08 June, 2011

Cruising Biarritz.

I had a fling this past weekend.  I'm still catching my breath.
I love the Cevennes, and not just a little.  But we've gotten to know each other, and well, things have gotten very comfortable between us.  Perhaps even predictable.  I mean, Biarritz it's not.
I don't know what I was expecting before I headed west.  Atlantic coast, Northern Basque Country, the birthplace of pelota (or jai alai, as it's called in the US--remember that jai alai shot in the Miami Vice opening sequence?), check, check, check.  My expectation: a slightly petrified resort town, maybe even chic-er than thou.  I mean, it made the shift from whaling town to resort rockstar status when Napoleon III built a little cottage for his Empress Eugenie way back in 1855.  Okay, it was a ginormous villa, which is now a ginormous five-star hotel on the Grande Plage.  Anyway, assorted royals and the merely monied have been flocking to Biarritz ever since.
Today, turns out the chic bit is still very real. Parts of the old center seem directly lifted from Paris' 16eme arrondissement.  Grand perhaps, but not by definition a good thing in my book. However.
Biarritz is Parisian chic modified, transposed on the rough, spray-soaked Atlantic coast and nicely populated with surfer boys. This is something in a softer register.  The vibe is relaxed cool.
And yes, this is the perfect opportunity for some gratuitous surfer shots.   
I think I'm ready for a camera with better telephoto capability, don't you?  I was blushing too much to get shots of the closer-by, drop-dead fine fellas passing the rugby ball.  Not only is Biarritz billed as the surfing capital of Europe, but rugby is very, very big here, with the home team, Biarritz Olympique, regularly taking home the national title.  This in a place where there is a municipal pelota court on every other street corner.
This is a detail of the door leading into the cathedral Napoleon had built for that most-loved Eugenie. In the process she was eventually named a saint--in this, her own cathedral on the rocks anyway.   
Unlike Frank Sinatra, I did not stay at the Hotel du Palais (Eugenie's old digs), but I still splashed out:
This was the breakfast table.
And boy, did we get lucky with the weather.  In the Cevennes, il pleuvait des cordes (it rained ropes, i.e. a heckuva lot).
Meanwhile, we cruised around, stopping for dinner in St. Jean de Luz, a nearby village (dramatic amounts of shaved local ham were involved).  All in all, picturesque to the nth degree.
The sea was sedate, and so was the village tempo, shops closing up for the night as the bars and restaurants filled up.
People were having drinks out on their terraces as well.  I loved the mosaics I kept seeing with the swirly Basque cross symbol, indoors and on building facades.
I did not get any beautifully stripy Basque linen; I dearly wanted the gussied up VW van, though.
I experienced a twinge of envy when seeing this wisteria, so old it had a proper trunk.  Makes our wisteria here at home seem outright anemic in comparison.
I window-shopped avidly at Maison Adam, which is, by all accounts, the place for macarons, since the mid-1600s at any rate. You can see from the link these are not remotely Parisian-style macarons, either.  I can't tell you how they taste because the shop was closing.  But I can tell you the peppers hanging above the sign are made of ceramic, and are a colorful nod to the nearby town of Espelette, famous for its AOC registered chile.
As my daughter is horse-mad, we went to a hunter competition at the Club Hippique in Biarritz.  Some lovely, perfectly done-up horses on hand, more of that Basque red and pure white around us, and loads of that relaxed Biarritz cool.  
I can tell you now, I'll be back to savor more Basque charms.  Impossible to do otherwise,
even if I still come home to the Cevennes...


  1. Ha. There was a jai alai court (field?) in the Northern Florida town I used to live in. I'd completely forgotten about it!

    And yes, a telephoto lens is a smart purchase if it's meant to be used to take better pics of the cute surfer guys.

  2. Wonderful read yet again. And I too vote for that close-up lens! I've never made it to that part of France but I really want to go. Thanks for the online field trip. Beautiful.

  3. What a lovely trip and some beautiful photos. Where did you stay?

  4. Hi Rose,
    In the US, jai alai is closely linked with gambling, which to my knowledge is not the case here. You can click on any of the photos to enlarge them, but I can confirm, the boys were very cute, very cool...My ten year old daughter was laughing at my embarassment with my obvious little point and shoot! Anything for my readers...

    Hi Charles,
    Oh, it was sooo nice, that iodine smell, the wide beaches, the endless people-watching possibilities, good food enhanced with piment d'Espelette. Really recommend it, in the off-season anyway. I'm definitely going back to explore the back country.

    Hello Sarah,
    It was fantastic, well-worth the longer than usual ride in a mini-convertible! My husband just got a new job, and proposed we mark the occasion. So we did, by staying at the plush Hotel Beaumanoir. A fine time was had by all.

  5. Google is finally letting me post again.
    That region is really beautiful. Actually the whole Pyrénées from coast to coast is gorgeous.

  6. Tammy,
    You were so smart to head west. Looks like fabulous weather..and eye candy.
    Mad Men did a thing with J'ai lai (sp) too. have you watched that series? great stuff.
    My favorite photo is the hinge on the cathedral door. Frame that one.

  7. Hi Nadege,
    I loved it...and I am already looking forwarding to going back. And yes, unfortunately I've spent precious little time in either the Pyrenees or on the Atlantic coast.

    Hello Aidan,
    (I corrected the east/west thing, thanks). Are you as swamped as I am with end of school year activities? Going to the "other" coast was great, eye candy and all. I've seen a couple episodes of Mad Men, loved the period detail...and the eye candy.


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