Travel Spotlight

From Bilbao to Bordeaux: A Solo Journey Along the Bay of Biscay

There are few greater luxuries in life than opening up a map and asking oneself: Where would I like to go?

In late October, the wedding of a former college roommate brought me to Saint-Émilion. I readily embraced the invitation as a worthy excuse to extend a weekend of festivities into a 10-day scouting trip. I would fly over early and meet my friends in Bordeaux. I immediately thought of Paris—a logistically easy choice, and one that was brimming with new treasures to explore. But an unfortunate six-legged scandal was at the time plaguing the city’s PR, and I was wary of arriving at the celebration with a suitcase full of tiny crashers. Perhaps irrationally, I decided to pivot.

Letting my eyes wander over grey highway routes and snaking rivers, I found my focus drifting south, over the Pyrenees, to a cluster on the map that had long engaged my curiosity: Bilbao. I have traveled widely over the Iberian Peninsula, and lived for periods in Barcelona and Madrid, but this cultural and culinary powerhouse of the País Vasco had somehow always been just out of reach. I would begin there. A 90-minute drive would bring me from Bilbao to see an old friend—San Sebastián—and another 45 on the road would introduce me to her alluring neighbor across the border, Biarritz. A couple of nights in each city would allow me a brief taste of its delights—an itinerary reflective of the region’s txikiteo tradition, in which hungry revelers hop from one bar to the next, stopping just long enough to enjoy a drink and a bite or two.

From Biarritz and the Pays Basque, a direct two-hour train ride would carry me on to the wedding. Myself unattached, I’d be traveling alone. Unattached—and unencumbered—I was able to soak in the pleasures of the coast in the off-season: taking a long, rambling walk along the sea and down side streets, pausing as often as I liked to admire a particularly interesting balcony or a cat in a store window (without a tug on the sleeve or a roll of the eye); sipping a glass of Irouléguy at a prime cliffside spot, which would otherwise be hopelessly packed with tourists, watching the rain beat down upon the Biscay waves below; and finding the small moments of connection, in places I already want to return to.

Read on for a few of them—including first looks at the new hotels Nobu San Sebastián and Regina Experimental Biarritz.


Contact your Trip Designer or Indagare, if you are not yet a member, to start planning a trip to the Basque Country and further afield in Spain and France. Our team can plan a customized itinerary designed for your interests and match you with the hotels, restaurants and guides for you.


Bilbao

Bilbao is an oddly-shaped city, built to the curves of the Nervión River where it enters into the land, sitting in pockets of valley that quickly give way to the soft slopes of lush green-blue mountains. It’s the de-facto capital of the Basque region and was the second-most industralized city in Spain, behind Barcelona, until the 20th century. Under the Fascist-allied regime of Francisco Franco (1939–1975), the Basque Country was violently oppressed, and Bilbao stood as a center for resistance. Many native customs, including the Basque language, euskera, were outlawed (as one of the oldest languages still spoken in the world, euskera predates the Latin-based castellano Spanish and has no known relatives, though many theories exist). This oppression climaxed in the bombardment of Guernica, just 30 minutes from Bilbao—an event immortalized in Picasso’s haunting mural that today hangs in the Reina Sofía in Madrid.

After Franco’s death, a period of conflict between Basque and Spanish nationalists, much like The Troubles in Ireland, stained the region’s reputation on the global stage—but ceasefire and stability in the 2010s saw the swift arrival of travelers seeking Bilbao’s now-robust architectural, artistic and culinary attractions, anchored around the titanium-tiled Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Gehry in 1997, and a growing number of Michelin-starred restaurants (with 15 in Bilbao proper and nearly a dozen others within an hour’s drive).

Today, the city seems ambivalent about its popularity, like a young rebel negotiating her place in the adult world. Bilbao is still rough around the edges. Belle Époque palaces and towering modern installations mix and mingle with apartments cramped somewhat crookedly around centuries-old churches and taverns. Posters advertising protests against tourism are pasted along main thoroughfares, with drawings of vultures perched upon suitcases staring down beadily at carousers, both Basque and foreign, that spill out of the pintxos bars on Calle Ledesma (leaving effervescent copas of txakoli and zuritos of beer in their wake). The city's easygoing, unassuming air belies a ferocity of spirit that runs much deeper.

