Biarritz has a name that should mark it out for greatness. The word reminds me of glitz, the Ritz, and Hemingway’s trust-funded Americans frolicking in the 1920s.
That’s why research is such a good idea – not to mention visiting a place yourself.
Instead of playboys in woollen bathing suits, Biarritz greeted me with a blend of ageing Victorian glory and a homeless surfing community. A Biarritz almost unsure of its own identity.
The centre has promenades, covered bandstands and dated ice-cream stalls, a sheltered beach and a finger of land that ushers visitors to the Rocher de la Vierge, a religious statue that juts into the ocean like a pier.
Biarritz is France, but it is not France.
Biarritz is France, but it is not France, seeded as it is in the Basque country that straddles the western franco-spanish border.
Yet compared to its neighbour, the dazzling scarlet-and-emerald St-Jean de Luz, its “basqueness” lacks lustre. Compared to mainland France, its mix of pizza parlours, souvenir shops and sloppy dressing lack that certain je ne sais quoi.
Yet one thing still carries the full energy of Biarritz: the surf. Massive, violent, enveloping surf that mesmerises as it terrifies. Biarritz still boasts a reputation as one of Europe’s finest surf spots, but it’s not for the faint-hearted. Nor for beginners – unless you’re with a proper surf school.
Very few succeed. On the day that I shivered on the shore, only around one in 50 won their battle and sliced along the surface.
In the face of odds like that, I’d say that Biarritz still has a name for greatness.
PHOTO CREDITS: Biarritz Ice Cream by Filtran