BIARRITZ HAS BEEN a fashionable tourist destination since 1864 when Princess Eugenie decided that Vichy was no longer a suitable venue given the fact that Napoleon kept a mistress there. Thereafter the couple holidayed in Biarritz.
Their summer residence is now the sumptuous Hotel du Palais and is the perfect base from which to explore the city and also take in some of the excellent nearby golf courses. The town course, in a gentle parkland setting on high ground, was opened in 1888 by Willie Dunn who had moved to the Basque country having been professional at Royal North Devon. This is a relaxed test with terrific views out to sea and named Le Phare after the picturesque lighthouse that sits on the cliff top just beyond the boundary fence.
A more taxing and dramatic challenge is to be found a few minutes drive outside Biarritz and was created in 1927 by the great architect, Tom Simpson, on the instructions of another eminent visitor to the town, the golf loving Edward, Prince of Wales. At Chiberta we find a mixture of the nearest thing the French have to a links and also some dramatic inland holes that run through pine woodland.
The course is a par 70, a shade under 6,200 yards and starts and ends in the woods but with holes two to 14, excluding the short 10th, sweeping alongside the Atlantic from where we can look from rolling fairways and undulating, super fast greens back to the town lighthouse on its promontory.
The par five first hole that sweeps gently right handed through the woods can justifiably be compared with those found at Woburn with a tight tee shot and a well protected green before we cross the road and find ourselves amongst the dunes. The best of the holes are on the coastal stretch with the 13th probably the pick of the bunch. The 352 yard par four runs along the coastal path with out of bounds all the way along the left playing up to another slippery green with a huge bunker sitting menacingly in front.
Whilst holes 16 and 17 may not live long in the memory the 387 yard 18th is a beauty, especially when played off the back tees where we need to cope with a left hand dog leg and a fairway that drops perilously from right to left and requires a well struck second as we climb back up hill to the clubhouse.
Apres golf does not come cheap in the Chiberta clubhouse but if we choose not to tarry we are only 10 minutes away from the delights of Biarritz centre and its excellent selection of spicy basque cuisine and some toothsome local wines of Irouléguy, especially the delicious rosé. If the Atlantic winds blow and we leave a few balls as a souvenir of our visit, a few glasses will soon help erase the memory of any local difficulties and we shall be looking back fondly on what pleasure can be had on this stylish old course.