I have been based in Portugal since the beginning of November, so it is very easy to forget the month of October that we spent in Biarritz, acclimatising to our new life.
It is however, a huge disservice to Biarritz to simply say that it was a stepping stone in our adventure. Biarritz has always held a magical quality for me. In my opinion, it finds a fantastic balance between surf hippy culture and high end fancy. Small enough that you can walk it easily (there are hills, keep that in mind), imbued with all the French-isms you may want (perhaps some that you do not) and yet quietly proud of its Basque roots, I find it unlike anywhere I have ever visited. There are enough restaurants that you could dine out somewhere different every night for months — if the budget allowed — and enough surf shops that you can feel sufficiently cool and surfy without even hitting the water. There is also a large selection of the extremely high end shops, Hermes and the like, again, if the budget allows…
But most of all, Biarritz is beautiful.
Yes, it is expensive — and I would never recommend going there in August, when it is heaving and the locals are the worst version of themselves — but outside of the high season mayhem, it exudes laid-back charm. It is most definitely a surf town. Even as the weather gets cold and there are snowy peaks visible over the bay on the Spanish side of the border, the town is packed with every variety of surf car, from the new shiny Spanish reg Range Rovers to the beat up German VWs circa 1989, all stacked with surfboards.
The main spot to surf in Biarritz is called Côtes des Basques. The water, like the town, it is packed with the full spectrum of person, from beach bums to high fliers all made equal by the waves. One of the most amazing things about this beach spot is that you can find every level of surfer paddling out.
Côtes des Basques is a wide beach, with a variety of peaks for more experienced surfers to ride and lots of white water for beginners to start on. I am learning that this egalitarian wave provision is actually quite unique in surfing. Usually, the beaches with the ‘peaks’ that good surfers want to surf do not provide the pummeling white water beginners need, and vice versa. This means that there is a huge selection of skill on display. And some of the Biarritz surfers really are skilled. It is the first place (beyond instagram) that I have actually seen longboarders ‘hang ten’ (their ten toes hang over the nose of the board, don’t ask about the physics of it…), there are children performing aerials; a plethora of young men and women fluffing their surf feathers to catch attention. Even if you do not surf, Côtes des Basque is an amazing people watching spot.
But most of all, at the top of the hundred plus steps overlooking the beach, there is a treasured spot of mine. A small wooden hut built beneath old trees with a view that will take your breath away. Nestled among the petanques courts, there is almost as much variety at this bar as there is in the water. Old men play with children and every evening it feels like the entire town congregates at this little spot to watch the sun set and drink sangria. It is not a secret spot, but Extola Bibi is most definitely a magic spot.
Biarritz is like the highly polished stone of surfing. It is shiny and bright, but has made sacrifices for the privilege. It has lost a certain authenticity along the way, and every year brings more people into the water, crowding out the pretty fantastic waves. Predictably, this can cause tensions in the water. Having such a high concentration of skill in a small area means that beginners can inadvertently find themselves dropping in on someone’s wave, and taking the waves can be a tense affair. Driving out of Biarritz itself, north to Anglet or south to the villages that pepper the final streak of coast before Spain will certainly give you a quieter experience, but even these less famous spots are becoming busy and you may encounter some protective locals.
I love Biarritz. I love wandering the local market place looking at fruit and vegetables, having coffees and croissants watching the blend of locals and visitors pass by. I love finding the quiet spots in a fairly bustling town, I love how clean it is, how at lunchtime you can see the surfers jogging barefooted to the beach, boards tucked neatly underarm and eyes shining brightly with anticipation. But most of all, I love how easy it is to forget your cares in this beautiful, easy going spot and be carried away by the enthusiasm this place holds.