Biarritz history | Quality Villas

biarritz history


The coastal town of Biarritz, located in south-west France,
is a lively hub attracting thousands of tourists every year, not only for its
excellent surfing but also for its image of glitz and glamour which it has kept
up for centuries. In this blog post, we go back to this glamourous town’s
humble origins and explore how it came to fame, attracting the rich and famous.


Biarritz started out in the Middle Ages as a small port
town, where local fishermen were renowned for their skill in harpooning whales.
These whales were used across many aspects of everyday life – bones and ribs
were used to make fences, their oil was used for light fuel, their skin was
used to make seats, and, of course, the flesh was an important part of the
local diet. Many villagers’ lives centred around whaling, working on the beach
even after the whales had been caught, where they had set up ovens to melt
blubber, fireplaces to cook the meat and amphorae to conserve the oil. Whaling
provided a livelihood for fishermen up until the 17th century, when
they had to begin travelling further and further out to sea to find whales.


Although attitudes towards bathing in the seas of Biarritz
were initially negative, this slowly began to change in the 18th and
19th centuries, partially marking the future of this seaside resort.
By the middle of the 18th century, bathing was recognised as a
suitable therapy for many ills and ailments, with one of the first converts to
bathing in Biarritz being famous author Victor Hugo. Following his visit in
1843, he said that “Biarritz would become fashionable”, after being charmed by
the “white village with red roofs and green shutters, set on crops of grass”.

Just eleven years later, the town received another important
endorsement in the form of Napoleon III and his wife, the Countess of Montijo.
After staying in the town as a child, the countess loved the place so much that
the two made a return for a two-month stay, residing in the Chateau de Gramont,
owned by the Mayor of Bayonne. Napoleon soon after built a summer residence for
his wife in the town, known as La Villa Eugenie, visiting every year until
1868.

Once news had spread of how much the emperor and his wife
enjoyed Biarritz, the town quickly attracted several more royal figures,
including kings of lands including Portugal, Belgium, Russia, and Wurtenburg,
as well as princes and lords of Spain and England. Their visits awarded
Biarritz an even more elevated status, and by this point the resort enjoyed
more than 10,000 visitors a year.

By the turn of the century, the resort was attracting a
variety of notable French figures, from Alexandre Dumas to Jules Ferry. Most
notably, the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, also spent five
seasons here, with the former imperial residence he stayed in transformed into
the Hotel du Palais in 1893. The English also brought two popular activities,
golf and horseriding, to Biarritz for the first time.


By the turn of the 20th century, casinos were
being built, attracting big-time gamblers as well as stars from the
entertainment world, putting on extravagant shows followed by all-night
dancing. Though Biarritz still attracted the royalty who came for its
peacefulness and picturesque views, it was also beginning to attract a new
crowd of glamourous people who liked to party the night away in style. After
the Second World War in particular, largely thanks to the parties hosted by the
Marquis de Cuevas, both royalty and movie stars alike flocked to Biarritz;
visitors included Farouk of Egypt, Peter of Yugoslavia, Michael of Romania,
Rita Hayworth, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. These parties continued well into
the sixties, and today Biarritz still attracts its fair share of fun-lovers as
well as those there simply to relax and enjoy the incredible scenery.

If you’d like to indulge in the classic glitz and glamour
offered by this timeless beachside town, visit our website for a great selection
of Biarritz chateau holidays.


Image: Dennis
Jarvis
, available under Creative Commons

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