Forty winks of nighttime reverie brings me back
to one of my favorite spots on the planet.
It's forever imprinted on my heart.
Assorted travels throughout France have taken me to many diverse locales.
Pretty faces and picture-perfect postcard views are fine for some travelers.
But I prefer hamlets with interesting and exotic character -- exactly
what you get in my favorite Basque refuge.
Biarritz can justifiably be called a seaside sanctuary.
But -- yawn -- most guidebooks casually classify it as a resort town --
as if that's reason enough to show up -- and that's not even half the story.
I say give credit where credit is due.
If you prefer unorthodox communities, avoiding standard holiday hot-spots,
you'll discover Biarritz and the Cote Basque are decidedly different.
Don't even try to classify Biarritz.
It's an absorbing mix of history, architecture, food, weather, sun, and people.
Messy in a good way --- Like beach hair on the pages of Vogue.
Waves pounding, wind blowing, it's slightly unsettling.
A rare language, not easily pronounced or understood, teases our ear.
Amusing sculpture wakes up our imagination.
Platters of new tastes and local color make you crave multiple feedings a day.
Oh, and did I mention this is Basque country?
Biarritz is unique.
It will remind you of all the reasons you travel.
But its beauty goes deeper than any typical resort town.
Miles of beaches offer a contrast to belle epoque villas that line the streets.
Jagged rocks and cliffs contrast with whispery tamarisk, oleander and umbrella pines.
Old fashioned elegance tangles with surfer culture.
It all comes together somehow, a perfect blend of the curious and the exotic.
Biarritz's near neighbors, St. Jean de Luz and Bayonne, are close-by -- just an
inexpensive bus ride away -- an easy day-trip to add to your itinerary.
Espelette, Sare and even Saint-Jean-Pied-de Port (inland at the foot of the Pyrenees)
are must-see stops, too, if you can tear yourself away from the charms of Biarritz.
I'm a huge lover of museums -- and there are a good number of them,
(Musée de la Mer Aquarium, Musée d'Art Asiatica, Planete Musée du Chocolat to name a few), but it's darned impossible to tear yourself away from the call of the seaside promenade
and the lure of a little café in favor of indoor intellectual pursuits.
Start your day with a gentle walk on the famous promenade along the Grande Plage,
past the art deco casino and onward to Place Ste-Eugenie and fisherman's port
where you'll purr as soon as you spy the Rocher de la Vierge (Rock of the Virgin).
In order to get to the Rock and its famous Madonna sitting squarely on top
(protecting the local fishermen), you'll have to cross a sturdy iron bridge
designed by someone you may already know -- Gustave Eiffel.
By then, you'll be ready for lunch and that's a whole new adventure.
Will it be the local Bayonne ham, grilled sardines, chiperones (tiny squid),
or scrambled eggs covered with brilliant red piperade?
Local Irouléguy wine, for sure.
As soon as lunch is over, you'll start thinking about dinner -- basque chicken,
fresh catch of the day or cod-stuffed-peppers with spicy espelette pepper sauce?
Goodness knows, you'll never run out of ideas.
Don't forget the cheese course.
Brebis cheese with red cherry jam is delightful and for dessert,
make sure you bite into a gateau basque (two for me, please).
A word about the food.
You will be spoiled for riches here.
Tapas are called pintxas and I guarantee you'll always remember where you had your first one. The Basque kitchen delivers one of the world's great cuisines.
recognize the star power of this amazing small city.
This is the kind of place that must come straight from God's hand or a wizard's wand.
Many famous people have enjoyed the pleasures of sun, sky and sand in Biarritz.
It all started back in 1854 when Empress Eugenie cajoled Napoleon III*
to join her at this unknown paradise.
They had a grand villa built on the premiere location along the beach, transforming
the simple fishing village (whaling was the key industry) into a fashionable hot-spot.
*Louis-Napoleon, nephew of THE Napoleon Bonaparte, was emperor of the
Second French Empire and the smart guy who hired Baron Haussmann to transform Paris.
Today you'll find the stunning Hotel du Palais standing in the shadow of the
old Villa Eugenie, refashioned as a posh 5-star hotel.
It's a lovely place to sip a cocktail as you pretend to be one of the rich and famous.
Famous celebs flocked here, from kings & queens to movie royalty.
Queen Victoria, Sarah Bernhardt, Coco Chanel, Frank Sinatra, Princess Diana
and a whole gang of notables enjoyed the charms of this Basque beach queen.
Speaking of beaches, there are many to discover, all distinctly diverse.
Surfboarders swarm the area now, so instead of jewel-encrusted crowns,
you're treated to wetsuits, bikinis and board shorts to celebrate
the new royalty -- the kings and queens of European surfing.
Biarritz is the acknowledged surfing capitol of Europe.
Every year a rocking gala honors the California-bred surf competition.
The Biarritz Surf Festival takes place annually in July and offers
all brands of water activity in a party-like atmosphere.
Surf City, here we come!
There's even a Russian Orthodox Church to visit, built back in the 19th century for the
Russian aristocrats who came to gamble away their gold and their gloom.
The covered market, Les Halles, is worth a look and a taste.
You'll be stunned by the miles of seafood, freshly caught,
deservedly displayed in their own splashy wing.
Aisles of fresh produce so colorful, you may have to wear your shades.
Cheese and ham create a mouth-watering spectacle in the huge exhibit of gastronomic glory.
Golf is a big deal here but if that's not your sport, choose from a long list of athletic and
health inducing activities -- Pelota, rugby, Thalassotherapy, or beach-watching, it's all here.
Don't miss the Pointe-St-Martin with it's lighthouse that watches over the town and its sea.
By then, you'll be ready for a comforting cup of hot chocolate,
a specialty of the chocolate-smitten region.
My husband and I were visiting in September of 2002.
On the 1st anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, we sat sadly together, licking our wounded
hearts and feeling guilty about being in a gorgeous seaside sanctuary while our fellow compatriots at home were likely re-living the tragedy minute by minute.
As my tears fell and our dark conversation faltered, a local woman shyly
stopped at our table to gently ask if we were Americans.
She was respectful and contemplative, telling us that she would say a
prayer for our country and our citizens today.
As we worked up a thank you and a smile for her, we realized how lucky we were --
that Biarritz is not just a beautiful place with blue skies and a beach.
It's a community full of good-hearted and nurturing people.
Before long, we noticed others slowly passing our table, hands folded,
heads lowered, seeming to pay their respects, too.
Their sad faces and gentle nods acknowledged
their compassion and empathy over America's tragedy and
helped us realize that it was a blow shared by the whole world.
It didn't just help us get through the flashbacks of that terrible day.
It made our whole vacation.
Thank you, kind people of Biarritz, for taking the time to offer a little love
to two Americans who sorely needed it.
Sometimes it's not about what you see but about what you feel.
And I feel just fine in Biarritz.