I stared at the menu thinking I was loosing my mind – there were no prices… I looked around the dining room at the Hotel du Palais and wondered, was this how the other half lived?
I knew it was going to be expensive, a Michelin star restaurant in one of France’s best hotels, but I wanted to know how expensive. Should I order the lobster a la plancha or play it safe and go with the thick cut prime beef? It was only when I raised my concerns with my husband Cormac, he told me there were prices on his menu. The penny dropped – the hotel did not just look old world, it actually was. I know many might think this was sexist, but not me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for equal rights, female presidents and empowered first ladies. This however wasn’t meant to be offensive; on the contrary, it was quite romantic. In a world where so much revolves around money, where price takes precedence over quality, it was refreshing to see that chivalry was alive and well in the Hotel du Palais.
From the moment we drove through the gates and entered the lavish grounds, I knew this stay was going to be something special. Given by Napoleon to his wife, it became their summer residence in 1855. To coin a phrase from the movie Jerry Maguire, ‘You had me at hello’. Perched at the edge of the town facing the ‘Grand Plage’ in Biarritz the location is perfect. The outdoor pool and snack bar have stunning sea views and once I entered the hotel, the lavish furnishings transported me back in time. I envisaged balls, long gowns, parasols, horse and carriages and old fashioned romance. Kings, queens, presidents and celebrities stayed here and now I was going to join them.
Our room or should I say rooms were probably the largest I have stayed in. We had two massive interconnecting rooms with amazing seaviews, complete with marble bathrooms, dressing rooms and large living areas. They managed to blend modern facilities with old world charm perfectly. In fact this is true all over the hotel, the large indoor swimming pool manages to look like an old roman bath forum, yet has a very modern feel. Incidentally the kids loved the pool and could use it from 10 -12 and 5 -7 each day.
The town of Biarritz has a fantastic beach right beside the hotel, perfect for surfing, swimming or strolling. There are lots of cafés along the seafront, which are the perfect place to watch the world go by. Don’t miss the daily food market and the many tapas bars located beside it. The town is crammed with specialist boutiques, art galleries and trendy surf shops. I loved that there were no large department stores here. I picked up some great bargains in Morgan and overall I thought it was a great place to shop.
I also liked that there are not hundreds of things to do in Biarritz. Sometimes city breaks can be exhausting trying to scratch everything off tripadvisor’s top ten things to do list. I walked along the beach towards the Le Rocher de la Vierge, where a statue of Mary stands on a small peninsula that juts out to sea. With the waves crashing against the rocks it was quite dramatic. I also paid a quick visit to the indoor market but decided against climbing the 242 steps to the top of the lighthouse! Of course you can also pop into the nearby towns of St Jean de Luz or Bayonne. We had just completed a week long road trip where we visited Bilbao, La Rioja and San Sebastian, so we decided to stay put.
We also loved the hotel so much we didn’t want to just use it as a base, but instead we made the hotel the destination. We decided we would splash out and dine in the hotel’s Michelin star restaurant, La Villa Eugénie. We enjoyed some aperitifs in the bar where a pianist played beautifully. Cocktails were €18 but were served with substantial hors d’oeuvres. In fact they were so substantial we really didn’t need a starter. I couldn’t resist the crispy langoustines with mango sauce though, and they were ample for sharing. I was surprised overall at how large the portions were, especially for a Michelin star restaurant. The service and food was outstanding. They catered so well for children too and have a separate kids menu, complete with prices! Mine chose the pasta with tomato sauce €16 and a hamburger and French fries €22. It was my daughter Alex’s 6th birthday and they brought out a plate with ‘bonne anniversaire’ written in gold icing, a lighted candle and some tasty chocolates, all complimentary of course.
This summed up my stay at the Hotel du Palais, The lavish surroundings and impeccable service really made me feel like I was somewhere special. I was somewhere special , it was Napoleon’s summer house and I felt like an invited guest. Yes it is expensive and it is not for everyone, but for a luxury weekend, a special occasion, it is a hotel experience that is worth every penny.
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