An Architectural Stroll Around Biarritz

From a small fishing village to a popular seaside resort thanks to Napoleon III and Eugénie de Montijo: let's take a quick tour of these Biarritz gems…

Fondation du patrimoine

Villa Eugénie à BiarritzFondation du patrimoine

Biarritz: an imperial city

As a child, Eugénie de Montijo used to visit Biarritz to bathe in the sea, which was thought to have restorative properties. She kept up this ritual into her adult life, and when she married Napoleon III, she convinced her imperial husband to choose Biarritz as the destination for their honeymoon in 1854. They really liked the peace and quiet of this fishing village, which had just 800 inhabitants at the time, and decided to build a residence there.

Château Gramont à BiarritzFondation du patrimoine

For their honeymoon, the imperial couple stayed at the Château Grammont, which was owned by the Mayor of Bayonne, Jules Labat.

In 1866, Labat had his 1804 castle razed to the ground, in order to rebuild it in a more up-to-date style. This is the building we still admire today, restored with support from the Fondation du Patrimoine (Cultural Heritage Foundation).

La Grand Plage de BiarritzFondation du patrimoine

It was while they were on their honeymoon that Eugénie and Napoleon acquired the 14 plots of land that now make up the more-than-50-acre imperial estate. Built in 1834, it extends from the Grande Plage to the lighthouse.
Their choice of location was influenced by the Palais du Pharo in Marseille.

Villa Eugénie à BiarritzFondation du patrimoine

The Villa Eugénie was built in a Louis XIII style, with the help of the architect Hippolyte Durand, known for having built the Château de Monte-Cristo for Alexandre Dumas.
Built over a 10-month period, it subsequently hosted the imperial couple every summer from 1855 to 1868.

Élément de la villa Eugénie à BiarritzFondation du patrimoine

Eugénie de Montijo remained the owner of the estate, but when, in 1880, the French Republic allowed her to enjoy it again, she decided to sell the property because it was too full of memories.

However, when a fire ravaged the residence in 1903, she said, "I thought I had lost the ability to cry. But I cried just the other day when I heard about my precious villa in Biarritz burning down."

This sculpture is the last surviving trace of the Villa Eugénie. It formed part of the building's façade and a clock would have been set in the central hollow.

Vue aérienne de l'Hôtel du Palais à BiarritzFondation du patrimoine

Exceptional hotels

Thanks to its imperial connections, Biarritz was connected by rail in 1860 and became a fashionable seaside destination for the rich and famous. The Villa Eugénie was transformed into a hotel-casino. It went by the name Palais Biarritz, then the Hôtel du Palais. Royalty from all over Europe stayed there, including Spain, Russia, England, and Serbia, to name but a few.

Église Orthodoxe de Biarritz (1892)Fondation du patrimoine

At the end of the 19th century, because Russian visitors to the Hôtel du Palais made up such a significant portion of the clientele, it was decided in 1892 that an Orthodox church would be built opposite the establishment.
The destination became even more popular following the 1917 Russian Revolution, with many Russian emigrants—dubbed the white émigrés or white Russians—fleeing to Biarritz in exile.
Today, the church is the subject of a restoration plan supported by the Mission Patrimoine 2019.

Vue aérienne de l'Hôtel du Palais à BiarritzFondation du patrimoine

In February 1903, there was a fire at the Hôtel du Palais that destroyed most of the building.
It was rebuilt the following year with an additional floor and several extensions.
It had 110 rooms before the fire, but when the hotel reopened in 1905, it had 300 rooms and 20 suites.

Villas Edouard VII à Biarritz (1925)Fondation du patrimoine

The Edward VII Villas, designed in the Anglo-Norman style, were built in 1925 as annexes to the Hôtel du Palais. Guests of the villas were afforded all the same comforts as the main palace.
The villas were named after the English king who visited the hotel every summer between 1906 and 1910.

Hôtel Regina de Biarritz (1906)Fondation du patrimoine

The Belle Époque was a good time for Biarritz. The Hôtel du Palais was no longer big enough to accommodate all of the city's visitors.
The Le Régina Hôtel was built in 1907, on the former imperial estate, overlooking the cliffs with a view of the ocean.
Its architecture, typical of the time, makes it a very representative example of that period.

L'ancien hôtel Carlton à Biarritz (1908)Fondation du patrimoine

Located opposite the Hôtel du Palais, the Hôtel Carlton, built in 1908, is another testament to the flourishing hotel activity that was underway at the turn of the 20th century.
In the 1950s, the Carlton and several other hotels in the city lost their wealthy clientele. They were then divided up into apartments.

Villa Javalquinto, aujourd'hui office de tourisme et des congrès (1866)Fondation du patrimoine

Luxury seaside architecture

When going on vacation to Biarritz, the richest visitors were not satisfied with simply staying in luxury hotels—so they built the most luxurious villas imaginable. This was the case with the Spanish Marquis Javalquinto who, in 1866, had this small Florentine renaissance-style château built, which still bears his name. It was the setting of the wildest parties until his death in 1900. His heirs, saddled with debts, finally sold the villa to the city of Biarritz, and it was turned into the city hall and then the tourist office and council building.

