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BIARRITZ LOCAL INFORMATION

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If you have a limited amount of time to spend in paradise, start here. If you do not need the company of Champagne-spraying airheads from the international people pages, Biarritz is for you.

You celebrate and dance through the summer night here not because some fashionista has so decreed but because that’s what Basques have been doing since the Stone Age.

The tradition got a coat of gloss in the late 19th century, when Napoleon III built a palace for his Empress Eugénie. The world’s great, good and idle loafers followed them “I don’t want to see old people. One must be able to dance well to be received here,” proclaimed the empress, so setting the tone for the next century or so.

When the aristocracy ran out of steam, artists and film stars – Gary Cooper, Frank Sinatra – took their place, all on a basis of Basqueness. The wild, rocky coast sabotaged pretension.

basqueness

More recently, the glitterati transferred to the Côte-d’Azur, creating a lull that the city of Biarritz used for some pretty clueless development. No matter. The place and setting remain grand, and brighter.  France-based celebrities are creeping back in.

Karl Lagerfeld, Alain Prost and France’s sparkiest TV presenter, Laurent Ruquier, all have bases here. Bars and clubs abound – but they don’t set the tone. That’s still entirely Basque, and more concerned with rugby, pelota, surfing and fishing than with the whereabouts of Naomi and Robbie.

Biarritz has hosted the World Surfing Games twice (1980 & 2017), and the European, and French National Surfing Championships several times. Surfing in Biarritz has produced top World Tour professional surfers including World Champion Antoine Delpero, Tim Boal, Patrick Bevan, & Emmanuelle Joly.

100MarchesLes Cent Marches: 250 meters from the Radisson Hotel on Cote des Basques, is little cabin surrounded by tables – a buvette in French. It is vastly chic. Sit under the tamarisk trees, view the ocean, take tapas, drinks and mingle to music.

Côte-des-Basques beach: 100 meters from the Radisson Hotel & down the steps is a gorgeous beach from which to watch surfers. This is, in fact, point zero of European surfing. In 1957, Deborah Kerr’s scriptwriting husband, Peter Viertel in town to make The Sun Also Rises took a surfboard to sea and started a phenomenon in France, and Europe.

The Museum of Chocolate:
300 Meters from the Radisson Hotel on Cote des Basques explores the Basque Country’s long history with the cacao bean. Attractions include vintage chocolate-making equipment, posters & other ephemera Hand-made chocs & frothy hot chocolate always bring the biggest grins.

Les Terrasses:
Directly to the right of the Radisson Hotel on Cote es Basques serves delicious food at reasonable prices.  It is a favourite place to eat, good value, family friendly food. The Pizza and pastas are really good, and fresh.

Classique.jpgLa Classique: is the only 3rd wave coffee available in Biarritz. Lively vibe… After a first visit to La Classique a return is certain! Dining: Late Night, Lunch, Breakfast, Take-outs, Wheelchair Accessible, Drinks.

Biarritz Halles (markets) are unique. Wild salmon from Pay Basque, camembert from Normandy, serrano ham from Extremadura etc. Cheese expert ‘mille et un fromages’ is a must; don’t miss having oysters at ‘l’écailerie’. There are tapas bars (pintxos) in the nearby streets.

The Miremont is a Cafe with a history. This is the most traditional place to have a coffee in Biarritz. The Cafe was founded in 1872 by a Mr. Singer and was originally a Tea-Room. You can have “The Ocean at your feet” here as Queen Amelia of Portugal used to say, when sitting at her favourite place closest to the picture window. It is suggested to secure your place on the first floor and get the magnificent view looking out over the Grand Plage. It’s really worth the extra money for the Coffee. There is a wide range of pastries, sweets, gateaux and hot chocolate.

Beaches: Grande Plage in the center of Biarritz and the little sheltered Port-Vieux provide tea rooms, cafes, and restaurants all overlooking the ocean, The sunsets are not to be missed

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Miremont Tea-Room/Cafe

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Basque Mythology, Ancestral Religion, Spirituality, and Modern Religions

Basqueforest

The Basque people or culture occupied Europe before the spread of Indo-European languages to Europe. Analysis of Basque genetic patterns has shown that Basque genetic uniqueness predates the arrival of agriculture in the Iberian Peninsula, 7,000 years ago.

