Getting Ritzy in Biarritz

On my my fairly budgeted French road trip with my mom and my sister, I knew there was one destination where we would have to go all out- Biarritz.

Biarritz is a French resort town known for its glitzy past as a 19th century seaside destination, when it was graced by European royals such as Queen Victoria and American royals such as the Vanderbilts.

And it turns out that Biarritz’ posh reputation remains intact to this day. As a French friend told me, “The Côte d’Azur is so passé, it was cool in the 1950s but not anymore. Now it’s much more chic to go to Biarritz.”

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For our splurge night I chose the ritzily named Sofitel Biarritz Le Miramar Thalassa Sea & Spa Hotel.

(Don’t worry, I haven’t changed my ways- being the off season the room was still a fraction of its normal price.)

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Due to our snazzy new suite, I’m afraid we didn’t see much of Biarritz for our first hours in the city- while my mom napped under the extraordinarily comfortable down comforters in our room, my sister and I took a dip in the heated, outdoor, salt-water swimming pool, which boasts views of the entire bay.

When the cold winds finally forced us out of the water (evidently outdoor swimming pools in April are still kind of iffy!) we made our way down to the beach and watched the surf crash to the shore while soaking up a little much-needed sun. If memory serves me well, the beach kind of resembled California.

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But we certainly weren’t in California- Biarritz is located in French Basque country after all. From the traditional red and green Basque homes to the Christmas-colored Basque flag waving proudly in the fierce Biarritz wind, we spotted telltale signs of the Basque region all over.

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After a little wave-watching it was time to find some grub.

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Before leaving the hotel, our extremely helpful concierge recommended us several restaurants, many of which I suspected were over-priced and touristy. I used the basic but effective, “Um, that’s nice, but where do people who actually live here eat?” He immediately pointed out Bar Jean on the map, a traditional Basque pintxos bar.

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Pintxos are essentially the Basque version of tapas, only they are often served on bread and in smaller portions. Most pintxos are served at the bar and skewered with a toothpick (hence pincho being Spanish for spike.)

Bar Jean serves up a delightful French-Spanish-Basque fusion menu- we tasted everything from French classics like mushroom duxelle on puff pastry and mousse au chocolat, to Spanish potato omelet (tortilla de patatas), Basque white wine (txakoli) and flan.

It was my first time having pintxos, and the honor system style of paying intrigued me- do they really charge you by counting toothpicks you used?

(My more devious side wondered about this arrangement- wouldn’t customers simply hide the toothpicks?)

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Besides great food, the bar also offered a young, lively atmosphere, reasonable prices and devilishly handsome waiters (they sure grow ’em cute down in Basque Country).

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Due to my mother’s Midwestern insistence on eating dinner at 7 pm, we were still able to enjoy the sunset after dinner.

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The rough waves around Biarritz lend themselves to an intense surfing scene- there’s even a surfing festival there every summer!

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As sunset faded, my sister and I precariously stood on the rocks in order to take a few dramatic Instagram shots.

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And on our final morning in Biarritz, we whiled away the hours shopping along the palm-treelined boulevards. My little sister made her big purchase of the trip- a navy blue Longchamps tote in which to carry her schoolbooks. (Note for all retail addicts- Longchamp is a lot less expensive in France than in the U.S.)

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Overall it was a blissful 24 hours spent indulging ourselves: luxury hotel, sea views, shopping and pintxos included.

Do you ever take a break from budget travel and splurge for a night?

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About Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is a travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Uganda. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour Magazine.

6 thoughts on “Getting Ritzy in Biarritz”

  1. What a great experience with your family. Really like the photo the waves crashing in front of you! and like so many places in France, the food looks amazing.

  2. I loved seeing you and Kristi. I could feel the
    fun you were having. Wish I could have been with you.

    Love,

    amma

  3. Nice photos!
    I was just in Biarritz last week for 2 nights but unfortunately stayed outside of the city, unknowingly in an airbnb apt (which was my first weird airbnb experience). I was happy for some sun shine, even though it was still too cold to be sporting the bikini!

    And yes, it’s definitely nice to splurge once in a while!

  4. Wow, this place looks incredible. I love the “dramatic Instagram photos” :) If I’m traveling for months at a time, I always take some time to splurge somewhere. But I do find it tricky to go back to hostels after staying somewhere fancy!

  5. I wish I had read your post before I went to Biarritz several years ago. The locals did not welcome us with open arms. Instead, they refused to serve us food in two different restaurants. Your tapas place would have been a hunger saver!

    • I can’t believe the locals were so rude, I was hoping that only the Parisians would treat people like that! If you go back definitely check out Bar Jean though, they’re really nice there.

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