6am we pack up and head back towards the west coast. Bryn can’t even go 3 days without a surf, the beauty of van life though right? We’re headed for Biarritz, a 5 hour drive from Madrid, over the border and into France. With our fav playlist cranking tunes on the speaker (The American Pie soundtrack), the sun rising behind us and two takeaway coffees in the drink holder, we’re happy little hippos, living simply and carefree.
A friend of Bryns suggested we hit up Biarritz and god we’re glad we listened. Cheers Mark! The town is very fairy tale like, with old Disney looking castles, greenery (so many hydrangeas!), amazing beaches, rocky shores and coastal walkways, not to mention a vibing city centre with many places to eat, drink and chill. You can expect an easy-going surf culture, mixed with wealthy families on their summer retreats. On arrival in Biarritz , one thing got me…THE COLD. “Ummmmmmm its cold” I say to Bryn “Like freezing cold, like I need my Kathmandu puffer jacket and ugg boots kinda cold.” Forgetting that its already October and winters on its way, Bryn replies “We ain’t in Portugal no more girl.” For early October, the city is still vibing but is definitely a lot quieter than it would be in peak season. For the busiest period, go anytime between early June – late August and it’ll be pumping.
So here it is, a guide to Biarritz, vanlife styles, with advice for you backpackers too!
WHERE TO STAY:
We searched online and found an Aire De Camping Car in Biarritz. What the hell is that? Well…France have an epic network of Aires de service which are service areas located either within or just outside towns and city centres. These are usually free or sometimes they’ll have a small charge. You may even find ones with power, toilets, even showers! If you’re doing a roady through France, these will become your best friend. Download the Pro mobile app, it’ll show you all the Aires closest to you, plus the amenities each one has.
On arrival, we pulled up to a pay point with a barrier and I don’t know whether Bryn and I were just having a dumb day or what, but we could not, for the life of us, work it out. Yes it was in french, that was the first problem, but it was also ridiculously confusing and hard to use. After summoning over a french person from inside, who couldn’t speak any english, she told us it was full. “Full?” I say to her “But I can see about 15 car spaces.” She was no help just throwing her arms in the air saying “Completeo Completo.” We felt defeated and drove off thinking, ahhh well lets just go find a campground.
Three campgrounds close (enough) to the city centre of Biarritz. Probably more, but these are the ones we could see on the iPhone maps. You’d think at least one would be open right?! Wrong. They were all closed for the season! One of them, we drove right in, stood in the middle of the campground, looked around at the emptiness, only to realise it wasn’t open, even though the gate was. Weird. “We could just park up here anyway, who would know” Bryn says with a spark of rebellion in his voice. Hmmmmmm I’m too much of a goodie good for that business. I don’t want no frenchy tapping on the window at 3am, button in hand, yelling, “VOUS NE POUVEZ PAS STATIONNER ICI!” or… “YOU CANNOT PARK HERE.” Around and around we drove but the campgrounds were closed, closed and closed, all closing down sometime in early October. For fellow vanlifers, the campsites we went to are called Camping Ilbiarritz, Biarritz Camping and Le Pavillion Royal (this one is 5 star, so a bit expendy for us). All of these, in peak season, would be perfect when you’re travelling through.
So we had two options….sleep on the side of the street or try the Aire again. We tried the Aire. Back we went and this time, a little more determined and we, or more like I, figured it out. Feeling like Nicolas Cage from National Treasure, we rolled in and found us a park. 12Euro a night for a park and power, we were happy. Though no showers or toilets at this one, but as you can imagine we’re pretty good at peeing in bushes and going a day or 5 with no shower.
Another place to stay if you’re living the vanlife is on the road “Bd du Prince de Galles.” Its the road that sits right along the beach (Plage de la Cote Basque) which is a surfing beach, so the vanlife here is full of chill surfers and young like-minded people. If the roads full, which it most likely could be unless you get there early one morning, or late one evening, try the road above the beach on the cliff called “Av. de Notre-Dame.” Although there’s a sign that says ‘No Campers’ there seems to be an unspoken rule on these two roads for vans and campers to park up. We stayed a night on both these roads and it was pretty epic being so close to the ocean. Bryn could just wake up, grab his board and go.