The mythology of the ancient Basques largely did not survive the arrival of Christianity in the 4th century AD. Most of what is known about this original belief system is based on legends, the study of place names and scant historical references to pagan rituals practised by the Basques.

The main figure was the female character of Mari. The other main figure was her consort Sugaar. Mari is depicted in many different forms: sometimes as various women, as different red animals, as the black he-goat, etc. Her consort Sugaar, however, appears only as a man or a serpent/dragon.

Mari_01.pngMari is said to be served by the sorginak, semi-mythical creatures impossible to differentiate from actual witches or pagan priestesses. The cadre of witches near Zugarramurdi met at Akelarre field and were the target of the Spanish Inquisition’s largest witch hunt at Logroño. As a result, akelarre in Basque and aquelarre in Spanish are today still the local names of the sabbath.

Mari, also called Mari Urraca, Anbotoko Mari (“the lady of Anboto”), and Murumendiko Dama (“lady of Murumendi”) was a goddess—a lamia—of the Basques. She was married to the god Sugaar (also known as Sugoi or Maju). Legends connect her to the weather: when she and Maju travelled together hail would fall, her departures from her cave would be accompanied by storms or droughts, and which cave she lived in at different times would determine dry or wet weather: wet when she was in Anboto; dry when she was elsewhere (the details vary). Other places where she was said to dwell include the chasm of Murumendi, the cave of Gurutzegorri (Ataun), Aizkorri and Aralar, although it is not always possible to be certain which Basque legends should be considered to pertain to the same lamia.

In one myth Sugaar seduces a Scottish princess in the village of Mundaka to father the mythical first Lord of Biscay, Jaun Zuria. This legend is believed to be a fabrication made to legitimize the Lordship of Biscay as a separate state from Navarre, because there is no historical account of such a lord. Only the fact that the delegates of Mundaka were attributed with the formal privilege of being the first to vote in the Biltzar (Parliament) of the province may look as unlikely indication of the partial veracity of this legend.


PREHISTORIC RELIGION

The Basque religious worship, of prehistoric origin and with a matriarchal profile, had many similarities with the one of the Minoan Crete (of prehistoric origin as well) and represented a subterranean deity as a supreme goddess, as opposed to the Indo-European gods that were mostly celestial and with a patriarchal profile. This cult that was progressively enriched by the influence of Iberians and Celts over the centuries, would finally impose on the other Basque gods of Celtic, Roman or Iberian origin during the Frank-Visigoth period (5th century), and even on the Indo-European Ortzi (celestial deity), although this god would not disappear completely: the Codex Calixtinus, written  by the Gaul cleric Aumeric Picaud in the 12th century during his pilgrimage to Santiago, shows a passage in which the writer indicated that the Basques he met on his way referred to God as Urcia.

Ilargia and Eguzkia
EguskiaAccording to the ancient Basque religion, when Darkness reigned in the Earth, the humans prayed to Mari that she help them in their fight against the bad spirits that were lying in wait for them. Mari heard their prayers and decided to give life to her daughter Ilargia (the Moon). The humans thanked for her light, but this was not enough to face the Evil. The humans prayed again to Mari that she could give them something brighter and with which they could defeat the Darkness. The highest mountains of the Basque Country were dwellings of the goddess Mari, and Mari created her other daughter Eguzkia (the Sun in Basque culture) and this way day was born. Since then, none of the bad spirits harassed humans anymore during the daylight

Egunekoak and Gauekoak

Mari divided the world into two: the world of the people that live during the daylight (egunekoak), and the world of the people that live at night (gauekoak) or spirits and the souls of the dead that were enlightened by the Moon. According to the old beliefs in Heaven the stars move, and when they set in the west, they submerge themselves in the ‘Reddish Seas’ (Itsasgorrieta) to continue across the Underground World. Therefore, the Sun that illuminates the surface of the world during a part of its journey, also enlightens the Underground World during the rest of the voyage. The Sun as well as the Moon are feminine deities and daughters of the Earth (Mari), to whose bosom they return every day after their course across the sky.

