GOLF AND MORE IN BIARRITZ
About Biarritz, France
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Aaah Biarritz. I love the name of this seaside treasure on the west coast of France. Its name sounds like the town feels: Biarritz combines French flare with Spanish gusto.
By the 19th century this once-quiet whaling port became the seaside resort rage with the who’s who of Europe. Napoleon III built Villa Eugenie as a summer residence for his wife. More royals and stars followed, including English lords and ladies who brought golf to Biarritz. No less than ten courses within a 15-mile radius. Biarritz is sister city to Augusta, Georgia, home to the Masters.
Based on a recent trip, here are my recommendations for where to stay and play in Biarritz and the Landes regions.
Basquing in Biarritz
Need to hone your swing? Biarritz boasts one of the best golf practice facilities in Europe with driving range and stations for putting, pitching and chipping at the Biarritz-Bidart International Training Centre. On the adjoining nine-hole Ilbarritz course that teeters over the Atlantic Ocean, you can put your practise to the test. It’s tight and tough.
Built in 1888, the second oldest course in Europe, Le Phare, named for the lighthouse that dominates over a seaside cliff, is in the heart of Biarritz. It was designed by Willie Dunn in the English style and later revamped by Henry Colt. At first glance, the beautifully manicured tract surrounded by half-timbered villas seems straightforward but don’t let this deceptive par-69 fool you. Seve Ballesteros scored an 11 on the par-three number 12 thanks to a radically sloping green and hungry bunkers. For sexy French golf duds, pay a visit to the chic boutique at the entrance to the course.
Just minutes from Biarritz, nestled into the foothills of the Pyrenees, the Arcangues course is laid out on the estate of the flamboyant Marquis d’Arcangues. In fact, you’ll be teeing off and putting in the backyard of his vine-covered chateau on holes 13 through 15. Then it’s past the doghouse and clay tennis courts and up a hill to an ancient chapel and cemetery. I was hoping that the Marquis might invite us in for a cup of tea.
Arcangues was designed by Ron Fream and it’s no cakewalk. Rarely will you encounter a flat lie because the terrain is very hilly. Golf carts aren’t nearly as popular in Europe as North America but you’ll want to hire one at Arcangues, unless you are a very fit mountain goat.
Located in Anglet, just a few kilometres from the centre of Biarritz, Golf de Chiberta is a vintage 1927 Tom Simpson course that has been refurbished. The fairways are a combination of links and in-land. From the 14th, golfers have a fantastic view of surfers riding the waves below.
Adjacent to the course, the four-star Hotel de Chiberta & du Golf is an ideal place to stay. You can walk to the Chiberta Course and it’s only minutes to the centre of Biarritz. Many rooms have patios and views of the course.
If money is no object, then book into the fabulous Hôtel du Palais, originally built by Napoleon III as a summer home for his wife, Eugenie. Owned by the city of Biarritz, the grand dame has been meticulously restored. The hotel`s luxury and ageless charm, coupled with its outstanding dining and spa facilities, make the Palais one of the finest in the world. I suggest you go for cocktails at sunset. The view of the rocky shoreline and iconic Virgin rock is spectacular from the main dining room where French super chef, Alaine Ducasse, chose to have his wedding reception as he considers it to be the most beautiful dining room on the planet. Who can argue?
If you’ve got a craving for seafood with a more casual vibe, stroll down to Chez Albert in the Old Port where I recommend the zesty gazpacho and grilled langoustines. Another find is the trendy Surfing restaurant overlooking Côtes des Basques where surfing was born in Biarritz in 1957.
Landes Region Just north of Biarritz, a series of delightful seaside towns offer more golf challenges and a stretch of beautiful beaches that attract surfers from all over the world. The Landes department of Aquitaine also boasts an important pine forest and several lakes.
The Hotel Baya in Capbreton is a fun place to stay. It’s right on the beach and within walking distance of some terrific restaurants. At the hotel’s spa you can treat those aching golf muscles to a traditional Thai massage.
Half an hour by car from Capbreton, Golf de Moliets, designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. in 1989, is part of a huge sports complex. The course is a bit schizophrenic in that most of the holes are parkland until you get to the 13th. The next four holes, 13 though 16, play over dunes along the ocean.
Fine dining is an important element to the French golf experience. At Moliets, for example, we enjoyed the local speciality, salad de Landes that includes foie gras, smoked duck breast, white asparagus, baby lettuce and tomatoes. And, needless to add, buckets of robust local wine.
Another nearby gem, Golf Blue Green de Seignosse, designed by Robert von Hagge, is carved through forests and undulating countryside with water on five fairways. It’s just a few kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean so there’s always an exhilarating sea breeze. Your round at Seignosse, known as “the war machine,” will be rewarded by patience, course strategy and accurate shots. Probably the most memorable hole is number 11, a 580-yard, par-five where from the elevated tees there’s a gorgeous vista of a sparkling lake on the right and a lush fairway lined with pine and cork trees. Seignosse is consistently rated on of the top 50 tracks in Europe.
“You don’t come to Seignosse to score,” remarked the general manager, Christophe Rondele. “You come to confront Robert von Hagge’s treachery.” There are plans to turn the par-five 18th into an even longer par-six.
After your battle, chill out in one of the hammocks on the terrace and then console yourself with a charcuterie platter featuring the cold meats and cheeses of the region and perhaps a flute of Champagne.
In between those ten golf courses you’ll want to explore this colourful Basque region of France. Saint Jean de Luz and Saint Jean Pied de Port are two of the prettiest villages you’ll find. Try the famous Basque cakes filled with almond custard and cherry jam or Basque chicken smothered with Espelette red peppers. Sangria on the menu and stores selling espadrilles are reminders that the Spanish border is around the corner.
You can buy a Biarritz Golf Pass starting at €100 ($142.3) for two rounds; €200 ($284.6) for four rounds at your choice of four clubs. www.golfpassbiarritz.com