Words by Erik Ellington
Photos by Lukas Gansterer
I had always heard stories of Biarritz. Rugged Basque County scenery giving way to the hedonistic serenity of an immense Atlantic coastline and all the romanticism you’d expect from a historically drenched, water front city in the southern corners of Europe.
Leaving Paris on a high, from a weekend steeped in nostalgia and celebration, the train wheezed out of the city centre, cruising through what feels like endless, dense suburbs, until an abrupt greenery is introduced. Europe by train is a pleasure only to be understood by those who have experienced it, at the very least when compared to the often nightmarish intensity of an Amtrak excursion.
The great decompression was the only agenda upon arrival. A chance to focus on the week prior, whilst embracing the immensity of wayfaring freedom that this neck of the woods forces you in to. By day we’d skate around the city center, wandering the beaches and admiring the dreaminess of this town. Waltzing through Mercado Les Halles to scoop up fresh oysters and sit, ocean facing, scoffing them back as the waves lapped the storm barriers and the locals moved at their own, sun drenched pace.
As night would roll in, we’d swim in the blackened Atlantic and take advantage of the empty streets to learn about the city’s history through friends who call this place home. A focal point being The Hotel du Palais, a Napoleonic masterpiece, built in the mid 1800’s as a gift for his wife. Strategically placed within a short distance of Spain, so as to curb the sense of homesickness she might otherwise feel. I spent a lot of time roaming around the grounds and building, acting as if I were staying there, imagining summers in the 19th century and how the place would have felt, or more realistically reacted to me, with an unbuttoned lace shirt, slightly suitcase creased pants and a box fresh pair of Palazzo mules, swanning about, sans invite, doing my questionable impression of French aristocracy. At best they might have seen it as entertainment, at worst the guillotine. I’ll take it either way. Both make for solid anecdotes.
As the trip drew to a close, the sadness began to set in. To turn one’s back on such a crown jewel of a city is never an easy move to make, but leaving with a desire to stay will always be the ammunition necessary to keep the sense of recreational adventure alive.