|La Grande Plage|
All of this information was enough of an endorsement for us to book our tickets and apply sunscreen.
We arrived around lunchtime, checked into our hotel, and found a cozy French restaurant off-the-beaten-path. Tourist season was at its end since summer was over and we were the only Americans in the restaurant. It's one of those places where everyone is seated extremely close so conversations from neighboring tables eventually blend together easily and new friends are made fast.
Our new friend was a character. She was in her 80's, a perfectly-coiffed, heavily made-up French lady fashionably dressed and dripping in jewels. She was dining alone and happened to be sitting beside me. She smiled as soon as we were seated beside her and I could tell she was amused by us from the beginning. After we'd chosen our wine she leaned toward me and said, "That's a good choice. A nice, light red for lunch." I replied, "Oh, good! I'm glad we made the right decision!" She smiled knowingly and then leaned back into her seat.
A few moments passed and she couldn't contain herself any longer. She touched my shoulder and asked, "Where are you from?"
"The United States," we replied.
"Oui, oui, but where in America?" she asked.
"I'm from Chicago and my wife is from Florida," my husband said.
"Ahhhhh, Florida! Are you from Miami? I love Miami! Miami Beach is so fantastic. I go there all of the time and stay at the same hotel. Last time I was there it was my birthday and they gave me a big cake with lots of champagne. They know me there. It's fabulous!" she exclaimed.
"That sounds nice," I said. "I've actually never been to Miami. I'm from north Florida."
She squinted at me in disbelief, as if Florida only exists for the purpose of Miami and said, "But you must go there. It's fabulous."
She then produced a key chain with her name on one side and Miami and palm trees on the other. She pressed a little button and the name plate lit up as she giggled delightedly. We told her that even though she liked Miami, we were very excited to come to Biarritz.
|Sunset in Biarritz|
Right after this, our food came. She looked over our plates with approval and then proclaimed to the waitress, "Gabrielle, the young American couple would now prefer to have the "Vin du Jacqueline." The waitress looked at us questioningly and I quickly said, "Yes, sure, that would be great." She soon produced the same bottle of wine that Jacqueline was nursing. We took a sip of our first glasses and agreed that it was very good. "It's the best wine you can get here, in this place," she remarked. "Perfect for a nice lunch of omelette."
We began eating as she smiled contentedly. Suddenly, as my fork was mid-air, she asked, "What do you think of Obamacare?"
We were a little startled by the question. I stuffed my food into my mouth and waited for my husband to give a diplomatic answer. It's always tricky talking politics with people from other countries. You never know what they're thinking. Sometimes they love America and sometimes they really hate it. We had just ordered the new bottle of wine and began eating so we knew it would be an uncomfortable afternoon if we got into a debate with Jacqueline. Much to our relief, she really only wanted to give her opinion on healthcare so we chewed and sipped as she glugged and lectured about her thoughts on healthcare in France, America, and Switzerland, where her daughter lives.
Eventually she quieted down and that was a good thing because by now Gabrielle, the waitress, looked ready to swoop in at any moment to pardon us from the spirited Jacqueline. There was no harm done, though. Jacqueline finished the last of her wine and said (not for the first time), "Okay, children, I must go now to my hair appointment. You can see my hair is a mess and I must make it look nice."
As she was standing, she patted me on the knee and said, "You are so American!" Then she winked and said, "Goodbye, children" over her shoulder as she strutted out of the restaurant and onto the streets of Biarritz, leaving behind a faint whiff of Chanel and Vin du Jacqueline.
It was an exciting start to our vacation!
|Crashing Waves and the|
Hotel du Palais
We visited a history museum one afternoon. It mostly featured the story of Napoleon III and Eugenie. There was also an interesting portion dedicated to Biarritz at the end of World War II. In the summer of 1945, the Americans opened a university aimed toward providing a transition between army life and academic life. Many of the students had been in the front line during the war and all were ordered to remove their caps, un-ranking them and making them equals.
|Walking Out to a Summit|
The sea was generally a little too rough for swimming (great for surfing) but luckily there was a nice, calm cove perfect for a dip. The water was a bit too cold for me but my husband braved the chilly waters of the Port-Vieux beach and swam for a while. Sometimes there's a strong undercurrent that swimmers claim pulls you out to sea. My husband said he felt it while he was swimming. Though the water was cold, we saw several dedicated swimmers during our few days there. They most likely belonged to the Polar Bear Club, one of the oldest clubs in Biarritz, established in 1929. Its members swim every single day of the year, even Christmas!
|The Perfect Lunch|
|Coastline at Night|
Biarritz is a beauty. We had an affordable, restful vacation and I would love to return someday with my children so they can eat baguettes on the beach. With its old-world charm and rich history, it feels almost like a place time has forgotten. The sprawling Hotel du Palais looks much the same as it did when Napoleon III and Eugenie were entertaining royal guests. The beaches are clean and untainted and there are lots of different summits to stand upon as you watch the sun fade into the ocean. But just when you think you're going to turn around and see elegant sunbathers from the 1800s, an athletic girl with drenched, sun-streaked blonde hair jogs past you holding her surfboard high, eyeing the next big wave.
I'll be back, Biarritz. Keep the Vin du Jacqueline in stock.