We originally chose Biarritz as a destination as it is close to San Sebastian in Spain. I had read, in Delicious magazine, that San Sebastian is a food paradise so my taste buds were leading me there. I’d heard little about Biarritz, other than it had been a tourist destination for years and was still thriving. The incredibly handy flight form Shannon meant an easy trip as the centre of town is a mere ten minute cab or bus ride. I had booked a hotel on line and chose it due to it’s proximity to a lovely looking beach. It didn’t disappoint, the hotel was literally across from the beach on the Plage du Porte Vieux (the Old Port) and we could see it from our balcony. As the flight touches down at 10am you have a whole day ahead of you in the lovely breezy weather. Biarritz is situated on the South West Coast of France, on the Atlantic side, so the air will be strikingly familiar to Irish people from the West, except that it’s warm. It has none of the stickiness and humidity of Mediterranean destinations and is just lovely all-round.
Our taxi driver told us of a couple of restaurants that were really good but popular, so we needed to book for dinner. The first was Chez Albert on the Porte Des Pecheurs (Fishing Port). Finding this took us on a charming walk along the nooks and walkways of the town. So much of the towns best vantage points have been turned into steps and look-out areas with benches for people to enjoy and stroll along. We found Chez Albert to be a big place on the port with lots of tables outside and a clientele that looked like they had just stepped off their yachts for lunch. We booked a table for two for that night as I ogled the stunning array of crabs, lobster and other shellfish being arranged dramatically onto huge beds of ice. On our walk back along the port we were tempted by a casual looking but busy spot, also out on the pavement, Casa Juan Pedro. Their menu was so simple; grilled sardines, langoustines, sea bream, hake, mussels and a meat token of duck confit. We sat at a table by the sea and ordered a simple but delicious meal of sardines and mussels and exhaled deeply at how lucky we were to land on our feet so quickly. Other diners chatted and took their time over their lunches and the staff and service at Casa Juan Pedro meant we came back more than once for our evening meals. On another evening we had their stuffed, roasted peppers as a starter. These were softly roasted and filled with the creamiest mashed potato imaginable. It sounds odd, I know, but when covered in a red pepper sauce it an amazing and more-ish dish.
Chez Albert lived up to its name with an impressive menu of French classics, but most with a twist. I had a pan fried slice of Foie Gras served with other mini side dishes. Himself had a variation of scallops in a cream sauce that were served on slices on black pudding, very Irish, though of course it had a fancier name in French. The star of the show was a Tarte Tatin served in a glass with a scoop of ice cream. The tart, an upside-down one made of apples and a caramel filling was hot and so good with the cold ice cream. This was not a cheap place to eat but a great treat. Many diners were having Paella, a popular Spanish rice and seafood dish. As Biarritz is in the Basque Country, you can enjoy both types of cuisine. One of the attractions on the main street leading to the beach was an old guy, dressed in his Basque chef’s outfit, cooking up an enormous paella. He got lots of attention, and lots of customers and we also took the bait and ate there one night. It was cheap and cheerful but the paella was no good, it makes sense that if it is sitting there for hours then it won’t have fresh and juicy shellfish any more. However it will fill you up. We decided to go back to Chez Albert on our last night for their paella which was a world apart with juicy prawns, the tastiest roast chicken and soft clams. There is so much in this dish, you won’t need a starter, so save your appetite for dinner.
Biarritz has undoubtedly been a prosperous town over the years. Having initially made its fortune in whaling, the town became more renowned in 1854 when Empress Eugenie (the wife of Napoleon 3rd) built a palace on the beach (now the Hôtel du Palais). Over the years many royal visitors from both Britain and Europe helped to put Biarritz on the world map of top class destinations. On a day when perhaps the weather isn’t the best, (there was one day in the week we spent there) there is lots to see and do. Let your eyes take you on a tour of the towns many Chocolate Ateliers, these are shops that are as classy as haute couture salons, just like in Paris. Here you will be served by the most mannerly people and given your chocolate treasures in beautiful wrapping and a designer bag. There is also a chocolate museum which sounds great but I will save it for a future visit.
Bakeries abound and fresh bread of so many kinds can be bought along with an endless array of robust artisan pastries and more delicate fruit tarts and pies. Naturally I always want to try everything so I like to buy a selection then take them to the beach and nibble everything one by one. In true Irish style while we indulged in macaroons and pistachio cake on the beach, we still wanted a nice cup of tea, even in the 34ºC heat. It’s always handy to fill your beach bag up with cheeses and fruit from the shops, or from the huge food market at Les Halles. The range of locally produced hams, salamis and cheeses makes for a perfect picnic and will keep you going till dinner. The evenings see families out and about till late, enjoying ice creams from one of the many ice cream parlours. With flavours like Lemon Meringue Pie (complete with the gooey egg-white topping) and dark chocolate with chili, ice cream moves into a really grown-up world. As you can see from this one shop's menu
Close to the old beach is the understated looking Café Miguel. Owned by jazz musician Patrick Miguel, this is a real gem and a non-touristy spot to visit. Miguel meets and greets customers while his main man Jerome works with the flair and talent of a real old-fashioned bar-man. An impressive list of wines are available by the glass, as well as carefully made mojitos and gin fizzes. The real attraction drinks-wise is the huge kilner jars that are filled with rum and fruits, flavours like Café Vanilla flank coconut or kumquat rum. These are scooped out and served in little shot glasses, though are better sipped. The bar has a kitchen that has no menu, they just do four different things each night, and they do them well. We chose the duck and chips, and the steak and chips. If ever there was a simple and satisfying meal done to perfection, this was it. Juicy delicious meats served with home-made wedges seasoned with lots of sea salt and a side salad dressed with olive oil and a light curry seasoning made for two of the best plates of food we have ever enjoyed. Miguel’s is the kind of place to hang out and meet people, though it's very easy to try all the flavoured rums and forget your flight, so I've heard....
Needless to say we abandoned our plans to visit San Sebastian and stayed instead in Biarritz. We moved to a cheaper hotel across the street that was fine, though we didn't notice that our air-con wasn't working till the third day........ hence the total exhaustion.... I guess you get what you pay for, though once we changed rooms it was all fine, With perfect beaches, surfing, snorkelling and and and.......why would we leave......only that we had to come back to our ikky weather. Still I've been out body boarding twice this week since I've been back so it's not all bad
How to get there from here
Ryanair fly direct to Biarritz from Shannon
We stayed in the Georges 4th Hotel, booked through www.booking.com
At high season expect to pay about €100 for a double room