Catch the coastal chic of Biarritz

1 / 3
Biarritz is one of the best surfing locations in Europe. (Shutterstock)
2 / 3
Biarritz still retains its old-school glamour. (Shutterstock)
3 / 3
Biarritz a place to relax in, not to do too much — while away the hours in a café, or take long walks on one of the numerous beaches. (Shutterstock)
Updated 24 June 2019
0

Catch the coastal chic of Biarritz

  • The French seaside town mixes old-world glamour with a very modern surfing scene
  • This patch of Basque Country — less than 20 miles north of the Spanish border — has a windswept, relaxed charm all its own

DUBLIN: It’s hard to put a finger on what makes Biarritz so special. Maybe it’s the faded charm, maybe it’s the sprinkling of stardust that the numerous guests (the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Frank Sinatra) brought to the city, or maybe it’s the low-slung surfer’s vibe, but this patch of Basque Country — less than 20 miles north of the Spanish border — has a windswept, relaxed charm all its own. It’s something of a hidden gem, with surfers, Parisian hipsters, retired French tourists and a smattering of in-the-know Europeans descending here every year.

Its most recent heyday was during the 1950s, when luminaries including Sinatra and Coco Chanel visited. From the 1960s onwards, Biarritz’s star fell, with Hollywood and the European elite favoring France’s Riviera as a holiday destination. Yet recent years have seen the town emerge back into the spotlight — although these days you are more likely to see surfers rather than film stars, as the town has embraced its position on France’s rugged southern Atlantic coast.

There are countless surf schools, and Biarritz is the birthplace of the sport in Europe. The (reportedly) first surfer here, appropriately enough, had Hollywood connections. Peter Viertel, a screenwriter, was in town as the movie he had co-written, “The Sun Also Rises,” was being filmed there in 1957. The long, wide sandy beaches provide the perfect place to learn, with the crashing Atlantic surf offering ample big waves to ride.

The town is small enough to explore in an afternoon, with countless cafés and restaurants dotting the narrow streets. There’s plenty of shopping too, with local boutiques such as Jox & An (which sells rope-soled espadrilles) next to the likes of Gucci and Duchatel, which features labels including Nina Ricci and Belenciaga. Indeed much of the town’s charm is seeing moneyed old French couples in their designer clothes rubbing shoulders with dreadlocked surfers in board shorts.

It might officially be in France, but Biarritz is Basque country, something very much apparent at Caroe, which mixes Basque and Nordic cuisine. This minimally designed pintxos bar specializes in local seafood and serves up everything from monkfish foie gras, smoked eel and trout gravlax. If you prefer a venue overlooking the water, head to Alaia, an ultra-stylish beachfront joint on Socoa Beach, 30-minutes south of Biarritz. You can enjoy lamb, mashed-potato pancakes, and hake and cabbage in front of the bobbing fishing boats. If you prefer to eat on the go, or grab something for a picnic on the beach, head to Les Halles market, which is filled with stalls dishing out sumptuous fare: from local goat’s cheeses and anchovies in olive oil and vinegar to limoncello jelly and hazelnut bread.

The most salubrious lodging in town is the Hotel du Palais, the brainchild of Eugenie de Montijo, the wife of Napoleon III, who chose a patch of hillside overlooking the Bay of Biscay for the Imperial residence. The hotel became the center for France’s elite, who holidayed at the sumptuous building and held balls, picnics and fireworks displays, while welcoming world leaders and royalty from around the world. These days the hotel retains all its old-world glamour, and its breakfasts are worth the room price alone.

There’s not a whole lot to do in Biarritz, but that’s sort of the point. It’s a place to while away the hours in a café, or to take long walks on one of the numerous beaches. It’s a place to relax in, not to do too much. If you do want to exert yourself, then there are a number of surfing schools where you can learn to ride the waves. Most offer similar courses (and prices), with La Vague Basque being the best reviewed. All ages and nationalities come here to learn to surf, so don’t be shy about getting that wetsuit on.

After a reviving dinner, head to the promenade and grab yourself an ice cream. One of the great French pastimes is people-watching, and the cafés along the promenade offer the perfect place to watch the world go by. Part French, part Basque, and with a wonderful mix of elegance, cool and Fifties chic, Biarritz might just be the best beach town in France.


Celine Dion returns to Canada to kick off world tour

Updated 16 min 14 sec ago

Celine Dion returns to Canada to kick off world tour

  • The Grammy winner also recently announced the release of a new album titled “Courage”
  • She said in April that she felt motivated to create new music and hit the road after the 2016 death of her husband and manager

QUEBEC CITY: After living and crooning for years in Las Vegas, French-Canadian superstar Celine Dion returned home to Quebec to kick off her first world tour in a decade on Wednesday.
At 51, the Grammy winner also recently announced the release of a new album titled “Courage,” which will be her 12th in English and is due out on November 15.
The first single “Flying On My Own,” featuring her powerful vocals backed by techno beats, has already hit the airwaves, while three more dropped Wednesday: “Courage,” “Lying Down” and “Imperfections.”
Known for her blockbuster ballads, Dion said in April that she felt motivated to create new music and hit the road after the 2016 death of her husband and manager Rene Angelil.
“When I lost Rene, he wanted me back on stage. He wanted to make sure I was still practicing my passion,” she said. “I wanted to prove to him that I’m fine, we’re fine, we’re going to be OK. I’ve got this.”
So, after more than 1,140 concerts for 4.5 million fans over 16 years in Sin City, she bid adieu to the Colosseum at Caesars Palace with a final two-hour show.
“Courage is exactly the way I feel,” she told public broadcaster CBC at the time, talking up the upcoming tour of the same name.
“In the past three years, it has been difficult for me to talk to my children, to raise them, to lose my husband, wondering am I going to sing again... so much has happened, but at the same time I feel that I’m in control of my life.”
Some 60 dates in North American have been confirmed so far, her label said, with two arena shows in Quebec City on Wednesday and Saturday kicking off the tour, which will run through April 2020, and will be her first world tour since 2008-2009.
Her show was almost two hours of mastery, as she performed some of her greatest hits — from “I’m Alive” to “My Heart Will Go On” — as well as new material to an ecstatic crowd of roughly 20,000.
“It was really impossible to miss Celine at home,” Nicolas Delivre, a French university exchange student in Montreal, told AFP.
Donald Berard, from Quebec City, said he had grown up listening to Dion. “We love her like a member of our family.”
“Courage” marks the first album and tour in Dion’s long career without Angelil, who steered her success beginning in 1981 when he mortgaged his house to finance the young teen’s debut album.
The pair began a personal relationship in 1988 when she was only 19 years old, and married in a lavish ceremony in 1994. Angelil died of throat cancer at age 73.
In an interview with NBC’s Today show, Dion revealed that she longs for the hugs and laughs that come with a relationship, but added, “I’m not ready to date.”
The youngest of a family of 14 children raised in the suburbs of Montreal, Dion has sold 250 million copies of 23 studio albums in English and French, including collaborations with French singer-songwriter Jean-Jacques Goldman, Barbra Streisand and Stevie Wonder.
Back in Canada, she told the Montreal Gazette that the tour schedule was “a little crazy,” but that she had found time in advance to take in life’s small pleasures.
At a press junket last Friday, Dion told Radio-Canada: “There are good wines that age well, and there are good wines that age badly. I hope to be a good bottle of wine.”
“I’m not a new Celine,” Dion added. “I’m a continuity of myself.”