Biarritz, such a “Sweet” town – Meanderings through France
Biarritz is a beautiful sea resort on the Atlantic Ocean coast where sea bathing lovers use to go since the 1850’s when Eugenie wife of French Emperor Napoleon III fell in love with this lovely region and it’s mild weather. Nowadays Biarritz is world-wide known by surfers as one of the best surfing spot in Europe.
But there are other ways to enjoy the town and walking through its streets lined by beautiful Basque houses you will soon discover the sweet side of Biarritz: chocolates, macaroons, Basque cakes and other pastries are on display in many shop windows. Temptation is on every street corner!
It all started in 1609 when Herman Cortes and his conquistadors brought back the Azteque cocoa from Mexico to Spain. Forward thinking Spanish artisans saw the potential of this new ingredient and the first European chocolate makers began to create new recipes. At that time the cocoa powder was diluted in water and little sweetened but it was quickly successful. Many of these chocolate makers were Jewish and when the persecutions of the Inquisition began they fled from Spain to Portugal and France taking their “savoir faire” along. They settled in Southwest France and French people soon got interested in chocolate making and French dynasties of confectioners were born.
To learn more about this story you will have to go to the “Musée du Chocolat” where Serge Couzigou a master confectioner has collected hundreds of artefacts redrawing the history of cocoa and of chocolate making: tens of moulds to make Easter eggs, fishes, bells and so on, posters, tools and machines, pictures, enamel plates, sculptures made of chocolate… During your visit you will be able to taste a hot chocolate made in the traditional way as well as different chocolates from all over the world. To increase your knowledge you can take part in workshops and learn how to make your own chocolate bar or chocolate lollipop or how to paint on chocolate. There also are workshops for children and even one for a bachelorette party!
Since 1660 the “Maison Adam” makes their famous macaroons with delicious almonds from Spain and California. Once in this beautiful shop you won’t resist tasting the traditional Basque cake, the “Gateau Basque“, made with cherries, custard or chocolate. It seems that every Basque family has its own recipe for this local delight and each generation passes on its secret one to the next.
Another den of iniquity for your weight control is the “Pariès” shop. Using the Marconas almonds from Catalonia they make their incredible “Mouchous”, crispy outside and soft inside this small cake will make you want to eat one after the other not knowing how to stop! They also make “Kanougas”: these soft toffees flavoured with chocolate, hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachios, coffee… is the oldest speciality of the house. There also are “Tourons” a kind of nougat soft or hard flavoured with unexpected tastes: local Espelette chilli, black cherry, rum and raisin, glace chestnut…
The “Miremont” tearoom was founded in 1872 in a 17th century building with two cosy floors with elegant period pieces of furniture and an exceptional ocean view: the perfect place for a salted or sweet snack and rare teas to come along. Their star speciality is the “Saint Honoré “cake combining 3 different flavours. And if you still hadn’t had enough chocolate have a hot chocolate topped with Chantilly!
To make some shopping before going back home you can go to “Arosteguy”. Set in a former drugstore with its original panelling and furniture from the 19th century this delicatessen opened in 1875. There you will find all local produces, foie gras, pâtés, Espelette chilli, Basque ham, sheep’s cheese, Basque cider, wines from Irrouleguy, not to forget the Basque shortbreads, the black cherry jam from Itxassou…
Going to Biarritz for a few days will give you the opportunity to discover a wonderful region and to forget everything about your diet, but what a treat!
“Maison Adam”: 27 Place Clemenceau www.macarons-adam.com
“Paries”: 1 Place Bellevue www.paries.fr
“Miremont” Tearoom: 1bis Place Clemenceau www.miremont-biarritz.fr
“Arosteguy”: 5 Avenue Victor Hugo www.arosteguy.com
Chocolate Museum: 14 Avenue Beau Rivage www.planetemuseeduchocolat.com
All Biarritz info: www.tourisme.biarritz.fr
Text © Annick Dournes
Photos © Frederic de Poligny