If the walls at Hôtel du Palais could talk, they would wax lyrical about Ava Gardner and Ernest Hemingway boozing here together – the famous writer would feature Biarritz in The Sun Also Rises of which Gardner starred in its screen adaptation later on. They may speak of when Frank Sinatra inaugurated the hotel’s outdoor pool, which stands in front of the famed sandy shores of Playa de Biarritz. Maybe they’d tell us about a time more recently when world leaders attended the G7, like how Boris Johnson would swim in the ocean early in the morning with a bodyguard keeping a close eye on La Grande Plage, the city’s iconic promenade.
This grand dame is more than a hotel. It’s a piece of history. Built in the 19th Century for French royalty, it has been frequented since by artists, actors, politicians and royalty. Today, its magic remains powerful, tangible almost. The prized hotel, now part of The Unbound Collection by Hyatt, still oozes sophistication and comes with facilities aplenty, from its resplendent outside pool and luxury spa to a Michelin-star restaurant and probably the finest breakfast dining room in the whole of France.
What makes it special
Hôtel du Palais was built in 1854 by Napoleon III for his Spanish fiancé, Eugénie de Montijo, hence the previous name, Villa Eugénie. Eugénie used to spend summer on the beaches here as a child, and given its proximity to Spain, Napoléon bought the dunes where the hotel now stands and began work. It was sold in 1882 and turned into a hotel, Hotel Casino, ten years later until a fire broke out and destroyed it. Thankfully, it was later rebuilt by a casino-owning company in the shape of an E to honour Eugénie and became the luxury getaway for exiled Russian aristocrats, French high society and many famous faces.
What’s the vibe like?
It feels like you’re staying in a palace. Hôtel du Palais is the epitome of old-world charm meets French sophistication.
Who stays there?
Wealthy French families and moneyed international guests mainly. Hôtel du Palais has a golden book (strictly off limits) with all the names of the famous faces who’ve stayed over the years. Some suites are named after those we’re allowed to know, including Coco Chanel, Igor Stravinsky and Bing Crosby.
The grand pink palace, Hôtel du Palais, stands pride of place on a clifftop sandwiched between Playa de Biarritz and Plage Miramar. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say guests could leave the hotel’s front door and battle the surf at Playa de Biarritz in ten minutes flat. If they were to continue five minutes further, along the promenade past the famous Biarritz Casino, they’d be bang in the heart of the city. Here they’d find scatterings of patisseries, cute cafes and restaurants galore. There’s also many bars surrounding the Les Halles food market along Rua Halles and Rue Gambetta. The practically-minded will also be relieved to know the airport is just ten minutes away by cab. Regular buses also run across the border to the culinary king of Spain, San Sebastian.
Rooms and interiors
If you didn’t know already that Hôtel du Palais was built to be the summer house of French royalty, it’d be hard to imagine it could be anything else but a five-star luxury hotel. The 19th-century grand dame is exceptional. Its 153 regal rooms and suites surpass expectations. They pay homage to the building’s history by retaining classic, French palatial interiors and original furniture. Pastel and neutral-hued rooms personify sophistication, the kind you see in the likes of the Langham. Each room has high ceilings, ornate alcoves, gold-framed oil paintings, wood panelling, chandeliers and floral carpets.
Thanks to clever design, modern touches don’t look out of place – fridges are tucked away in cupboards and framed TVs. The most desirable suites, named after previous famous guests, have sofas and balconies overlooking Playa de Biarritz. There are also freestanding baths, all the usual amenities (robes, slippers, sewing kits, etc.), and mini bottles of mouthwash. However, eco alternatives should replace mini-plastics to improve the hotel’s sustainability credentials. That said, some nice touches worthy of note include English plug sockets, screen mirroring and fresh orchids.
Food and drink
Breakfast at Hôtel du Palais Biarritz is served at La Rotonde, the most spectacular dining room in France. The expansive space has original features – including light fittings embossed with N E to commemorate Napoleon and Eugenie – soft, elegant interiors and spellbinding views out to sea. Sitting to the left-hand side of the dining room is advised to get the best view of the surfers battling waves at Playa de Biarritz.
Breakfast is a blend of a la carte and buffet. Guests can choose anything from avocado and eggs Benedict to crepes and porridge from the menu. Freshly squeezed orange juice and healthy green smoothies are available, plus a selection of fruits, granola and pastries (the pain au chocolat are world-class).
Elsewhere, the Napoleon bar, painted in elegant navy hues, is where you go for a cosy late-night cocktail. Hôtel du Palais also has a Michelin-star restaurant, La Table d’Aurelien Largeau, led by La Rochelle-born Aurélien Largeau, who replaced veteran chef Jean-Marie Gautier. His menus revolve around haute French cuisine, focusing tasting menus around sustainability and seafood, from lobster and caviar to oysters and sea greens.
Service and facilities
There has been – in some five-star hotels at least – a departure from classic, professional service in favour of a more laid-back alternative to suit the modern traveller’s needs. Not here. Though staff are undoubtedly lovely, they are well-briefed, focused on providing customer service of the highest order, and willing to bend over backwards to meet their guests’ needs. Effortless smiles and formal greetings (bonjour sir/ Madame) are a staple at Hôtel du Palais. Waiting staff are assured when dealing with guests with allergies, though signage would be a welcome addition to reassure sufferers. Little boxes are provided for those who selected one too many pastries at breakfast but don’t want to waste.
Hôtel du Palais is a five-star resort hotel with facilities to match. They include a large saltwater pool, heated year-round, and a high-end spa with an indoor pool, hammam, sauna, jacuzzi and a range of treatment options for an additional cost. Above the spa, there’s also a functional gym. Then there’s the Eugenie relaxation room, kitted out like a yacht, and a boutique shop showcasing a range of brands, from local to high-end.
Rooms: Rooms from around £327 a night
Address: 1 Avenue de l’Impératrice, Biarritz, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France, 64200