The Spanish Basque Country seems to get all of the glory, what with its annual Running of the Bulls festival and dazzling culinary and art scenes. But the French side certainly isn’t lacking on the charm front. The area’s glitzy beach towns are filled with grand Belle Epoque buildings, traditional Basque-style townhouses, and clifftop villas — many of which are home to lovely boutique hotels. Here are picks for the very best small, design-conscious hotels in the French Basque Country.
The calm and quaint Hotel Saint-Julien is a 19th-century residence with 20 rooms, an intimate atmosphere, and tasteful decor. The walls of the cozy primrose-hued lobby are adorned with French festival posters and maps, and throughout, there are beautiful period details that wouldn’t look out of place in a Provencal country house. Expect to see high ceilings, pitch pine floors, Regency colors, marble fireplaces, solid oak staircases, and column radiators. All rooms have double beds with crisp linens, air-conditioning, flat-screen TVs, and free Wi-Fi. Previous guests comment on the excellent personal service from the owner-hosts and the top-notch breakfasts. Best of all: It’s just a ten-minute walk from Biarritz’s beaches.
Le Regina Biarritz Hotel is an elegant 1907 Belle Epoque hotel with classic Art Deco-inspired style; the hotel's central design feature is its impressive glass-ceilinged lobby, with tiers of white arches framing the vivid red walls of hallways. While the hotel falls just short of its luxury ambitions, the style here reflects the refined vibe in Biarritz. High-grade materials like ebony, rosewood, lacquer, and leather all add just the right amount of glitz and polish throughout the common spaces and rooms. Le Regina draws mostly well-heeled tourists and couples to its elegant retro atmosphere, fine dining, and quiet location not far from the beach and lighthouse.
The upscale Hotel Parc Victoria is housed in what was originally a private residence built at the end of the 19th century, with a facade that resembles a Victorian dollhouse. The hotel opened in 1991 and joined the Relais & Chateaux group in 1996. Lovely green grounds filled flowers, potted plants, and pathways, plus the intimate, Art Deco interior create a refined and romantic vibe. The 20 rooms vary in size and decor, but all are spacious and refined, with modern comforts that include flat-screen TVs, air-conditioning, and minibars, but no coffee- and tea-making facilities. Hotel Parc Victoria has plenty of lovely features, including an outdoor heated pool surrounded by a deck with lounge chairs. The restaurant provides both indoor and outdoor seating and has a classy, romantic vibe, and pricey, but generally well-reviewed meals. A breakfast buffet is available in the morning (for a fee) and can be taken on one of a few different outdoor patio areas. Room service is also available.
La Reserve is a sophisticated vacation oasis with modern decor and a relaxing, romantic vibe. Located on a cliff, the hotel has expansive manicured grounds where guests can lounge, and offers views of the sea from rooms and a sleek patio. The 47 rooms are stylish with sepia-toned prints of local scenes above the beds, and many have their own furnished balconies with views of the garden or ocean. There's an intimate bar, and the Ilura Restaurant serves Basque-influenced meals for lunch and dinner. A light menu is available on the Ilura Garden and patio, with views of the sea. With its garden and quiet, private, romantic vibe, the hotel draws mainly couples, although families check in here, too.
The 17-room Hotel Au Bon Coin is an upper-middle-range, family-run boutique hotel with a cozy, modern feel. While it's situated in a residential area, it's still within walking distance of popular beaches, restaurants, and tourist sites. Homey, individually decorated rooms feature contemporary bathrooms and amenities like flat-screen TVs, tea/coffee service, and free Wi-Fi. The hotel has a cozy lounge and breakfast room, a small bar, and a rooftop whirlpool, but few other property features. Downsides? There are no fitness facilities, the reception and the bar close early, and breakfast costs an extra fee.
The 48-room, family-run Le Windsor Grande Plage Biarritz occupies a townhouse in an excellent location between Biarritz's city center and the main beach. Today, mismatched minimalist decor is combined with on-trend touches (egg chairs, a turntable) creates a design-forward style. The simple, contemporary rooms feature mostly white decor, and amenities like air-conditioning, minibars, free Wi-Fi, and flat-screen TVs. Higher categories offer gorgeous sea views. There’s a breakfast room (buffet breakfast is included in the rates) and in summer months, a cafe on the seafront promenade. The vibe is quiet considering the popular location, though nearby nightclubs do mean some nighttime noise, and the hotel draws younger couples looking for a modern base by the sea.
Hotel de l’Ocean is a well-located hotel with a modern France-meets-New-England style. Travelers are drawn to this boutique mid-range hotel for its excellent location in charming Place Sainte Eugenie, right by the seafront. The sweeping La Grande Plage is a five-minute walk in one direction, with the tiny cove of Plage du Port Vieux in the other. The stand-out feature at this three-pearl hotel is the smart brasserie, which has a terrace that spills out onto the square -- an ideal spot for seafood dinners and wine soirees. The 26 cozy, beach-themed rooms are all individually designed to create a homey feel, although there are inconsistencies with facilities -- like air-conditioning and Wi-Fi -- between rooms.
Belle Epoque style abounds all over the Biarritz area, so the upper-middle-range Villa Koegui stands out as a contemporary alternative. Situated in a quiet residential neighborhood close to sites and sand, the hotel offers 15 modern, minimalist rooms equipped with flat-screen TVs and minibars. Guests can linger in the comfortable library-lounge or go alfresco on the pretty patio, but other facilities are noticeably missing, such as a pool, restaurant, and fitness center.
Hotel Alcyon is a three-pearl boutique hotel in central Biarritz. The location is great -- close to plenty of cafes and bistros, and just a five-minute walk to La Grande Plage. There are nice historic details at this 19th-century property, including a Belle Epoque breakfast room. However, there are no other on-site facilities. The 15 cozy rooms eschew classic decor for modern neutral tones, and feature amenities like flat-screen TVs and mini-fridges. Unfortunately, Wi-Fi is sketchy. The hotel appeals to couples of all ages looking for a more affordable Belle Epoque base than the hotels on the beachfront.