Non vanlifers – a surf hostel you can stay at is Surf Hostel Biarritz. They offer accommodation in a rustic five bedroom country house, which allows the people staying at the hostel to mingle and hangout in a small inclusive environment. For your money you get a bed, breakfast, a bike and a board so its well worth it, especially if you’re going to be surfing. It’s not located on the beach (hence the bike) but its only a 15min walk into town. They also have another hostel located next to Biarritz in a town called Bidart and this is only minutes from another great surf break. Staying at a surf hostel is perfect if you’re going to be shakaring it up because it’s all inclusive and you don’t need to go hire a board elsewhere. The people you meet also make it great because if they’re there to surf, they’re clearly on the same buzz as you and you’ll make some cool new mates. We didn’t stay here, but have friends who stayed at both and rated it!
WHAT TO DO:
Surf the beach breaks
With a few different spots to choose from, Biarritz is the perfect spot for living the surf life. Beginners, intermediate or advance, there’s waves for every level. The three spots we surfed were Plage de la Cote des Basque, Grande Plage and Plage de la Milady
Fun fact of the day: it is said that when surfing first came to Europe in 1957, Biarritz was the first place to start the craze. Although not proven, it’s a cool thing to think about when you’re hitting the waves. We made some epic friends in Greece when we were there a few months ago and did a few days in Biarritz together too, so my highlight was doing a group surf on the long boards one evening.
Note: theres tons of places to hire boards along the Plage de la Cote des Basque, but on high tide + a bit before and after) they wouldn’t let you hire boards (if you go to the beach you’ll see why). The tide comes right up, past the rocks and laps against the wall so if any beginners were out there on hired boards, surfing right into the wall, they’d have a problem. If you have your own board, no worries, you can go when and where you like.
Explore the coast
Biarritz have 6km of beaches (plage in French) and you can literally walk your way around the whole thing. The shoreline is very pretty with lots to look at as your legs lead the way. We walked this on our first day in Biarritz, spending a few hours just meandering around, walking from our Aire into the city centre of Biarritz (walking from the South up to Biarritz). On your way you walk along either the cliff or the beach of Plage de la Cote des Basque (grab a coffee at “Le Surfing” restaurant as you go). You’ll then continue past what looks just like a Disney castle, perched right out on the water and I actually have no idea what it is…maybe a hotel? But it’s very pretty.
Continue around and you’ll see the Old Port (Port Veux), which actually used to be the centre of Biarritz when it was an old fisherman’s port. Around the bay you go and by now Bryns busting to pee, but luckily and to my surprise, there was a strange urinal thing built into the wall?! Random as but perfect for old busting Brynnie, so he quickly rushed in to wee in the wall.
Something you won’t miss while walking along the coast is the Rock of the Virgin. Legend has it, there was once a ship coming into port but a bad storm made it impossible for the ship to navigate his way in. Suddenly a ray of light appeared and showed the ship a safe way in so after the miracle, a fisherman decided to erect a statue of the virgin onto of the rock. The rock is connected to the land by a bridge (Eiffel Bridge named after the same man who built the Eiffel Tower) and is seriously picturesque.
As you continue you’ll walk past the aquarium, through a tunnel and past a couple a hundred hydrangeas blooming in the sun until you see The fisherman’s Port (Port des Pecheurs in French) and this is where you wanna go to eat seafood. We were here to late in the year for the restaurants to be busy, but in summer the restaurants are packed with tourists eating fresh seafood and enjoying the cute little port.
Legs getting sore but keep on going and you’ll come to a big church with a square full of cafes, bars and restaurants. Too expendy for our little budget, we walked inland and found somewhere cheap and easy to eat. We came back to this road for dinner one night with the crew (Jake, Soph, Kel, Bryn and me) and ate at an Italian restaurant on Rue du Port-Vieux. Explore this area if you can theres lots of places to shop and places to eat.
Continue along the coast walkway and you’ll find yourself looking at the rocky shoreline in awe until you arrive at the Grande Plage. You can’t miss it, huge buildings, long beach and hundreds of people. If your game, keep walking until you get to the lighthouse at the other end of the beach. If not, well you’ve finally made it to the city centre of Biarritz woohoo! Wasn’t too bad was it? The walk home was hard on the feet though, I was ready for Siesta when we finally got back to Cassie.
