Surf Nomad: Biarritz, France
Surfers under the castle at Côte des Basques beach.
As far as cosmopolitan surfing experiences go, Biarritz is at the top of the list. A former whaling town on France's southwestern coast, it has served more recently as the destination for globetrotting surfers who like their waves served with a side of culture. Even surfing history in Biarritz has a touch of glamour - Hollywood screenwriter Peter Viertel introduced the sport there more than 50 years ago. Viertel noticed the break at Grand Plage, sent for his board from Los Angeles, and lit the spark that created Europe's surfing capital.
Unless you're in the practice of flying your equipment in from California á la Viertel, stop by one of the many beachside shacks that rent everything from boards to wetsuits. Then, head to Côte des Basques for a fun, approachable right-hand break where a sandbar point lets you surf in the shadow of a French castle. Surf vans and their makeshift clotheslines dot the stone wall along the shore. Shift your attention to Grand Plage for high-performance waves that roll in toward the town's gothic casino. Peaks in the middle here hollow out as they move over the inside sandbar. World-class breaks are within reach just north of Biarritz at Les Cavaliers and Hossegor.
Colorful umbrellas line Grand Plage, the spot of choice for Biarritz's more serious surfers.
If you've progressed from Côte de Basques to Grand Plage, you'll find that the boardwalk above the beach fills with people in search of pre-dinner aperitifs as the sun sets. Don't worry if you're still working on standing up at Côte de Basques - there are two bars on its less populated coastline. Le Surfing is one of them, and is filled with surf posters and rows of vintage boards, not to mention an oceanside terrace. Fellow surfers will be ready and waiting to celebrate the day's triumphs over grilled food and chilled beers. Les Cent Marches is another option for post-surfing recovery. It's located in a tree-shrouded cliff top shack that serves tapas, champagne and ringside seats to the best sunset views in Biarritz.
Vintage surfboards line the ceiling at Le Surfing, Biarritz's famed post-beach destination.
Hotel choices here range from pure luxury to comforting French country style. La Maison du Lierre is a small, charming hotel that serves le petit déjeuner in their small garden. La Maison is only a 5 minute walk to the sea and would fit perfectly into a laid back surf weekend. On the other end of the spectrum, the Hotel du Palais, the former palace of Napoleon III's wife, is the most famous hotel in Biarritz. No matter your choice, Biarritz's combination of old world elegance and barefoot surf culture is captivating.
Hotel du Palais sits directly above the crashing waves of Grand Plage.
Hotel du Palais
Hotel Rates: Begin at 350€ / night
Tel: +33 05 59 41 64 00
La Maison du Lierre
Hotel Rates: Begin at 56€ / night
Tel: +33 05 59 24 06 00
Le Surfing Restaurant
Address: 9 Boulevard du Prince de Galles
Tel: +33 05 59 24 78 72
Les Cent Marches
Address: Square Jean-Baptiste Lascale
Tel: +33 05 59 24 75 81
When to Go: Biarritz's temperate climate makes it enjoyable for most of the year. Avoid visiting during low season from January to March, when some hotels and shops close.
How to Get Here: Flights from New York to Biarritz can be found starting at $1,200 for July travel dates. Or, fly to Bilbao, Spain (fares start at $700) and drive an hour north to Biarritz.