Welcome back to Ask a Local, a series of posts in which I interview locals all over the world about what to see, where to go, what to eat, and how to fit in in their city or town.
Today, in celebration of the launch of France: 100 Locals Tell You Where to Go, What to Eat, & How to Fit In, Wendi Abeberry is here to tell us about glitzy, beachfront Biarritz, France.
First, tell us about you.
Hi, my name is Wendi and I’m originally from Milwaukee. I came to Biarritz in 1983 and have been living here full-time since 1989. My husband is a local.
Over my 30+ years here, I’ve been an English teacher, window dresser, waitress at a fun Mexican restaurant, and co-owner of a travel agency (working with incoming American groups). My husband still runs the agency, but in 2011, along with my daughter, Emily, I decided to do something new. So we opened the Milwaukee Café, a small stand inside the Biarritz food market (door #2). Two years later, we opened a second and much bigger Milwaukee Café downtown (Rue de Helder 2). It’s been a great adventure.
As for free time (what’s that?), when I can find a few minutes, I love to knit. I’m sort of a fiber nut. Give me a full day and you’ll probably find me hiking some of the fabulous trails we have here in the foothills of the Pyrénées. And give me a week or more and I’m on an airplane!
What should first-time visitors to Biarritz do and see?
First, walk along the seaside walkway from the foot of the Hotel du Palais all the way to the Côte des Basques beach. You’ll see the Hotel du Palais (which I highly recommend), the Grande Plage (our main downtown beach), the Rocher de la Basta (the rock with the cute bridge leading to it, also known as lovers’ rock), the Port des Pêcheurs, and the Place Sainte Eugenie (where you’ll find the lovely gothic church).
From there, walk through the tunnel or hike up the paved walkway to get the best view of Biarritz from above the Port des Pêcheurs. Then head down the other side (or pop out of the tunnel) in front of both our Musée de la Mer Aquarium (fun if you have kids or if it’s raining) and the Rocher de la Vierge (a rock with a statue of the virgin). Cross the bridge and continue past Port Vieux, which was once a whaling beach and is now the swimming spot for young kids (as the waves here are usually pretty tame).
Wind your way around this little beach and you’ll come to the Villa Beltza, a famous mansion that has been immortalized on picture postcards for many decades. Just past the villa, you’ll come to the best beach in Biarritz: the Côte des Basques. At high tide there is no beach…but at low tide it’s the best!
At this point you can stop for refreshments and decide if you want to go back the way you came or if you’re feeling up for a walk up the beautiful tree-lined path that crisscrosses its way up the cliff overlooking the Côte des Basques beach. The view gets better and better as you climb.
At the top, about a block away from the cliffs you’ll find yourself on Rue Gambetta. That upper end of Gambetta is quite lively at night and filled with locals. If you turn left, it will take you back to the center of town.
Along the way (on your right) you’ll pass the Biarritz Market, which is the other place I recommend seeing. The market is open every day (except Christmas and New Year’s Day) from 8 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. It is very active, full of high quality goods, and a gathering point for locals. And the whole market neighborhood has developed into a hub of fun with bars/restaurants all around. It’s busy every day in the summer and on weekends off-season. If you’re looking for a quiet visit, weekdays are best.
What are some of the more hidden gems of the town and area?
The Le Corner de Sophie shop (2 Rue Champ Lacombe) with its fancy soaps and products is very expensive but feels really exclusive. The Hotel du Palais (1 Avenue de l’Impératrice) is perfect for an afternoon tea or before-dinner cocktail.
What neighborhoods and parts of town are best to stay in?
I don’t think there are any bad neighborhoods here, but all the different quartiers have slightly different vibes. I like the neighborhood where I live around the Parc Mazon. It’s very central, but quiet at night and very close to my favorite beach, the Côte des Basques.
What are some of the nicest hikes or walks in the area?
There are so many wonderful hikes within driving distance, I barely know where to begin. From here, you can do a portion of the GR (Grande Randonnée) 10 footpath, which runs the length of the Pyrénées and takes about 52 days to walk end-to-end. And there are a ton of hikes just outside Biarritz to the east.
What are some of the region’s best dishes? What should we eat and drink while in town?
Typical Basque dishes include axoa (veal and pepper stew), local oysters, Brebis (a local sheep cheese), piment d’espelette (our special local chili powder), poulet Basquaise (chicken made with tomatoes, onions, local peppers, and garlic), and marmitaco (tuna stew).
What are your favorite restaurants and bars?
All of my favorite local places are in the same neighborhood—Upper Gambetta. The first is the wine bar l’Artnoa (56 Rue Gambetta; phone: +33 5 59 24 78 87), which has a large selection of wines by the glass and a knowledgeable and charming owner (Antoine) who is usually on hand for guidance. They also have simple offerings like ham platters to go with the wine.
La Cabane à Huitres (62 Rue Gambetta; phone: +33 5 59 54 79 65), run by brothers Jean and Marc, is a favorite spot for super fresh high quality shellfish (raw and also cooked on the plancha) and a glass or two of crisp wine.
Do you have any budget travel tips for us?
A walk up to the lighthouse is free, as is a walk from the lighthouse to the Côte des Basques beach along the seafront. If you have kids, we have a great equestrian club (Club Hippique de Biarritz). Bring a bag of carrots and have fun feeding and petting the horses and ponies. From the club, you can walk around nearby Lac Mouriscot and feed the ducks.
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This looks like a gorgeous part of France! I always forget there is a Basque region of France, that it’s not just in Spain, so that intrigues me. Thanks for sharing a different part of the country with us, it’s a nice reminder that there’s so much more to France than Paris!