Hydrangeas. More hydrangeas. Pink hydrangeas. Blue hydrangeas. They are everywhere in the French Basque Country. In amongst the tents of our campsite, by the roadsides, tumbling down the hillside in Biarritz. Their abundance made a very pretty display at every turn.
The locals take pride in their Basque heritage and they couldn’t have been more welcoming during this long weekend staying in a cosy cabin at Yelloh Village Camping Ilbarritz. I was there with my close friend, Suzanne, for a girls’ weekend away. We had a fabulous time catching up, chatting about my forthcoming wedding and exploring the stretch of coast between Biarritz and Bidart. Camping Ilbarritz made the perfect base.
On our first morning, we headed straight out to Biarritz. It’s an elegant seaside town first made popular when European royalty started visiting in the 1800s. It still has an air of glamour about it, even though these days its long sandy beaches are more popular with surfers than royals. Biarritz is easily accessible from Camping Ilbarritz.
As well as the beaches, there are some excellent shops, including the renowned French department store, Galeries Lafayette on Place Georges Clemenceau. A little further along on the same street, Miremont (pictured above)is a charming historic Salon de Thé, founded in 1872, once frequented by royals including King Edward VII of England.
Where to eat – Bar la Plage
We stumbled across Bar de la Plage, 29 Boulevard du General de Gaulle, quite by accident and instantly loved it – laid-back and friendly, with stylish beach themed decor and a touch of the bohemian. Service was good and the food was excellent.
We shared a Plateau de Charcuterie, costing €16, with delicious cold cuts, sausage and paté and some crusty bread as well as a Veggie Bowl, costing €13, of quinoa, avocado, grapefruit, chickpeas and red cabbage. A good combination and more than enough for the two of us. With tip and a gin and tonic, the total bill came to €40.
Bus number 13 leaves from outside the campsite and takes around 15 minutes to get to Biarritz. A 24 hour bus ticket costs just €2. You can purchase the ticket on the bus from the driver. You then need to pop it in the ticket-stamping machine just behind the driver each time you get on a bus.
The same bus that took us to Biarritz goes on past the campsite to Bidart on its return journey and takes 30 minutes or so. We did have a problem finding the correct bus stop for the trip back but we finally found one just opposite Miremont on Place Georges Clemenceau.
After lunch, a walk along the beach and some window shopping we caught the bus 13 that took us past our campsite and on to Bidart.
Bidart is a charming village, easily accessible from Camping Ilbarritz. There’s a pretty square with restaurants, bars and a few shops – a great place to stop for a bite or a beer while people-watching.
There were two shops that we particularly enjoyed. The first was the craft shop KM 42, selling some lovely local crafts that would make excellent souvenirs or gifts. Sadly the driftwood fish I took a shine to would never have fitted in my suitcase. And next door, Etex Peio, sells Basque specialities including wine, beer, charcuterie and cheeses – the perfect place to pick up provisions for a picnic, some edible souvenirs or drinkable gifts.
Carry on walking down this street, Rue de Madeleine, and at the end, you’ll find a small chapel and a lovely view along the coast.
Where to eat – Mahaina
The restaurant Mahaina (meaning table in Basque) on Rue de Madeleine, just off the main square, was recommended to us by KM 42. And it was an excellent choice and we were lucky to get a table, so I’d strongly advise you to book in advance.
Emmanuel, our host, was very welcoming and it was an absolute joy to see the pride he took in his cuisine. Although he didn’t speak much English and my French is virtually non-existent we could still (mostly) understand each other. Emmanuel explained that the food served here, from the bread to the sorbet, is made in-house, from as local produce as possible. And it was good. Very good.
They do not offer a wide choice of dishes, preferring to serve a smaller selection, focusing on freshness and quality rather than quantity. It was handy for me that they had a menu in English. We could choose from five €12 starters, five €22 mains and five €10 desserts. The wine list was far more extensive! We selected a local red, Navarra Reserva Gran Eolo for €26, which was very smooth and quaffable.
We skipped the starters to leave room for dessert and went straight to the main course. Suzanne selected the catch of the day, while I opted for the organic Pyrenean beef served with a tarragon and mustard seed emulsion, herb roasted potatoes with asparagus and a little salad – a fabulous combination of tastes and textures.
For pudding, Suzanne had a traditional Basque Flan, Koka, with kaffir lime, lime cream and red berries, while I had the scrumptious, Gran Cru ‘Guayaquil’ chocolate soufflé with Espelette pepper and a mandarin sorbet. With water and a tip, the total bill for the two of us came to €100. Money well spent as a holiday treat.
Want to know more about France? Check out these France fun facts!
Bus number 13 leaves from outside the campsite and takes around 15 minutes to get to Bidart. You should get off at the bus stop by the church when the bus’s display board reads ‘Eglise’. Then follow the sign for the village centre. If you miss the stop you’ll find yourself at the beach where the bus stops for about 10 minutes before heading back the way it came (so it’s not a big deal if you miss the stop the first time, as we did!).
Alternatively, it’s about a 40 minute walk between Bidart and the campsite. The buses stop running quite early so we had to walk back after dinner, but it seemed to take no time at all and the view of the sunset was glorious.
Where to Stay – Camping Ilbarritz
With RVs, tents and delightful cabins, Camping Ilbarritz is an excellent holiday choice for families, couples or groups of friends, if you are looking for affordable places to stay near Biarritz.
We soon felt at home in a chalet with two bedrooms, both ensuite, at either end with the kitchen come living area in the middle. There was everything we could need for simple holiday living. Towels and bed linen were provided.
Outside, our private terrace had a picnic table and benches, plus two sun loungers. As we were staying in a premium chalet, the WiFi was also included but there wasn’t a strong signal. That’s possibly the only criticism I could make about the site.
There’s plenty to keep you occupied with two swimming pools, tennis courts, a bar and a restaurant. There’s a handy onsite grocery store for basic provisions and a beauty salon, offering massages and treatments if you are after a bit of pampering. The staff at the campsite, especially those at reception, were extremely helpful.
Camping Ilbarritz couldn’t be in a better location. We flew there from Stansted Airport in an hour and 40 minutes. The airport is really small so it took no time at all before we were in a taxi and just 15 minutes (and €20) later we were there.
Things to do
As well as onsite activities from archery to yoga and, of course, the two swimming pools, there are plenty of interesting places to visit within very easy reach with or without a car.
La Plage des Cent Marches, which is popular with surfers, is about a ten minutes’ walk away. There’s a small rocky area perfect for rock pooling, but for the most part the beach is a vast stretch of sand. It looked spectacular at sunset with the pink sky reflected in the ocean and the wet sand.
And as we discovered, the glamorous seaside town of Biarritz is just a 15 minute bus ride in one direction, while in the other direction, also 15 minutes away, you’ll find the lovely village of Bidart.
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Disclosure: Suzanne and I visited the French Basque as guests of Yelloh Village Camping Ilbarritz. As always, I retain complete editorial control of my articles and am free to write whatever I wish.