Andrew Yates reviews the Hotel du Palais in Biarritz


Take an English Victorian seaside resort with its grand hotels, prom and arcades, and plonk it several hundred miles away on a rugged coast overlooking the Bay of Biscay in South-west France.

Then give it a facelift, replace the pebbled beach with golden sand, the fast-food with tapas bars and fish restaurants, and you have Biarritz.

There’s a comforting familiarity about the place — the faded gentility, crashing Atlantic waves and well-to-do elderly couples remind one of Brighton.

Decadent old dame: Andrew stayed at the Hotel du Palais, pictured, overlooking the Grande Plage of Biarritz

Decadent old dame: Andrew stayed at the Hotel du Palais, pictured, overlooking the Grande Plage of Biarritz

At the same time, it has an injection of vitality from the surfers who descend in campervans for the thundering rollers on the biggest of Biarritz’s six beaches.

British Airways started flying to the city’s tiny airport last summer. And, less than two hours’ flight away, it makes the ideal short break. We enjoy a charcuterie supper in a restaurant near the beach on the night we arrive, even though we were in Heathrow at 5pm.

There are many decent hotels, but the place to stay if you’re happy to splash out is the Hotel du Palais, a stately matron on a small cliff by the Grande Plage.

Built as a summer home by Napoleon III — he chose Biarritz in the 1850s as it was close to his Spanish wife Eugenie’s home country — the imperial residence gave the town chic appeal.

Once the palace became a hotel at the turn of the century, the beau monde began to visit.

King Edward VII took a suite for a month every summer and was joined by his mistress, Alice Keppel, along with his doctor, two equerries, two valets, two footmen and dog Caesar.

The hotel is a 12-mile stroll from the charming old fishing town of St-Jean-de-Luz, pictured

The hotel is a 12-mile stroll from the charming old fishing town of St-Jean-de-Luz, pictured

Noel Coward, the Duchess of Windsor and Churchill also stayed. Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra opened the outside pool, where today wealthy Russians and Spaniards plough away.

The Hotel du Palais wears its age and pedigree with charm. Its modern spa and pool are as stylish as any.

Its semi-circular, Michelin-starred restaurant looking out over the Atlantic swell must be one of the most beautiful places to eat in Europe. Yet it retains an old-school approach to customers that, far from being starchy, feels reassuring.

Built as a summer home by Napoleon III, the imperial residence gave the town chic appeal

We walk off our breakfasts on a cliff path that goes past a lighthouse on a high headland.

From the lighthouse, we potter along the promenade and break off for a tumble-dryer of a swim among the waves. 

We eat fat Atlantic prawns and squid with rosé by the old fishermen’s port — also built by Napoleon. 

You can continue walking to the sheltered old fishing town of St-Jean-de-Luz a dozen miles away. Instead, we drive there one evening to eat local seafood and farm produce at the Ilura restaurant in Hotel la Reserve.

We also head into the Pyrenean foothills, an hour away, to towns such as Espelette, which uses strings of plump chillies to decorate its buildings, and Sare, popular with hill-walkers and reminiscent of the Lake District.

Finally, we leave Biarritz by car for Bilbao, two hours across the Spanish border, to visit the remarkable Guggenheim museum before flying home.

But we’ll be back, Biarritz. 

TRAVEL FACTS 

Kirker (kirkerholidays.com, 020 7593 2288) offers a two-person, four-night break — three at Hotel du Palais and one in Bilbao — from £1,198 pp, with B&B, return flights, transfers and Guggenheim tickets. 

BA flights to Biarritz from April 30, 2017. 

 



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