WHERE TO STAY

  • Across the street from the Guggenheim Museum, the Gran Hotel Domine remains one of Bilbao's top luxury accommodations. The modern-style rooms, while in need of an update, are comfortable, and an eclectic mix of artworks and furniture pieces throughout the common spaces mirrors the aesthetic of the surrounding area. The true draw here is the seventh-floor terrace restaurant, which has some of the city's best views onto the Guggenheim (and Jeff Koons' flower-covered Puppy statue).
  • A newer four-star option, Hotel Tayko, arrived in 2019 in Bilbao's Casco Viejo neighborhood, and it's a solid option for travelers who would prefer to be situated in the old town. It leans into Bilbao's industrial heritage (it occupies the fourth concrete structure ever built in Spain), with exposed cement, beams and bulb lighting, and a natural stone and wood palette. On the ground floor, two restaurants by celebri-chef Martin Berasategui level up the experience: the one-Michelin-starred Ola, and the more relaxed but equally creative La bodega de Ola, which has a special focus on Basque and Spanish wines (shared plates are emphasized here; there is also a daily tasting menu).
  • A 20-minute drive towards the sea from the city center, in the largely residential town of Getxo, Palacio Arriluce opened at the end of October as part of the Leading Hotels of the World collection. For a Bilbao add-on—or for travelers seeking a more provincial home base—this seaside retreat is promising. Originally built in 1912, the palacio enjoys hillside views and space for gardens and a croquet lawn, an outdoor pool terrace, a spa and wellness center, a restaurant by award-winning chef Beñat Ormaetxea and a cocktail bar (located within the former chapel space). The 49 accommodations include several suite options, some with connecting rooms and private outdoor spaces.

WHERE TO EAT & DRINK

In addition to the city's well-established Michelin-starred and foodie-approved spots, a few favorite finds include:

  • Mercado de la Ribera is the city's main market (and the biggest covered market in Europe). Wander the stalls, sample local products and then order some pintxos from one of the "gastro-bars" on the ground floor, to enjoy outside on the riverfront terrace (I chose La Bodeguilla and Vermuteka).
  • Los Fueros was first established in 1878 and is a must-visit spot for lunch in the Casco Viejo. The small tavern-style restaurant is covered in tiles, with a second loft level and an open kitchen. Dishes are typical, delicious and simply prepared. The grilled Huelva prawns with lemon are a specialty.
  • Serrantes III is located just down the street from the Gran Hotel Domine and is a convenient option for dinner after a long day. What it lacks in atmosphere, it more than makes up for with authentic, high-quality traditional Basque cuisine, warm, attentive service and a local crowd. Serrantes III is one of three sister restaurants in the area.
  • Basquery is a low-key hangout serving small bites, pizzas and burgers alongside artisanal craft beers brewed on-site.

What to Know: Vamos de Pintxos

When going for pintxos, I am generally of the mindset that it is more about the experience than the specific places you go; start at Calle Ledesma or Calle Berastegui, and follow the noise. The fun is in the discovery.

Pintxos

While every pintxos establishment has its own specialties, the general menu revolves around the same items: jamón ibérico and other types of pork, local seafood (anchovies, octopus, shrimp, eel), manchego and goat cheese, onions, olives, peppers and potatoes, eggs and aiolis—all served atop fresh bread and paired with a small glass of house cider, Verdejo or txakoli, or a small draught lager, called a zurito (each usually priced around 2-4 euros). A few classic and very popular (and therefore crowded) spots include: El Globo and La Viña del Ensanche on Diputazio Kalea, and Café Bar Bilbao and Gure Toki on the Plaza Nueva. Order at the bar and be assertive (but not rude), pay directly (small bills and euro coins are handy here, though credit cards are accepted), then find a corner to perch or, if you're lucky, grab a small table—or join the party outside.

