Ever been to this French seaside town, favoured by everyone from Coco Chanel to Picasso? Here’s how to visit in style for a chic weekend break
We joined Chanel this week in the south of France to visit their unique Open Sky Lab in Gaujaq, about an hour from Biarritz – it’s where the camellias are grown for Chanel’s innovative No1 de Chanel beauty line, which has sustainability at its heart.
We were in the area to get a rare glimpse behind the scenes of the making of No1 skincare – we borrowed Chanel wellies (swoon) and stomped off through the fields in the rain to see some of the 2,000-plus camellia varieties that are specially grown here, and discover why they are so special. And more about this extraordinary project to follow …
But for now, here are some Biarritz Highlights – while you might have considered Lisbon or Paris for a weekend getaway, Biarritz is a little different. There are direct flights from Dublin, and it’s a beautifully low-key place to visit at this time of year, with waves (it’s a popular surf destination), walks to the lighthouse and fabulous food.
A few hours’ TGV ride from Paris, Biarritz is a glamorous seaside town, its edges buffeted by the Atlantic Ocean. Gabrielle Chanel set up her first couture store here, in 1915; many wealthy people left Paris for the south of France at the beginning of the First World War, and the store – initially funded with help from Boy Capel – soon became a success. You can still see the building that housed her first fashions (now a bookshop).
WHERE TO STAY
It’s easy to see how this town, with its elegant light, golden sand and dappled grandeur, inspired the designer. And no wonder she stayed at the ultra-grand Hotel du Palais, a palace built in 1854 by Napoleon as a gift for the Empress Eugenie: everyone from Picasso to Frank Sinatra chose to stay here. Recently renovated, the hotel has a unique location as well as history – it’s grandly imposing, overlooking the beach, like something out of an F Scott Fitzgerald novel, with a curvy outdoor pool (in high season only).
Views are panoramic views and you fall sleep to the sound of the pounding waves. The glass windows of the circular dining salon mean you eat breakfast in full view of the ocean, too.
And the breakfast brioches and croissants alone are worth travelling for. As is the old-school glamour, and the charm of the staff.
WHERE TO EAT
We ate at two local restaurants, both of which are definitely worth recommending: a laidback Spanish tapas bar that’s big on seafood, Chistera et Coquillages, from razor clams to oysters and paella; and the chic and minimal restaurant Sillon, which specialises in seasonal and local ingredients, with an emphasis on delicate flavours – the squash tempura is exquisite – and the creamiest mashed potato to rival even Guilbaud’s.
WHAT TO TAKE HOME
The town is certainly out of season at the moment, and beautifully quiet, with just a few hardy surfers taking to the waves (it can be pretty windswept here, and you’re likely to experience four seasons in a day).
But there are plenty of highlights, from the Chocolaterie Henriet store (we adored the giant chocolate penguins in the window) to Miremont, a cafe with a sea view that dates back to 1872.
The most bustling spot at this time of year is the indoor Halles market – while Dublin has a few good farmer’s markets, it doesn’t have anywhere like this. Locals gather for seasonal fruit, veg and flowers, plus local specialties from cheese to meats, plus plenty of coffee stops. Take home divine tarts made with Basque black cherries, or a string of pink garlic.