Destination Guide

Biarritz & Pays Basque

biarritz summer beach

Photo by Peter Schlesinger, courtesy Indagare

Founded by Emperor Napoléon III and his wife, Eugenie, the seaside resort of Biarritz has always had international flair. It’s not as glitzy as the Côte d’Azur but has great, large beaches and a bustling surfing scene, as well as a hippie-cool vibe reminiscent of southern California.


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Suite at Hotel du Palais Biarritz, Biarritz & Pays Basque, France

Hotel du Palais Biarritz

Sitting regally on a hillside overlooking Biarritz's curved Grande Plage, the rust-colored Hotel du Palais is the central heart and soul of the seaside resort.  From above, it's shaped like the letter E, which romantics can interpret to mean "Eugenie," Napoleon III's adored wife who inspired their summers in Biarritz (she was an early proponent of Thalasso-therapy). Cynics, meanwhile, will recognize the E (probably accurately) stands for emperor. Regardless, Napoleon and Eugenie's summer residence on the hill was built in 1855 and turned into a hotel in 1893 (twenty years after the self-proclaimed emperor died in British exile). Today, he and Eugenie still figure largely into the property's myths: large portraits of them hang in the beautiful dining room.

The hotel has 153 rooms and due to the building's protected architecture, every single one is unique in terms of layout. The best options are located on the first, second and third floors thanks to high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows, most of which have terrific views across the coastline. All the guest rooms have been renovated within the last three years, with handcrafted fabrics, an understated color scheme and painted accents on the walls. They are very comfortable and even the smaller category rooms are sizeable. If freestanding tubs or large showers are important, make sure to mention this at the time of reserving a room. Due to the unique layout of the rooms, some bathrooms are better than others.

The saltwater pool outside abuts a casual poolside restaurant and is lined with small cabanas, but the real draw here is the deck, high above the Grande Plage, with lines of loungers. (During high season, it pays to come early to get first-row places.) There are no loungers on the public beach, accessed by a large black iron portal right beneath the pool area, so most clients of the Palais just walk down to the beach for a quick dip, then return to their lofty perch. Kids have their own pool and play area on a large lawn, which is a nice touch for parents and other guests alike.

The massive, three-floor spa is frequented by Biarritz regulars. The large indoor pool has a big skylight above, a nice touch, and the relaxation area comes complete with a bar — you are, after all, in France, so a glass of bubbly post treatment is certainly not unheard of.

There are countless truly old-world touches at the Palais: the heavy keys with velvet-fringe key chains that have to be left at the concierge desk; the extravagant dining room where jackets are required for dinner. And yet, the ambience at the Palais doesn’t feel stuffy or pretentious thanks to the lovely staff and the fact that this building has been part of Biarritz local life since inception.

Many Biarritz residents come here for special occasion meals and they feel incredibly invested in the future of the property. When a small spiral staircase was supposed to lead from a suite to a rooftop terrace area, the Palais received so many concerned calls from locals that they eventually cancelled the project. Nothing has changed about the exterior of the building —but the inside keeps being reinvented and polished by a dedicated team who are making sure that the Palais transitions into the now and into the future.

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