WHERE TO SHOP & EXPLORE

  • Marian Larrea offers a lovely curation of jewelry, scarves, handbags and other accessories, many of which are made locally.
  • Buztin Artean sells handmade Basque pottery.
  • Ruiz de Ocenda is a beautiful perfume, beauty and flower shop, with a tempting collection of unique jewelry and accessories.
  • b54 is a great boutique for sourcing some pieces to incorporate the effortless elegance of Spanish style into your wardrobe.
  • Mosel is a colorful interior design studio that also stocks some smaller contemporary décor items and gifts.
  • MiiN Cosmetics is a Korean beauty brand, headquartered in Barcelona, that has several shops in Bilbao and throughout Spain (along with outposts in Paris, Munich, Milan and Rome). It's a great place to stock up on sheet masks and jet lag remedies.
  • Azkuna Zentroa is a multi-space cultural center in a 20th-century warehouse restored by Philippe Starck, which hosts rotating art exhibitions, film screenings and other events; there is also a small boutique selling local crafts, three restaurants and a terrace bar.

What to Know: The Guggenheim Museum

Unknown image

As one of the highlights of a Bilbao itinerary, tickets to the Guggenheim Museum should be reserved in advance, online. However, please note that if tickets are sold out online, entry may still be available that day if you go in person. On Sundays, entry to the museum is free—but it is also more crowded. It is closed on Mondays.

For those who have their heart set on seeing Jeff Koon's Puppy statue, be sure to check whether it is scheduled to be under construction before setting your travel dates: in May and October, the artwork is covered in scaffolding for about one week to replace the flowers for the season.

Photo courtesy Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

San Sebastián

Like its sibling city Bilbao, San Sebastián, or Donostia, as it is known in euskera, is celebrated for its modern and contemporary art and design, its surplus of Michelin stars and its atmospheric old town, rich in pintxos bars, boutiques and good times. But where Bilbao is a river city, San Sebastián is on the beach—and the pace there is more leisurely, the views are more beautiful and the vibe is more romantic. In Ernest Hemingway’s breakout novel The Sun Also Rises, which was published in 1926 and is largely a travelogue for northern Spain—a place Hemingway was deeply connected to—his self-inspired protagonist Jake Barnes comes to San Sebastián in an attempt to cleanse himself after the debauchery and depravity of the fiesta of San Fermín in Pamplona. Jake swims in the bay of La Concha beach, spends his days reading and eating well, and emerges spiritually renewed. A century later, San Sebastián is still that place—a place that speaks to the soul, whether you are with fellow travelers or on your own.

WHERE TO STAY

San Sebastián has long been limited in its luxury hotel offerings, and the arrival in late August of a new Nobu property on the beachfront, just west of the heart of the city, is a major development. I wondered whether the brand—the brainchild of Japanese-born chef Nobu Matsuhisa, Manhattan native Robert De Niro and Hollywood's Meir Teper—would feel out of place in this seaside sanctuary. But the synthesis was surprisingly seamless—and once again underlined the Basque Country's strange connection to Japan (for instance, certain linguists have traced connections between euskera's mysterious origins and Japanese). I found that, in fact, the outsider perspective throws San Sebastián's beauty into better relief.

Located within a restored 1912 mansion by renowned Spanish architect Francisco Urcola, the property is a 17-room haven that blends Belle Époque Basque heritage and Japanese aesthetics, designed by Tomás Alía. Each of the rooms and suites is slightly different in layout, as the hotel occupies a heritage listed building, but all are airy and light-filled, and it's tempting to linger within them—despite all that awaits outside—thanks to pillowy beds, spacious closets (designed to look like a bento box) and bathrooms with big mirrors, rainfall showers and Eight & Bob products. The terrace rooms take full advantage of gorgeous views over Playa de la Concha—inviting guests to lounge for an hour or several, with a coffee, a book or a glass of wine—while the specialty suites welcome families with connecting options and large living rooms. The signature Nobu restaurant and terrace bar, both of which can also be booked by non-guests, are a highlight, and they provide a worth-it moment of variety to an itinerary heavy in Basque cuisine. A 24-hour fitness center and a rooftop pool round out the amenities; outside of the restaurants, the public spaces here are limited—the property is better designed for peace, intimacy and privacy. The service was excellent, and the team was incredibly warm and helpful.

