Questor Insurance Travel Features

Biarritz - The Hotel du Palais

Date Created: 01 December 2014

A holiday at the Hotel du Palais in Biarritz is like staying in a Faberge Egg. From the moment I’m royally welcomed into this gem of a hotel and take in the ornate chandeliers, the gilt period furniture, the sweeping staircases and the decorative gold leaf embellishing the walls, I’m in Belle Epoque bling heaven.

Hotel BiarritzOriginally built in l855 as a summer palace for Napoleon III and his Spanish wife, Princess Eugenie, this elaborate bauble of a building has been romantically described as the French Taj Mahal. On a cliff overlooking the Grande Plage, the tempestuous Atlantic Ocean and the Biarritz light house, it commands an iconic panorama - little wonder the Imperial couple chose this as the location for the summer love nest known then as the Villa Eugenie.

Of course, the original owners had oodles of fun playing host to European royalty; I can almost hear the rustle of crinolines and the orchestra playing in the ballroom.

But since being reincarnated as a grand palace hotel offering 153 sumptuous rooms and suites - many featuring original furniture lovingly restored by a team of permanent in-house specialists - this tradition has endured. Over the decades monarchs, political leaders, artists, authors and film stars (their names emblazoned on the door of every room) have chosen the Hotel du Palais for its exquisite interior, exemplary Michelin Star status cuisine - and courteous staff who make everyone feel like royalty.

But the hotel’s reputation for luxury and lavish living is not the only reason for visiting Biarritz. Once a whaling settlement on the Bay of Biscay, the mild climate and natural beauty of the Basque region now attracts visitors all year round. And from the mid eighteenth century, when doctors claimed the ocean at Biarritz possessed particularly therapeutic qualities, the resort gained a reputation for thalassotherapy, health and well being which the Hotel du Palais continues to reinforce.

For those, like me, less willing to brave the Grande Plage breakers, the hotel’s salt water ‘Californian’ pool, is a perfect alternative. Giving the illusion of extending naturally from the Atlantic, this is a perfect solarium where I relax in one of the private cabanas and enjoy a light lunch at the Hippocampe restaurant. Should the Atlantic weather prove too bracing, the vast indoor freshwater pool, surrounded by classical colonnades and overlooking the sea, is something I’m sure Princess Eugenie would have approved of.

The pool, hammams, saunas and Jacuzzi forming part of the extensive Imperial Spa Guerlain (Princess Eugenie’s chosen beauty brand) were established in 2006. And what wannabe princess wouldn’t want to take advantage of the exclusive menu of pampering and rejuvenating treatments on offer? Aiming for an evanescent regal look, I opt for the Guerlain Imperial Masssage – with Body Polish! By the end of this relaxing treatment, my skin has taken on a glossy patina to rival that of the furnishings in my palatial room.

To complete my majestic transformation, I take up the offer of a complimentary consultation at the Leonor Greyl Hair Institute. A beautifully coiffed therapist examines my hair using a hi-tec microscope. The results are magnified on a computer screen where I see a forest of follicles sprouting from a somewhat patchy moonscape scalp. Whilst the condition of my hair is declared to be ‘assez bonnes’ my scalp is ‘tres sensible’ (sensitive). However, the ensuing bespoke treatments concocted with natural products remedy this problem and I leave with gleaming tresses to match my newly buffed body.

The Hotel du Palais is the corner stone upon which Biarritz has secured its status as ritzy resort. But despite the old school grandeur, both hotel and resort have evolved with the changing times. Described by Victor Hugo as ‘Queen of Beaches, beach for Kings’, Biarritz is now a Mecca for sport and fitness fans. Promenading a pooch beside the blonde beaches, the old port and tiny harbour is de rigueur in Biarritz and just my style. But lycra clad joggers, whippet lean cyclists and fit surfers are constant reminders of the town’s modern alter ego.

Biarritz became Europe’s surfing capital after l956 when Peter Viertel, actress Deborah Kerr’s husband, was so impressed by the waves at Biarritz he sent for a surf board from California. Since then it’s been attracting surfers from all around the world and is home to major surfing competitions. As a spectator sport it’s captivating and from dawn til dusk, I watch people of all ages pitting their wits, strength and balance against the wild and unpredictable Atlantic.

Biarritz has everything from golf and horse riding to rugby and tennis to entertain sporting aficionados. But any native Basque will confirm that food, as well as sport, is imprinted on their DNA. Two brothers who own the popular Los Dos Hermanos restaurant in Biarritz tell me that Basque people work out to work off the vast amount of food they consume. With a menu featuring locally sourced ingredients including fresh sea food and charcuterie (and a couple of televisions showing rugby games) this rustically atmospheric restaurant is just one of many in and around Biarritz proud to serve their unique Basque cuisine.

From the charm of nearby Saint-Jean-de-Luz to the elegant city of Saint Sebastian in Spain - famous for its tapas restaurants and a mere half hour drive from Biarritz – this ravishing region is one of the most sought after destinations in Europe. As a jewel in the Basque Country crown, Biarritz exudes a distinctive personality forged over the centuries. And, thanks to Napoleon and Eugenie, the glamour and sophistication they brought to Biarritz lives on in the incomparable Hotel du Palais.

The Hotel du Palais is an Orient-Express Associate Hotel.
Tel +33 (0)5 59 41 64 00 –

Written by Beverley Byrne.