Thursday, May 21 - Biarritz and Bayonne

We began the day with another lecture by Andy Fisher in the houseboat, this time on the Spanish Basques. Then at 11 we left for Biarritz, which is on the coast near Bayonne. We took a roundabout route along the river and coastline and then were ready for lunch on arrival in Biarritz. Here are some more cribbed comments on this beautiful town.

Vikings who invaded Gascony in 840 settled in Biarritz, which later participated in the whaling trade. Biarritz is a Basque name with locative suffix -itz. Biarritz has long made its fortune from the sea: as a whaling settlement from the 12th century onwards, in the 18th century doctors recommended that the ocean at Biarritz had therapeutic properties, inspiring patients to make pilgrimages to the beach for alleged cures for their ailments. Biarritz became more renowned in 1854 when Empress Eugenie (the wife of Napoleon III) built a palace on the beach (now the Hôtel du Palais). The British royal family regularly took vacations in Biarritz: European royalty such as Queen Victoria, Edward VII, and Alfonso XIII of Spain were frequent visitors. Biarritz's casino (opened August 10, 1901) and beaches make the town a notable tourist canter for Europeans.

Since WW II Biarritz has lost its popularity to the rich to the Riviera but is still a very popular summer resort, especially to surfers. (Coincidentally this Elderhostel and our last, in Cornwall, have taken us to the most popular surfing beaches in Europe.)

We had lunch in a restaurant, Le Galion, that is right on the beach and gave us a view of the surf during the meal. After that our visit to Biarritz was confined to a walk along the waterfront. It was spectacular and a photographer's paradise.

Then we returned to Bayonne for a walk around town.

Bayonne is a commercial and civic hub, with small pedestrianised streets packed with shops, plus the cathedral and Hôtel de Ville. The Cathédrale Sainte-Marie is an imposing, elegant Gothic building, rising over the houses, glimpsed along the narrow streets. It was constructed in the 12th and 13th centuries. The south tower was completed in the 16th century but the cathedral was only completed in the 19th century with the north tower. The cathedral is noted for its charming cloisters. There are other details and sculptures of note, although much was destroyed in the Revolution. Nearby is the Château-Vieux, some of which dates back to the 12th century, where the governors of the city were based, including the English Black Prince. This district is riddled with aver 200 vaulted cellars, constructed form the 13th to 18th century to protect merchandise from fire and used as shops and stores.

After seeing all this we returned to the hotel. We had dinner there again and then were treated to a display of Basque dances by a troupe o f women dancers. They were good and it was interesting.

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