Also on my radar? The Hotel Arbaso, a four-star, family- and female-owned boutique hotel that's well located near the bridge that connects the Old Town to the trendy Gros neighborhood. Launched just before the pandemic, and then reopened in June 2020, the property emphasizes Basque designers and integration with the local community, and it also houses the acclaimed restaurant Narru. On the outskirts of town, a ten-minute drive east of Gros, Hotel Mendi Argia is another four-star, family-owned, stylish boutique option housed within a 20th-century villa, with charming touches like an old Basque pelota court, stone soaking tubs and plenty of terraces (and an infinity lap pool) from which to enjoy the hilltop views.

WHERE TO EAT & DRINK

In addition to the city's well-established Michelin-starred spots, a few favorite finds include:

  • At Narru, seasonal plates and high-quality local ingredients take the stage in a modern atmosphere.
  • For a trendy atmosphere and a contemporary take on Basque traditions, Cortázar is a current hot spot. The croquetas and the chocolate cheesecake are particularly indulgent (and Cortázar is better for cocktails and appetizers, or a nightcap and dessert, if you're having to make hard choices around dinner reservations).
  • For a quick break, cozy vibe and a great selection of locally produced natural wines: Ondarra Taberna
  • Casa Vergara is a pinxtos restaurant I first discovered when visiting San Sebastián in college (while I was researching my thesis on The Sun Also Rises). It certainly draws tourists, and the food is not particularly special, but the location on the square directly facing the 18th-century Baroque church Basilica of Saint Mary of Coro (or Koruko Andre Mariaren basilika) is nothing short of magical. I have seen it absolutely packed with summer party-goers and completely empty, drenched in nighttime October rains—but it always fills me with awe.

WHERE TO SHOP & EXPLORE

  • Loreak Mendian is a sleek, current streetwear and outerwear brand that was founded in San Sebastián in 1995. The collections are focused on functionality and sustainability and often feature interesting collaborations.
  • Auka is a chic women's clothing and accessories concept store, curated by a mother-daughter duo (I visited the location on Peñaflorida 4; there is also a boutique on Camino 1, and outposts in Bilbao, Barcelona and Madrid).
  • JALO. is a globally-inspired home décor and accessories store, with treasures ranging from ceramic teapots and velvet handbags to cowboy boots and ikat kaftans.
  • Located within a 20th-century tobacco factory, Tabakalera is now a contemporary cultural center focused on the arts and multimedia (there is also a restaurant on site).
  • Getaria Day Trip: A thirty-minute taxi will bring you from San Sebastián to one of the region's many historic fishing villages, Getaria, which also happens to be the home of the celebrated Spanish fashion designer Cristóbal Balenciaga. Here, you'll learn about his significant contributions to the industry (Christian Dior referred to him as "the master of us all"), with details from his life and pieces from his earliest collections. The museum also hosts rotating exhibitions, and I enjoyed a deep dive into the work of Catalán designer Josep Font. After, wander through the village before a meal at the Michelin-starred Elkano, which is famous for its charcoal-grilled turbot. (Reservations for the museum, Elkano and transportation back to San Sebastián should all be arranged in advance.)

I went in and ate dinner. It was a big meal for France but it seemed very carefully apportioned after Spain. I drank a bottle of wine for company. It was a Château Margaux. It was pleasant to be drinking slowly and to be tasting the wine and to be drinking alone. A bottle of wine was good company.

Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises, 1926

Biarritz

Continuing in a straight line along the coast (a route so easy that I'd even recommend it for self-driving), Biarritz is San Sebastián's counterpart just across the border, in the French Basque Country, or Pays Basque. It was also a preferred haunt of Hemingway's, and it also shows up in The Sun Also Rises. Coco Chanel and Frank Sinatra famously spent time here, too—as did Victor Hugo, before them all. In fact, Biarritz has been an upscale holiday spot since the mid-19th century, when it was the stomping grounds of such European monarchs as Empress Eugenie, Queen Victoria and Empress Sisi. But Biarritz's Basque-ness sets it apart from the other riviera resorts where the same well-heeled set also liked to travel; this is no Cannes or Antibes. The strong waves of the Atlantic have made Biarritz one of western Europe's more desirable spots for surfers, and their influence maintains a certain level of barefoot, sand-swept swagger that keeps it from getting too glamorous. And, again, there's that ferocity of spirit, which thrives in this wild stretch between the ocean and the mountains. To visit in the off-season and still find a strong pulse, even with gloomy weather, proves Biarritz is much more than a beach town.