Death
The meaning of death was not so dismal for the ancient Basques. When someone died, he just became part of a different existential status. In those times, the following expression was used: ‘Eguna egunekoentzat eta gauga gauekoentzat’ (the day is for those who live during the daylight = the livings, and the night is for those who live at night = the dead). In order to ensure the balance between both worlds, there was the spirit called Gaueko (the Guardian of the Night), who was responsible for the compliance with this rule that was accepted by the ancient Basques. If any person prowled at night, the spirit took him away from the livings and led him to the world of those who live at night (the spirits).

Cave dwellers

GauekoThe Basque religion is of a clear prehistoric origin since the cave is considered a peaceful area, a protective and welcoming place. In essence, the best place where one can live eternally. This belief comes from a remote past in which the Proto-Basques had to look for a shelter in the caves during the glaciation to avoid the cold temperatures and in this way, to survive. The fear of prowling in the darkness (the purgatory and the hell) has its origin in the cold glacial nights: if anyone did not find the path to the cave where the tribe lived just before dusk, he was likely to die of cold. The fight for survival was certainly reflected in the Basque religion even though the Basques no longer needed to shelter in caves to survive for thousands of years.

Even though the official religion was the Christian one during the Late Middle Ages and the early modern period, both religions remain coexisting, what led to a mixture process that was similar to what happened in other areas of Europe. Due to this process, the Christian worship was enriched with the local pre-Christian rites.

Mythology & Religion
Basques that remained practising the religion of Mari instead of the Christian faith, as well as hundreds of ‘sorginas‘ were charged with witchcraft and condemned to die at the stake. Since then, ‘sorgina’, which meant ‘midwife’ in ancient Euskara, came to mean ‘witch’.

Olentzaro

The only rite of the ancestral religion that still remains today, although greatly influenced by Christianity and the Western traditions, is the celebration of ‘Olentzaro’, also known as ‘Olentzero’. Olentzero was a spirit that was sent by Mari to all the humans to announce the arrival of the solstices of summer and winter. The Basques should make offerings to him so that both seasons were mild for the harvest and hunting. Formerly, the Basques had only two seasons in the calendar: Negua (winter) and Uda (summer). The two remaining seasons, ‘Udazkena’ (autumn) and ‘Udaberria’ (spring) were later included by Indo-European influences. The Basque week (called ‘aste’, that means ‘the lunation beginning’) was also different due to the lunar cycle, so that it had only three days.

The existence of the ancestral religion has been preserved to the present thanks to the oral transmission of parables and tales imbued with the old beliefs from generation to generation, the stories that grandfathers tell their sons and grandchildren.
Myth, Spirituality, and Religion

BasquesIn recent centuries
Basques have been mostly Roman Catholics. In the 19th century, and well into the 20th century, Basques as a group, remained notably devout and churchgoing. The region has been a source of missionaries like Francis Xavier and Michel Garicoïts. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus. California Franciscan Fermín Lasuén was born in Vitoria. Lasuén was the successor to Franciscan Padre Junípero Serra and founded 9 of the 21 surviving California Missions along the coast.
Religions

A sprout of Protestantism in the continental Basque Country produced the first translation of the New Testament into Basque by Joanes Leizarraga. After Henry III of Navarre converted to Catholicism to become king of France, Protestantism almost disappeared. Bayonne held a Jewish community composed mainly of Sephardi Jews fleeing from the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. There were also important Jewish and Muslim communities in Navarre before the Castilian invasion of 1512-21.

Ancient/Pre-Christian

Pre-Christian belief focused on the goddess Mari. A number of place-names contain her name and would suggest these places were related to worship of her such as Anbotoko Mari who appears to have been related to the weather. One of her names, Mari Urraca possibly ties her to an historical Navarrese princess of the 11th and 12th century, with other legends giving her a brother or cousin who was a Roman Catholic priest. So far the discussions about whether the name Mari is original and just happened to coincide closely with the Christian name María or if Mari is an early Basque attempt to give a Christian veneer to pagan worship have remained speculative. At any rate, Mari (Andramari) is one of the oldest worshipped Christian icons in Basque territories. Mari’s consort is Sugaar. This chthonic couple seem to bear superior ethical power and also the power of creation and destruction.

