“ Self catering apartments in Biarritz on the Atlantic coast of France „
The last thing you want the afternoon before a silly-o-clock flight is to discover your self-catering studio apartment you booked through lastminute.com is not, in fact, booked. Sometimes, however, good things come from adversity and you find (after numerous phone calls and some serious pain, but that's another story) that you've been upgraded to a two bedroom apartment in the same residence. This is what happened to us and thus we found ourselves in said two bedroom apartment at the do-it-yourself yet charming and friendly Pierre & Vacances Haguna in Biarritz, southern France, for seven nights. Biarritz is an Atlantic coastal town almost as far south in France as you can get. It's a charming village with (expensive) shops, beaches, restaurants - everything the sun-seeking tourist could want. And gosh, there are a lot of sun-seeking tourists, many of whom are French. Many people stay all or part of the summer - longer than the average weekend break. Because of this, there are a plethora of apartments specifically for the longer-stay holiday maker. Pierre & Vacances Haguna is one of these. You can stay for a few days or a few weeks - they have different rates and rules (and check in/check out times) depending on how long you are staying (under a week or more than a week). ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Eating, Drinking, Cooking & Cleaning ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ All the apartments come with various amenities. In the kitchenette there was a coffee maker, toaster and dishwasher and tons of pots, pans, plates, glasses, knives, a cork screw, a wine carafe - pretty much all the utensils you need to cook, eat and drink with. There was no conventional oven, but a four ring modern electric hob and a combination microwave and grill. In addition, there is a dishwasher (hurrah), fridge and a good deal of cupboard space. You will also find in a cupboard a hoover, broom, clothes airer and dustpan and brush. You can borrow a hair dryer and ironing board for free from reception. These are self-catering apartments. This is important. It's obvious that this means there is no food included in the room rate. But it's also worth noting that towels are not included, most toiletries aren't included, cleaning isn't included - in fact, it is like staying in a flat, not a hotel. This can save money, though it is worth noting that the extras can pile up - we paid Euro6 per person (I think) to hire bath towels and Euro5 for a cleaning kit for the kitchen (sponge, ditsy bottle of washing up liquid, five dishwasher tablets, cloths, surface cleaner). You can also pay extra to have your bed made on arrival (we didn't - we made it up ourselves), to have someone come and clean during your stay, for breakfast and so forth. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ A Good Night's Sleep? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Because of the aforementioned mess up, we had an apartment far bigger than the two of us strictly needed. It would sleep six. There were two bedrooms, one with a double bed and tiny balcony and one with twin beds. The living room also has two sofas, one of which opens out into a double bed. Needless to say, we chose the room with the double bed and balcony. There is ample closet space in both bedrooms with a reasonable number of hangers, though a family of six might find the number of hangers a bit paltry. The bed was very large (queen or king, I'd guess) and very comfortable. There were two pillows and two decorative cushions on the bed, but more in the cupboard. In truth, I didn't find the square pillows all that comfortable. They were too hard for me and oddly shaped. My partner however liked the pillows. Horses for courses. White sheets were provided (though as noted, you have to make the bed yourself, and strip it again at the end of your stay). These included a bottom sheet, two pillow cases and a duvet cover (which oddly had no buttons or snaps, so the duvet tended to slip out during our stay). ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Live (and let live) ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The living area is large. There is a flat screen TV offering many channels, though only two English language channels, both news (BBC and CNBC). There were two large sofas and one tiny coffee table and lots of lighting. There was also a dining area which would comfortably seat six. The bathroom was perfectly adequate with a bath and a shower within the bath. The shower had good pressure and constant hot water - both things very important to me, especially on a beach holiday when you're showering frequently. The hired towels were ok - a bit thin and small but they did the job. There was a tiny bar of soap (honestly, what are the point of those) and a tiny jar of shower gel. The quantity may have been sufficient for your first day, but you'd be advised to bring your own toiletries. The flat was very clean upon arrival. The floors are wood and there are a few pictures of surf boards dotted around the flat. The curtains were typical just-about-tolerable hotel curtains but they were effective at blocking out light. The windows also had net (glass) curtains. These are useful as our room overlooked the road. If you want to specify a room overlooking the obviously recently re-landscaped garden you pay a premium. As this was a beach holiday, we did use the hoover and broom a couple of times as sand is ever-present. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Space for All ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The Residence is in the town, about seven minutes' walk from the beach (well, up to half an hour depending on which beach you fancy - the nearest is about seven minutes'). It is on a fairly busy road (though not frantic) and can be approached from one of two roads. One will have you enter in the basement (where laundry facilities can be found) and the other through the garden into reception. The receptionists are unfailingly friendly. As my partner speaks fluent French, I did not get the opportunity to determine how much (if any) English they speak. They are helpful and courteous. Reception is open until 7.pm most night. If you wish to gain entrance at other times you are issued with a key code. There is but one lift to serve three residential floors plus the basement. At quiet times, it was reasonably quick but it was quirky. Waiting for the lift, you could never be sure if your floor would be next. The landscaped (smallish) garden is pretty, but you can tell it's been fairly recently done. It should look even nicer as it matures. There is a wooden deck with fairly comfy chairs (which are only out when reception is open) along with flower beds, an astroturfed lawn and a slightly, intentionally wilder area. It is a sun trap and quite attractive. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Out and About ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Biarritz is small and easily walkable. There are two bakeries nearby, two small supermarkets, two wine shops, a few restaurants and cafes, a hairdresser and various other shops all within an easy walk. The main part of town is slightly further away - perhaps all of 7 - 10 minutes. You won't have any problems getting around. There is a free bus that comes past, but in truth, I couldn't really tell you where it went as I didn't try it. It's walkable, remember? Pierre & Vacances Haguna is a good base to explore Biarritz town, the beaches and, if you have a car, further afield into Basque country. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Facts & Figures ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Pierre & Vacances Haguna is considered a three star residence. They have a variety of room types ranging from a two person studio up through the two bedroom six person apartment. It is worth noting that the maximum occupancy is based on those people really liking each other quite a lot. Even our two bedroom apartment would have seemed cramped if we'd had six people in there. It would have seemed especially cramped if the six people weren't three couples (or a mix of affectionate adults and a couple of children) as even the twin (single) beds were right next to each other. However, the room rates (which vary considerably depending on where purchased, length of stay, apartment type and time of year) become very reasonable when split amongst a number of people. As we booked through lastminute.com (including flights) and got the unintended upgrade, what we paid is irrelevant. However, as of today (28 August 2013), the hotel's own site tells me I could get a week in a similar flat for anywhere between Euro1480 per fornight in October and November to Euro1900 in September - I'd imagine this is more expensive in July and August. A two person studio in October and November is around Euro700ish per fortnight if booked directly from their own website. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Thoughts and Feelings ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Pierre & Vacances Haguna is a nice place. You won't find yourself in the lap of luxury there but that's not its raison d'etre. These are clean, well equipped, friendly, centrally located and reasonably spacious (at least if you book a bigger flat than you strictly need for the number of people you have) self-catering apartments. You'll have a comfortable bed, a functional living area, more cutlery, pots, pans and knives than you'll use in a week and a convenient base from which to explore Biarritz (or, if you have a car, further afield in Basque country). The staff are very friendly and helpful and the communal areas are clean and, in parts, pretty. However, beware the potential extra costs of towels, cleaning materials, towels, car parking, laundry facilities and so forth. If you are driving, you can save yourself a few quid by bringing your own towels and cleaning materials. Just be aware that if you can't bring your own bits, you will pay a bit over the odds for them. All in all, I would happily recommend a stay at Pierre & Vacances Haguna in Biarritz.