WHERE TO STAY

Unveiled in July 2023, the hotel Regina Experimental Biarritz is another contemporary game-changer for the Basque region. It's one of the latest creations from the cool-kid Experimental Group, which was founded by three childhood friends and has launched successful cocktail and wine bars, restaurants and hotels in Paris, New York, London, Ibiza, Menorca, Venice and Verbier (you may know them from Paris' Le Grand Pigalle or Indagare staff favorite La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels in Soho). The Regina Experimental presents a fresh take on a Biarritz beach getaway, within an imposing, Neo-Basque structure originally designed in 1907. It survived both world wars—during the first, it served as a hospital; during the second, it was captured by the Germans and badly burned. It was rebuilt as a hotel and passed through various hands before landing with the Experimental Group, who invested in an eight-month restoration. Today, the soaring atrium, with its Eiffel glass roof and Art-Deco accents, revives the original Belle Époque glamour.

Central to the property's appeal—in stark contrast to Biarritz' resident grand-dame, Hotel du Palais—are the perfectly playful interiors by Dorothée Meilichzon, who employs brightly patterned prints, custom-built pieces (like geometric headboards and oversized mirrors) and a balanced blend of retro-maritime and contemporary objets to create a feast for the eyes (particularly memorable are the clamshell lamps and the red-striped sailor chairs). The 72 rooms and suites are vibrant and cheerful, maximizing the light and sea or golf course views.

All of the rooms open into the atrium—where ample seating spaces welcome lounging and socializing. They are anchored by a piano and high-top bar serving Roaring Twenties-inspired creations. An elevated restaurant by the group's favorite chef, Gregory Marchand, flows from the lobby into a red-striped space that is just beachy enough, and it spills out onto the pool club terrace. The overall result is a communal atmosphere that's ideal for travelers seeking equal parts nostalgia and energy, without sacrificing sophistication. There is also a small on-property spa and hammam, using Susanne Kaufmann and Alaena products, and the boutique is a must-visit for on-point Biarritz looks and gifts.

Also on my radar? Regina Experimental's sister property, Le Garage, so-named because it originally served to house the wheels of the high rollers staying across the street. (It later became an aviation club, and then just a regular garage, before it was reincarnated.) Younger and trendier, Le Garage is decidedly the more casual of the two properties, with a funkier design and a stronger surf club vibe across 27 rooms and suites and a restaurant/café. There is also an outdoor pool, surrounded by a fenced-in lawn, with lounge chairs and picnic tables.

For a four-star boutique option right on Port Vieux beach, Hôtel de la Plage offers 20 boho-chic rooms, many with balconies, and public spaces—including a casual rooftop restaurant—that will appeal to digital nomads. It was renovated in the spring of 2022. (They stock Lalla Marrakech pouches in their gift shop, so you know they have good taste.)

WHERE TO EAT & DRINK

  • Frenchie: With both indoor and outdoor spaces in the hotel Regina Experimental, Frenchie is now one of the top tables to book in Biarritz, thanks to the atmosphere-creating skills of Dorothée Meilichzon and the reputation of chef Greg Marchand. Here, he puts his signature spin on the cuisine of the region, with beautifully plated dishes and an impressive cocktail and wine list, to match.
  • Chez Eugenie: In a choice spot overlooking La Grande Plage (as part of Le Windsor Hotel), Chez Eugenie serves elegant local seafood and southwestern French fare in a bright, beachy space.
  • Zou: This colorful, contemporary restaurant and wine bar has a sleek look and serves a delicious, refined menu of French-Mediterranean and Levantine plates.
  • 1001 Fromages: This specialty cheese, charcuterie and wine shop is the perfect place to stock up for a picnic on the beach. They also serve a selection of deli products to go.
  • Jack The Coquerel is self-described as "une brasserie électrique & sans chichis." While they do serve a full brasserie-style menu, I'd recommend coming for cocktails and maybe small bites—it's more about the lively, youthful atmosphere.

