worth a visit even if you’re not a guest. Grab a drink in one of the bars or even head over for breakfast after you have stayed somewhere a little less pricey.
Across from the Hôtel du Palais, the Eglise Orthodoxe Russe, 8 av. de l’Impératrice (tel. 05-59-24-16-74), was built in 1892 so that wintering Russian 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 Thursday and Saturday 3:30 to 5:30pm and Sunday 2 to 4pm. 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 hr. At the southern edge of Grande Plage, steps will take you to place Ste-Eugénie, Biarritz’s most gracious old square. 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, 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 from the plateau to an esplanade. Here a footbridge stretches over the sea to a rocky islet that takes its name, Rocher de la Vierge (Rock of the Virgin), from the statue crowning it. 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. You can see all the way to the mountains of the Spanish Basque country, far to the south.
Here you can visit the Biarritz Aquarium, 14 plateau de l’Atalaye (aquariumbiarritz.com; tel. 05-59-22-75-40), and wander past about 50 tanks with giant rays, sharks, barracudas and other vivid marine life. The seals steal the show at their daily 10:30am and 5pm feedings. Admission is 16.50€ adults, 14€ students, 12€ children 4 to 12, and free for children 3 and under. It’s open 9:30am to 7pm, and from August 1-25 it’s open from 9am to 10pm and from 2pm to 7pm on New Year’s Day. Closed Christmas Day.
Don’t miss the other space in Biarritz dedicated to the sea: the Cité de L’Océan, just around the corner at 1 av. de la Plage (www.citedelocean.com; tel. 05-59-22-75-40). A spectacularly designed building that—of course—overlooks the Atlantic and explains pretty much everything you might want to know about the seas and oceans of the world. You can even take a virtual surfing class. Admission is 12€ adults, 9.90€ children ages 6 to 12. Or combine both the aquarium and the Cité de l’Océan for 26€ adults, 17.50€ children 6 to 12, and 22€ students.
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.