There is something almost quirky in the allure of Biarritz. Transformed by Napolean III to a retreat for royalty and glitterati including Ernest Hemingway, Frank Sinatra, Bette Davis and Rita Hayworth, up until World War II, it was the Monte Carlo of Europe’s western coast. Today, Biarritz harbors the air of its former glamour with the refreshing shabbiness of a surf haven famed for some of the best waves in Europe. I can think of few other places that boast the scene of bare foot surf dropouts walking with boards in tow in front of an Hermès boutique.
There is a strange Anderson Grand Budapest quality to the city’s Hotel du Palais, originally built as a sea palace escape by Napolean III. The soaring entrance hall is embellished by dramatic tropical bouquets and opens up onto a great dining room overlooking the sea. Every table was at the ready with a setting to rival the ruler measured creations of Remains of the Day. Under dozens of chandeliers straight out of the glitz and glory of France’s more golden days stood lines of black tie clad maître d’s anticipating the drop of a napkin or the refilling of a red-stained glass.
But there was no one there. The pianist played Vivaldi for an empty room. Although the early spring chill in the air was likely the cause of such a dramatic lack of guests, it still felt like the Grand Budapest at its last peak before the fall. The cocktail menu had the most whimsical assortment of fruit juices. A pineapple juice in a crystal whiskey tumbler served with a silver stirrer. I can’t stand the taste of alcohol. In my mind they added passionfruit and sparkling water and crowned it mine. A single serving guest with a drink to her name, is there anything more pretentiously epic than that? I wore a vintage beaded flapper dress from the thirties and a black fur cape to make my Anderson reverie even more a reality.
In a perfect contrast to the time shattered elegance of Napoleon’s former crash pad are the beaches of Biarritz. Vast and open and enclosed into cavernous coves with waves that break with a force that could instill a fear of Poseidon in the hearts of even the most atheist of myth lovers. There are no surfers watching god in waiting for the perfect waves here. Long haired youths and post-mid-life wave masters weaving in between one another in some pre-delegated, unspoken surf code. Everything is fluid, in motion.
Miremonte. This is the kind of Salong de thé/patisserie/chocolaterie that you fall in love with and spend the rest of your days in Paris finding a suitable equivalent. But even in Paris there is nothing that quite rivals it. Maybe Café Angelina, if Angelina were its over-touristy, slightly clichéd, faux-gold leafed moldings cousin. Custard filled basque pastries, rich chocolates and caramels that somehow manage to hold a slightly hardened outer shell and a soft caramel interior that spills over the tongue with the heat of the first bite. Behind the glass casings of sweets is a beautiful dining room overlooking the sea. Varnished chandeliers embellish the ceiling and although everything was well cared for, there was something eerily old about the place in its fullest Biarritz charm.
There is a strange, lost beauty to Biarritz. It feels somewhat trapped in time, but with the amenities and restaurants that make it just modern enough for its recent comeback. If one day I meet Wes Anderson, i’ll tell him to go here. Half a decade down the line, he’ll make a darker “sequel” to his most recent hit at the Hotel du Palais… I see him turning more macabre with age. One of the film’s signature quirks will be a perfectly ironic bubbly pink pineapple drink with a cocktail umbrella for effect.