WHERE TO SHOP & EXPLORE

  • Open Me is a charming boutique packed with decorative objects, little gifts and some clothing and accessories.
  • Lamanda is a brand with several boutiques in the Pays Basque region, selling an eclectic collection of international clothing containing some hidden gems.
  • Find walls of classic Basque espadrilles in every color and size at Espadrilles Chistera Biarritz.
  • At Tissage de Luz, peruse traditional Basque striped bayadère linens—in the form of towels and tableware, or to bring home for upholstery. The house has been established since 1908 and has exclusively used certified organic cotton since 2021.
  • Galerie Simon is a design gallery specializing in Kilim rugs.
  • Maison Sarah Lavoine is the design studio and concept shop of the daughter of longtime Vogue director Jean Stanislas Poniatowski. The brand, which has stores throughout France, Belgium and Luxembourg, spotlights craftsmen based in France, Spain and Italy.
  • Sessùn is another clothing and accessories brand with boutiques throughout Europe that I discovered in Biarritz.

Bordeaux

Arriving in Bordeaux for the wedding festivities, my itinerary brought me back inland—and my solo journey came to a close. In Saint-Émilion, among medieval streets and vineyards green with rain, I felt as if I was emerging from a meditation, as I realigned my rhythms and my thoughts to those of my travel companions. Being alone doesn't mean being lonely—but a bottle of wine shared among friends is nice, too.

WHERE TO STAY

  • In the heart of Saint-Émilion, Logis de la Cadene is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, boutique hotel and Michelin-starred restaurant, all in one. The restaurant is also the oldest in the village, having been founded in 1848. There are 12 unique rooms and suites, which are simply outfitted but rustic and peaceful; there is also a maison guest house that can be privatized. The property was partially renovated in 2023, but it has retained the layout of a cozy, historic inn, with a small library for relaxing and creaky floorboards. Like most things in Saint-Émilion, Logis de la Cadene sits at the top of a steep, narrow, cobblestoned street, which cannot be directly accessed by car.
  • Nearby, Hôtel de Pavie is also well regarded.
  • Just south of Bordeaux, Les Sources de Caudalie is an idyllic spa- and wine-focused retreat, set on a lakefront manor bordering the vineyards of Château Smith Haut-Lafitte.
  • Further afield (a two hour drive north of Saint-Émilion, in Massignac), Domaine des Etangs, newly a member of Auberge Resorts Collection, is a robust countryside resort, located within a 13th-century chateau with access to 2,500 forested acres.

WHERE TO EAT & DRINK

  • Quick Break: Fromagerie La Moineaudiere, a cheese and charcuterie shop up the street from Logis de la Cadene that makes tasty sandwiches.
  • Lunch: L’Envers du Décor, a stylish bistro serving regional cuisine and wine.
  • Dinner: Chai Pascal, a cozy classic with exposed stone walls.
  • For a Drink: Sous La Robe, a lively wine bar that often hosts music and private events.

WHERE TO SHOP & EXPLORE

  • Shop: Les Caves Natures for organic and biodynamic wines, and helpful consultation.
  • Visit the Monolithic Church, a site listed by the World Monuments Fund that was constructed in the 12th century and is partly underground. You can also step inside the Église collégiale, also dating back to the 12th century and just one street away. Here, you can survey the Apocalyse mural installed in the cloister, by painter François Peltier.
  • Enjoy a short but steep walk up to La Tour du Roy, or the King's Tower, for a bit of fresh air and views over Saint-Émilion, then continue on through the vineyards (it's easy to loop your way back).
  • Plus: If you can't stay at Les Sources de Caudalie, at least visit a local pharmacy and stock up on their vinotherapy products, which leverage antioxidants from the grape seeds produced at Château Smith Haut Lafitte (and are less expensive in France). A few favorites that came home in my carry-on: the Vinopure mask, the Resveratrol-Lift firming serum and the Vinoperfect radiance serum.

INDAGARE RECOMMENDS

Where to Stay: Elizabeth's Basque Country Itinerary

Plus: Discover more hotels, favorite places and travel advice in the Indagare Guides to the Spanish Basque Country, Biarritz and Bordeaux.