La Villa Larralde à Biarritz (1867)Fondation du patrimoine

La Villa Larralde was the first villa to be built on the slope leading down to the Grande Plage. It was commissioned in 1867 by a British man named Mr. Bellairs, inspired by the writings of Viollet-le-Duc.
In 1915, the villa was rented by Coco Chanel, who set up her studio there. She bought it in 1918.

Maison dite Château Boulart vue depuis le nord-est. (1880)Fondation du patrimoine

Le Château Boulart was built on the highest point in Biarritz. In the 1870s, Marthe and Charles Boulart commissioned Joseph Louis Duc, one of the most renowned French architects of the century, to build it.
Built in an eclectic style suited to its era, it is nicknamed La Folie Boulart

Vue du hall du Château BoulartFondation du patrimoine

Its interior is also masterful, as attested by this mosaic-floored atrium topped with a polygonal gallery and supported by 8 marble columns.
However, the chateau's destiny turned out to be somewhat less lavish; it served as a care center for recovering American officers in 1918, then as a religious boarding school from 1920.
Recently acquired by a couple of architecture enthusiasts, it was finally fully restored in 2019.

La Villa Belza à Biarritz (1880)Fondation du patrimoine

La Villa Belza is one of the iconic symbols of Biarritz. Located between the Old Port and the Basque Coast, it has been the source of myth and legend for decades.
Built in 1880, its keep and its pepperpot turret were added 15 years later, giving it a very quirky look.

The villa was bought in the 1920s by Igor Stravinksy's brother-in-law. He turned it into a Russian restaurant, where the most prestigious celebrities gathered for parties while vacationing in Biarritz.
World War II put an end to this glorious period. Requisitioned in 1940, it was subsequently divided into apartments before being ravaged by fire and then left derelict for over 20 years.

Villa Cyrano à Biarritz (1900)Fondation du patrimoine

The Cyrano Villa also had an astonishing fate.
Félix Labat, an industrialist in Madrid, had it built in 1900, opposite the Hôtel du Palais, then he sold the plot to Biarritz Carlton Hôtel Ltd. to be used as the site of the famous hotel.

Aware of the architectural significance of the villa, Alfred Boulant—owner of the Hôtel du Palais—acquired it, dismantled it, and then had it reassembled stone by stone just 100 feet farther up the same street. The villa was then named Cyrano in honor of Edmond Rostand, author of the play Cyrano de Bergerac.

Villa Casablanca à Biarritz (1922)Fondation du patrimoine

The Casablanca Villa is another one of the city's iconic residences.
Built in 1922 in an oriental style, it became a pinnacle of French taste. It was owned by couturier Jean Patou—a great rival of Coco Chanel—and celebrities such as Sarah Bernhardt, Josephine Baker, and Mistinguett all went there for clothes fittings.

Casino Bellevue à Biarritz (1858)Fondation du patrimoine

Key entertainment venues:

A seaside resort is nothing without the sort of social and entertainment venues where people go to be seen. At the turn of the 20th century, Biarritz had no less than 3 casinos: the Casino de l'Hôtel du Palais, the Casino Municipal, and the Casino Bellevue. The latter was the first to be founded, in 1858, in a location opposite the Villa Eugénie, overlooking the Grande Plage.

Entrée du Casino Bellevue à BiarritzFondation du patrimoine

In addition to gambling rooms, the Bellevue was home to restaurants, fashion boutiques, a ballroom, a concert hall, and even a photographer's studio, so elegant ladies could take home a souvenir of their stay.
Following a fire in 1886, the Casino Bellevue was immediately rebuilt.
The Casino was continually expanded and modernized throughout the 20th century.

Le Casino Bellevue de BiarritzFondation du patrimoine

In 1926, its Art Deco façade was built overlooking the Grande Plage.
The festivities resumed in the 1950s, with events such as Roland Petipa ballets and performances by Josephine Baker taking place there.
Bought by the city council in 1982, it was redeveloped by Wilmotte and turned into a conference center and exhibition hall.

Le Casino Municipal de Biarritz (1929)Fondation du patrimoine

Angry that it was not receiving any profits from Casino Bellevue's revenues, the city council established the Casino Municipal in 1893.
This establishment finally opened its doors to a great fanfare in 1901, playing host to the Paris Opera Ballet and its stars, Zimbelli and Sandrini.

The Casino Municipal was converted into a 220-bed military hospital during World War I.
In 1928, it was renovated by local architect Alfred Laulhé and was given the superb Art Deco silhouette that it is famed for today.
Today, it is the only casino left in the town.

Rencontre avec Pierre-Jean Harté - Spécialiste de l'architecture biarroteFondation du patrimoine

Meeting with Pierre-Jean Harté, an architect who is passionate about the cultural heritage of Biarritz.

Credits: Story

We would like to thank Maylis Garrouteigt and Julie Beaucousin from the Biarritz Tourism Office, Pierre-Jean Harté, Christiane Bonnat from the Pyrénées-Atlantiques Departmental Tourism Agency, and Carine Pauliac from the Regional Tourism Committee of Nouvelle-Aquitaine for all of their invaluable help.

If you would like to support Mission Patrimoine's plan to carry out the restoration of the Biarritz Orthodox Church, follow this link: https://soutenir.fondation-patrimoine.org/projects/eglise-orthodoxe-de-biarritz-fr

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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