Isabelle de Joantho is a painter and sculptor who studied at the Bayonne-Anglet-Biarritz School of Art.
La Goulue restaurant (named after a can-can dancer at the Moulin Rouge who used to drink her customers’ drinks) serves great local cuisine in a 20th-century Basque red dining room. I love the Chipirons grillés a la plancha (Squid grilled with garlic and parsley) and Spanish-style sea bream. For fresh food, the covered market in Les Halles is filled with tasting bars, organic bakeries, cheese and sausage stands and fishmongers. Two other places not to be missed is Place Bellevue by the sea for a Maison Pariès caramel fondant kanougas, flavored with vanilla or espelette chili pepper. And in Bidart, a town a little further down the coast, it is worth taking a look Basque cake (a cake with a creamy filling and orange peel) made right before your eyes at the Moulin de Bassilour watermill.
Overlooking the old fishing port is the impressive, neo-Gothic Église de Sainte-Eugénie made of gray stone – patron saint of Napoleon III’s wife, Eugénie de Montijo, who made Biarritz a spectacular spa and holiday resort in the mid-19th century. Below is my inspiring place: the huge, domed crypt that is used as a venue for art exhibitions. I’ve exhibited there many times and it has a great ambience. Biarritz is now a major center for galleries and contemporary art, and I always go to La Brouillarta, an annual outdoor art fair by the sea. There is also a Parcours d’oeuvres d’art, a stroll through the city’s many frescoes and sculptures.
Biarritz’s assets include the sea, mountains, countryside and the Spanish border, but we have three Golden Retrievers so green spaces are very important to us. Just outside the city there are two beautiful lakes, Lac Mouriscot and Lac Marion. Mouriscot is popular with joggers and cyclists: it has wide, wild paths through the forest and many benches overlooking the lake. Marion is equally suitable for dogs and families and offers an idyllic path on the lakeshore, some marshland as well as many old trees and lawns. Both can be reached by bus number 5 from the city center, which runs past the Biarritz racecourse.
The Grande Plage and Biarritz Casino Coast can get very busy in the summer, so it’s best to visit out of season, but the Port des Pêcheurs to the south is always wonderful. The sheltered harbor is on a natural stream and has a “village” of 65 huts known as Crampots – Whitewashed fishermen’s huts built into the rock with red, blue or light green shutters. They haven’t changed much in 150 years, although some have been converted into cafes and restaurants. There is a 19 year old waiting list to rent one – you must have a boat and a berth in the fishing port. The harbor lies under the old whale watching tower and is the most authentic and charming stretch of the Biarritz coastline. It has a small beach and alleys with swimmers, fishing nets, and the occasional giant anchors.
Le Bar Jean, at the heart of Biarritz’s tapas, paella and beef culture since the 1930s, stays open until well after midnight, as do many of the pintxos (Tapas) bars around Les Halles market. It’s popular to go from bar to bar in Biarritz and try tapas with Basque cider, which is poured into small, round glasses high above the table to make the cider airy, even though it’s quite acidic and vine-like! Or, if you’re on the city’s Côte des Basques beach, it’s just 100 steps to the Etxola Bibi bar, a great place to watch the sun go down with a cocktail and a plate of pintxos.
Close to the beaches and Les Halles, Villa Koegui (double room from € 85, breakfast € 15 pp) was renovated this year. It has a stylish lounge, an outdoor terrace and family suites.