Interiors view at Gran Hotel Domine, Spanish Basque Region, Spain

Gran Hotel Domine

Just opposite the Guggenheim, the Grand Hotel Domine is the hippest hotel in Bilbao with arty public spaces and comfortable bedrooms.
Image H-Nobu-Hotel-San-Sebastian

Nobu Hotel San Sebastian

San Sebastián has long been limited in its luxury hotel offerings, and the arrival in late August of a new Nobu property on the beachfront, just west of the heart of the city, is a major development. I wondered whether the brand—the brainchild of Japanese-born chef Nobu Matsuhisa, Manhattan native Robert De Niro and Hollywood's Meir Teper—would feel out of place in this seaside sanctuary. But the synthesis was surprisingly seamless—and once again underlined the Basque Country's strange connection to Japan (for instance, certain linguists have traced connections between euskera's mysterious origins and Japanese). In fact, the outside perspective throws San Sebastián's beauty into better relief.

Located within a restored 1912 mansion by renowned Spanish architect Francisco Urcola, the property is a 17-room haven that blends Belle Époque Basque heritage and Japanese aesthetics, designed by Tomás Alía. Each of the rooms and suites is slightly different in layout, as the hotel occupies a heritage listed building, but all are airy and light-filled, and it's tempting to linger within them—despite all that awaits outside—thanks to pillowy beds, spacious closets (designed to look like a bento box) and bathrooms with big mirrors, rainfall showers and Eight & Bob products. The terrace rooms take full advantage of gorgeous views over Playa de la Concha—inviting guests to lounge for an hour or several, with a coffee, a book or a glass of wine—while the specialty suites welcome families with connecting options and large living rooms. The signature Nobu restaurant and terrace bar, both of which can also be booked by non-guests, are a highlight, and they provide a worth-it moment of variety to an itinerary heavy in Basque cuisine. A 24-hour fitness center and access to a rooftop pool round out the amenities; outside of the restaurants, the public spaces here are limited—the property is better designed for peace, intimacy and privacy. The service was excellent, and the team was incredibly warm and helpful.

H-ReginaExperimentalBiarritz-MrTripper-Facade

Regina Experimental Biarritz

Unveiled in July 2023, the hotel Regina Experimental is another contemporary game-changer for the Basque region. It's one of the latest creations from the cool-kid Experimental Group, which was founded by three childhood friends and has launched successful cocktail and wine bars, restaurants and hotels in Paris, New York, London, Ibiza, Menorca, Venice and Verbier (you may know them from Paris' Le Grand Pigalle or Indagare staff favorite, La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels in Soho). The Regina Experimental presents a fresh take on a Biarritz beach getaway, within an imposing, Neo-Basque structure dating back to 1907. Originally built as a hotel, the building survived both world wars—during the first, it served as a hospital; during the second, it was captured by the Germans and badly burned. It was rebuilt as a hotel and passed through various hands before being acquired by the Experimental Group, who invested in an eight-month restoration. Today, the soaring atrium, with its Eiffel glass roof and Art-Deco accents, revives the original Belle Époque glamour.

Central to the property's appeal—in stark contrast to Biarritz' resident grand-dame, Hotel du Palais—are the perfectly playful interiors by Dorothée Meilichzon, who employs brightly patterned prints, custom-built pieces (like geometric headboards and oversized mirrors) and a balanced blend of retro-maritime and contemporary objets to create a feast for the eyes (particularly memorable are the clamshell lamps and the red-striped sailor chairs). The 72 rooms and suites are vibrant and cheerful, maximizing the light and sea or golf course views.

All of the rooms open into the atrium—where ample seating spaces welcome lounging and socializing. They are anchored by a piano and high-top bar serving Roaring Twenties-inspired creations. An elevated restaurant by the group's favorite chef, Gregory Marchand, flows from the lobby into a red-striped space that is just beachy enough, and it spills out onto the pool club terrace. The overall result is a communal atmosphere that's ideal for travelers seeking equal parts nostalgia and energy, without sacrificing sophistication. There is also a small on-property spa and hammam, using Susanne Kaufmann and Alaena products, and the boutique is a must-visit for on-point Biarritz looks and gifts.

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