Thanks to starlets in bikinis (and the fashion blogs that love them), St. Tropez is the French town we most associate with beachy hair and back-to-back parties. But there's another sea city that's soaked by both the ocean and bottles of champagne: Biarritz.
Located on the Basque coastline right next to Spain, Biarritz boasts ancient Roman walls, traditional open-air food markets, and a surf scene to rival Orange County, California. If St. Tropez is the Miami of Europe, then Biarritz is its Montauk - calmer, cooler, and ultimately more about catching waves than dropping names. That's not to say this town is devoid of the spotlight: Once a summer, it hosts the Roxy Pro surf competition, which lures the best female surfers in the world - and their beach-happy teammates - into its 50-degree waters. (This year's winner, Stephanie Gilmore, is the first woman ever to score five championship titles in the sport.) During the week of the contest, the town explodes into festival mode, with days spent inside Roxy's beachside village (a place with beach yoga, organic smoothies, surf lessons, and WiFi stations readily available for visitors) and nights spent rocking out to rising European bands. (This year, British rock darlings Sing Tank played in a Roman amphitheater in the center of town. Later in the summer, the annual Big Festival hosts acts like Pete Doherty, M83, and The Rapture.)
Meanwhile, thanks to the I-Just-Woke-Up-This-Hot vibe of the girls in town, both Chanel and Christian Louboutin have recently named accessories after the seaside city - Chanel's Paris-Biarritz bag is still Diane Kruger's favorite. As for nightlife, it's a cafe society for sure, meaning any soir of the week, you can grab a bottle of wine or beer and scope the jostling crowds outside. And every Wednesday, there's a nighttime bazaar where stalls of clothes, candy, jewelry, toys, and spices spring up, Aladdin style, from the cobblestones. (And seriously, a visit to the gummy tables with sugar-shaped alligators, licorice pharaohs, and sour strawberry ropes made our jet lag dissolve immediately.) Also, while walking along the beach, we discovered Arielle's mermaid rock, which makes Biarritz an officially epic destination.
Roxy surfer Bruna Schmitz waits for the waves.
The sea walls in Biarritz.
The castle on a cliff. (Rumors abound it was also once a house of ill repute, albeit a beautiful one.)
Sing Tank performing during the week of the Roxy Pro Biarritz.
Alligator gummies in the midnight market.
Surf camp is in session!
Musician and photographer Emilie Layla Lovaine takes a break in the grass.