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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Biarritz is a large town with several quartiers; it's one of the principal resorts on the Basque Coast. A former whaling centre and fishing village, this is a place recommended by 18th-century doctors for therapeutic rest. Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III, fell in love with that part of the Basque country in the mid-19th century and built a palace by the beach, now the Hotel du Palais. She also indulged in a centre with natural springs at Eugenie les Bains in the Landes.

Foreign royalty with their entourages and courtiers were entertained here — Queen Victoria was a regular visitor for over 30 years, along with Spanish, Swedish, Dutch, German and Russian nobility, King Farouk, the Aga Khan and the Shah of Persia. The Russians even built their own magnificent Orthodox church next to the palace. The jet-set and screen luminaries such as Frank Sinatra, Bette Davis, Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth played in the glittering town.

Its principle architecture was a blend of 19th-century city residences, large and expansive, built of local stone bricks. Names on title deeds are mostly Prince, Duke, Baron or Marquee someone-or-other.

Those days are long gone, but Biarritz is still fashionable and the Basque Coast has undergone a renaissance in recent years, becoming an enormous drawcard for the world's golfers and surfers. Sprinkled among the cafés, restaurants and smart boutiques are sport stores.

The distinct Spanish flavour of Biarritz gives added appeal. The interesting language, peppered with Basque, and spicy food give it an exotic air. The Pyrenean foothills are lush and green, the coastline rugged and lashed by rolling waves. Simple little villages with cobbled lanes and half-timbered houses offer a perfect contrast to grand and ordered Biarritz.

At the southern end of Biarritz’s Grande Plage are stairs leading to place Ste-Eugénie, the town's most gracious old square. The popular rendezvous is lined with terraced restaurants. Just below is the colourful Port des Pêcheurs, with bobbing fishing boats, old wooden houses and shacks and tiny harbour front cafés.

Hotel du Palais has 154 rooms and suites, the latter with names such as Suite Edouard VII and Suite Alphonse XIII. Burma wood, Carrara marble and Italian ceramics are evident throughout the hotel.

Fine dining is enjoyed in the Jean-Marie Gautier Restaurant, La Rotonde overlooking the Atlantic, La Villa Eugénie, which sparkles with a thousand lights or at L'Hippocampe, a relaxed place by the beautiful pool. The Bar Impérial serves cocktails to the accompaniment of gentle piano music.

The pool is filled with filtered sea water, has a fitness area, sauna, putting green, children's playground and pool and direct access to the beach.

You may like to indulge in the local game of pelote. The ball has a wound rubber centre, similar to that of a golf ball, bound with cotton and two fine leather skins. It's played with a long, curved basket and is reputed to be the fastest bat and ball sport in the world.


In the south-west corner of France.


French Travel Connection has accommodation at Hotel du Palais starting at $838 per night, including breakfast.

Flight Centre has return airfares to Paris with connections to Biarritz. Taxes are included and conditions apply.
  • Melbourne $1633
  • Brisbane $1636
  • Perth $1636
  • Sydney $1668
  • Adelaide $1731
  • Darwin $1809
    Adelaide — valid for sale until December 17, 2005, and for travel until November 15, 2006.
    Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Sydney and Darwin — valid for sale until December 23, 2005, and travel until November 25, 2006.
    Connection from Paris to Biarritz is $279 per person. Valid for sale and travel until November 25, 2006.
    To book, call Flight Centre on 131 600.
    Please note that the prices listed are valid at the time of filming.

    More information

    Hotel du Palais
    1 Avenue de l’impératrice
    F 64 200 Biarritz
    Ph: 33 5 59 41 64 00
    Fax: 33 5 59 41 67 99

    French Travel Connection
    Suite 601/83 Mount Street
    North Sydney 2060
    Ph: (02) 9966 1177
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