hotel_du_palais_biarritz_andrzej2012_-_fotolia_com_1Built in 1854 for Napoleon III for his wife Eugénie (hence its original name Villa Eugenie), the Hotel du Palais has kept all of the unmistakeable hallmarks of an imperial palace: the imposing building set in its own gardens, the grand interiors, the authentic features, the high ceilings, the chandeliers, the period furniture, the frescoed ballroom with its glass roof, the sweeping stairways and that which no man can re-create, the God-given beauty of its location and breath-taking views across the Atlantic that washes just below the hotel’s main dining room.

Napoleon and Eugenie’s choice changed the fortunes of Biarritz for generations to come and ensured it became a magnet for the European aristocracy at the time and for the world’s “beautiful people”, the rich and famous, later on.

hotel-du-palais-banquet-hallIn 1883 the villa became the Hotel du Palais.  It was the “Belle Epoque” and, alongside the kings and queens of Great Britain, Sweden, Austria, Portugal and Hanover, Biarritz became the playground of the Russian imperial family and their court.  The “Russian Season” opened every October and every Grand Duke came to party.

The hotel was badly damaged by fire in 1903 and the then fashionable architect Edouard Niermans tasked with the reconstruction which was completed 2 years later.

Its tradition of hosting nobility and grand events remained undaunted, however.

_MG_2235Guy d’Arcangues reminisces:

“In 1922 that my father, the Marquis d’Arcangues, organized a “Second Empire Ball” in the sumptuous setting of the Hôtel du Palais’ great rotunda. It was presided over by King Alphonse XIII and the Shah of Persia, whose munificence was to be widely chronicled. The ball was followed by other memorable nights, especially “La Verbena del Amor” and “Le Bal Petrouchka” in honor of Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes. Once again the luminaries of Europe danced in the salons of the Hôtel du Palais. Waltzes, mazurkas and quadrilles were still on the program, but the young had begun stepping to the Charleston, the tango and the rumba. It was also the beginning of the Jazz Age. And while kings and princesses were now a rare species, the celebrities of the day included Edmond Rostand, Pierre Loti, Maurice Ravel, Kapurthala, Sarah Bernhardt and Igor Stravinsky.”

Today, the wide wood-panneled corridors of the hotel are adorned with signed photographs of Hollywood royalty that has enjoyed it over the years.

I was at the Romy Schneider suite, right next door to that of Omar Sharif whose signed smiling picture greeted me each time I walked in.

As I write this, the waves of the Atlantic break at two large rocks at swimming distance of the hotel and the invigorating sea salt air floods the room. It is April and the ocean is quite turbulent, with a matchless beauty of its own that exudes power.

One of the top floor suites has its own vast terrace that is directly above the dining room.

003288-07-SuitRoyale_SalonThe detail of each intricate wooden cabinet and every beautifully upholstered sofa is something I marvel at – until I realise that the hotel has its own restoration workshops, acting as custodian of sorts, to its illustrious heritage. Outsourcing original materials and using specialist hand craft artisans, the hotel offers the experience of rooms and suites that are entirely tailor made and maintained in pristine and authentic state.

The requisite spa is equally grand, with a long swimming pool and large jaccusi, as well as steam room and sauna, although I suspect that in the summer months, it is the outdoor pool that’s the main attraction.

The hotel’s main restaurant, The Rotonde is, as the name suggests, rounded to give each diner a view of the ocean through its full length windows. It is where the buffet breakfast takes place. The Eugenie dining room has a one Michelin star and is more intimate.

It is difficult to do justice to the sheer old world glamour of this establishment with words alone. Sinking into a sofa at the lobby bar mid-evening and listening to the superb piano recital, you would feel like royalty yourself, even if you are quite accustomed to 5 star hotels.

00110331750If you stay for a week and decide to venture out, Biarritz has much to offer by way of shopping, art, architecture, dining and nature trecks. This is Basque Country, with its famous bat caves, off-track exploration trails and artisanal and culinary delights.

It is also a hop skip and a jump from the Spanish border and St Sebastien and home to various thalassotherapy treatments.

We recommend this hotel for small to large private parties, as well as individual travellers, who are partial to historical and authentic detail, to unapologetic splendour and to the freshness of the Atlantic coastline.  A truly regal experience in a dream setting!

1 Avenue de l’Impératrice, 64200 Biarritz, France
+33 5 59 41 64 00

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