Biarritz, the fashionable seaside resort in the heart of the Basque country, is truly a “beach of kings”. Once the destination of choice for European royalty, Biarritz has a steadfast reputation for high profile visitors, although the crowned heads were replaced in the 1960s by an elegant jet-set and more recently by Hollywood movie stars and industrial magnates. The sandy beaches of Biarritz are especially popular nowadays with surfers; travel there in peak season and you will find a unique mix of sports enthusiasts and glitterati.
Tourism aside, Biarritz has also played a key role in the history of chocolate. Indeed, in the late 17th century, it pioneered a chocolate golden age in the Basque region. The area boasted the first French production centre of cocoa powder and chocolate confectionery and developed its own distinctive chocolate recipe. Strong and bitter with a powerful fragrance of cocoa, Biarritz chocolate was soon in vogue throughout France. And it was there, during the reign of Louis XV in the early 18th century, that the first “bonbon” (or filled chocolate) was created. Refined in taste and texture, it was also cutting edge in terms of chocolate-making technique.
By the mid-19th century, the region’s chocolate industry was booming. Chamber of Commerce records show that there were 33 chocolate companies in the Basque region, employing between 40 and 100 people and a handful of these original master chocolatiers have been producing their luxury handmade chocolates for generations.
One of my favourite traditional chocolates originates from Biarritz. Known as “rochers Biarritz”, they’re named after the large rocks close to the coastline and made by combining slivers of toasted almonds with chocolate and orange zest. Another favourite is “chocolat au marteau” for which the literal translation is “chocolate with a hammer”. These thick bars of dark chocolate, filled with whole roasted hazelnuts are sold in presentation boxes with a wooden mallet for breaking the bars into pieces. They always take me back to festive times when they were served as a petit four, with a vintage red wine. Wonderful memories!
And finally, for chocolate enthusiasts travelling to Biarritz, the Musée de Chocolat is well worth a visit too. Whilst children enjoy the chocolate workshop, adults can learn more about the fascinating origin of luxury chocolates in Biarritz.
Discover the refinement and sophistication of French chocolates in our handmade luxury chocolates selections.