October 27 2012 7 27 /10 /October /2012 12:50
Biarritz lies on the border of the Basque Country and is the most fashionable and most frequented seaside resort in southwest France. At the beginning of the 19th century, Biarritz was but a small, whale-fishing harbor. The people of Bayonne, when they started coming here to enjoy the sea, made the 5 km journey on donkeys or mules. Then Spanish nobility from the far side of the border discovered its charms, and from 1838 onwards, the Countess of Montijo and her daughter Eugénie came each year. When Eugénie became Empress of France she persuaded her husband, Napoleon III, to accompany her on the annual visit to the Basque coast and he too became captivated by the area. Biarritz owes much of its charm to its elegant promenades which follow the contours of the cliffs, over the rocks and along the tree main beaches, which have become an international meeting place for surfers and ordinary sun bathers alike. The Grande Plage is the largest and most fashionable of Biarritz's beaches. In former times, only the most daring of bathers would swim here, which led to its nickname of Plage des Fous (Madman's Beach). At one end of the beach is le phare de la pointe Saint-Martin, a lighthouse that was built in 1834 and one of the most recognizable structures of the Bay of Biscay. There are many wonderful villas in Biarritz which were built in the eclectic style of the 1850s. The Rocher de la Vierge, crowned with a statue of the Virgin Mary, is Biarritz's main landmark. It is surrounded by reefs and joined to the shore by a footbridge, made impassable in rough weather by the breaking waves. It was Napoleon III who had the idea of hollowing out the rock and linking it to the cliff by a wooden bridge. This has since been replaced by a metal one built by Gustave Eiffel. L'église Sainte-Eugénie was built between 1898 and 1903 and named after the Empress Eugénie. It dominates the hillside which overlooks the fishing port. The stained glass windows were designed by Luc-Olivier Merson and installed in 1903. The Russian Orthodox church was built in 1892, the year of the alliance between France and Russia. It used to be frequented by Russians who spent their holidays in Biarritz, many of whom were famous. Sadly, it was closed when I was there but I read that the interior is decorated with icons from St-Petersburg. Nearby is La Villa Eugénie, which was the scene of Napoleon III's love affair with the Empress Eugénie and became the majestic Hôtel du Palais in 1893. It is a five star hotel with over 150 rooms and stunning views over the Grande Plage.
Published by The Baguette - in Cultural Heritage