Hit the beach
We didn’t hit the beaches, unless it was for a surf, but in the heart of summer, the beaches in Biarritz are packed with people. The Grande Plage offers some good waves and the cute, tiny, picturesque Plage Port Veux has much calmer waters, similar to the beaches in the Med. Spend a day maxin relaxin and you’ll be a happy traveller.
Watch the sunset at the cliff top beach bar
Up above the Plage de la Cote des Basque, you have this one cool bar. I don’t even know the name…great travel blogger I am, but I can tell you how to get there. Right up on the cliff, above the beach, at the far end of Av. de Notre-Dame (the road where you can stay in your camper) you will see a bar with people spilling out onto the pavement drinking, socializing, watching the surfers down below and playing petanque. Head up here for sunset and its bound to be pumping. Bryns fav spot for a beer after a surf and a choice spot with the crew to enjoy the cheap 3Euro Sangria. Bryn and Jake were frothing with the shit tons of motorbikes that were parked up too, both of them eyeing up the bikes as they roared to life and hooned off. The dream.
These markets have been around since 1885 and are worth the visit, even if you don’t buy anything. These fresh produce markets, full of fruit, veg, meat, flowers and more, are a fun and cultural way to get into the french way of life. You literally see the iconic image of a french person, basket in hand with fresh produce overflowing, its pretty cool, plus I love it that people come to get their food from here, instead of the chain supermarkets. The “Halles de Biarritz” is divided into two buildings, one that has predominately seafood and the other that has fruit, veg and meat. Since leaving the country, I’ve become sort of obsessed with dates (yes the strange little dried fruit that looks like a prune) and we found some mammoth ones at these markets. I brought 5 and we tried one straight away and I kid you not, best dates I’ve ever eaten. So big, so sweet and just melted in our mouths. YUMMMMMM I’m drooling just thinking about it.
Eat at some of the cafes, restaurants and bars
In every town you come across in Europe, the food is generally amazing and Biarritz is no different. Sometimes…you just gotta splash out right? I don’t know half of the delish places to eat. But I do know this…Go and get a classic french breakfast from a patisserie, if your craving asian like we were then indulge at Palais De Jade restaurant and if you’re wanting something healthy, then hit up Bali Bowls for an amazing acai bowl.
Before we got to Biarritz, Soph and Kel had already lined up a place to have an acai bowl and for our first breaky in Biarritz, we rushed there to get one. “It opens at 10, lets get there at 10:30, eat, then hit the surf” Everyone was excited for the plan, tummys rumbling and keen on some acai (pronounced ASA-HE by the way, not A-KAI which I learnt the hard way). Murphy’s law it was shut, for no apparent reason, just our bad luck I guess. Not all bad though, we stumbled past a patisserie (french bakery) with seating with views of the sea, so we sat down to enjoy a classic french breakfast…in other words a shit ton of pastries + an espresso. We felt kinda fancy in this old grand building. I mean… the waiter had a skirt and tie on?! It sure satisfied our rumbling tummies and I recommend anyone going to France to get cultural and eat the amazing pastries, they’re bloody enjoyable.
Much to the crews envy, Bryn and I hit up Bali Bowls the next morning and yup, I can assure you, the acai bowls were also bloody enjoyable.
The asian too, was 10 out of 10. It was mine and Bryns one year anniversary while in Biarritz and although we don’t usually get all dressed up or spend a lot of money, we made an exception. Its been one incredible year being together, a huge leap of faith that’s changed our lives in all the right ways. So why not splurge?! We’d been craving asian for long enough, so straight onto google, I typed in “Best asian in Biarritz.” Palais De Jade popped up as #1 on TripAdvisor so off we went. Dumplings, spring rolls, duck, noodles and dessert we had a great one year anniversary in the beautiful Biarritz.
As you can see, we didn’t really do a whole lot of sight-seeing, we just hung around being surf bums, chilling and eating food but in our opinion…it’s the best way to be. Its been somewhat of a surprise to me to realise how much I’ve enjoyed the west coast. I thought the med coast, probably because its the more popular destination, was going to be better. The danger of assumptions hey? But honestly, don’t look past the west coast or Biarritz, the places we’ve been too, seen and experienced have been incredible.
Oh and thanks to the crew Jake, Soph and Kel for making everything more special. God you make some great friends while travelling. You da bomb.
Leah | free & addicted
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