Legends speak of many and abundant genies, like jentilak (equivalent to giants), lamiak (equivalent to nymphs), mairuak (builders of the cromlechs or stone circles, literally Moors), iratxoak (imps), sorginak (witches, priestess of Mari), and so on. Basajaun is a Basque version of the Woodwose. This character is probably an anthropomorphism of the bear. There is a trickster named San Martin Txiki (“St Martin the Lesser”).

Dolmens and Cromlechs
It has been shown that some of these stories entered Basque culture as part of Roman superstition. It is unclear whether Neolithic stone structures called dolmens have a religious significance or were built to house animals or resting shepherds. Some of the dolmens and cromlechs are burial sites serving as well as border markers.

Mythology:
jentlakThe jentilak (‘Giants’), are a legendary people which explains the disappearance of a people of Stone Age culture that used to live in the high lands with no knowledge of iron. Many legends about them tell that they were bigger and taller, with great force, but were displaced by the ferrons, or workers of ironworks foundries, until their total disappearance. They were pagans, but one of them, Olentzero, accepted Christianity and became a sort of Basque Santa Claus. They gave name to several toponyms, as Jentilbaratza.

DNA Update
Genetics is helping trace the migration of the Basque people that originated in East Africa tens of thousands of years ago. By first tracking the female gene back 150,000 years to East Africa, scientists then followed the male Y chromosome to determine human whereabouts. This explains why some Middle Eastern cities have names that could be Basque in origin, like Ur, Uruk, and Mari, the name of a Basque goddess.
Linguists have long suspected such an idea since an old—now dead—language from Central Asia, Burushaski, “looks suspiciously like Basque”. Genetic research is proving the linguists right.

After inhabiting Central Asia for about 10,000 years, Basque ancestors migrated to both the Americas and Western Europe, where they settled—and still live—in France and Spain. The cave paintings in southern France and northern Spain were likely painted by Basque ancestors 10,000 to 30,000 years ago, and “fits perfectly” the timeline of their migration. DNA research has also shown that the Celtic people’s genes are almost identical to the Basque’s; it is believed they may have migrated together to Western Europe 30,000 years ago.

BasqueNationalismBasque nationalists see Irish nationalism as sharing with them the struggle of national liberation against big states, Spain and Great Britain. There are no religious divisions in the Basque country. The Basques have been fighting to protect their language and culture for thousands of years.  They have been occupying their corner of Europe, since well before Roman times.

Throughout history, Basques have developed a reputation as fierce defenders of their territory – against Romans, Vikings, Visigoths, Muslims and others. Many invaders have chosen to by-pass the region. When they have managed to put down roots, the Basques have negotiated and learned from them, but have never mixed too much or risked becoming integrated.

From the Middle Ages onwards, they developed a reputation as formidable fishermen and have built boats which have taken them great distances in search of whales and cod. There is some evidence that Basques landed in North America hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus. It was Basque sailors who made up the bulk of Columbus’s crew.

Spiritual Pays Basque
Gernika is famous for the 1937 bombing when Hitler (allied with Franco) used the marketplace as a practice run for Luftwaffe. Much of the city was reduced to a destructive firebomb. It inspired the painting Guernica by Pablo Picasso. According to the official Basque figures, 1,654 civilians were killed in the bombing.

The raid was requested by Francisco Franco to overthrow the Basque Government and the Spanish Republican government. The town was devastated, though the Biscayan assembly and the Oak of Guernica survived. Pablo Picasso painted his famous Guernica painting to commemorate the horrors of the bombing and René Iché made a violent sculpture the day after the bombing. The bombing went on continuously for three hours

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BAYONNE – PAYS BASQUE SPIRITUAL CAPITAL

St Mary’s Cathedral (Bayonne): St Mary’s Cathedral is gothic in style and built using locally-sourced white and red stone on the site of a Romanesque cathedral which was destroyed by fire in 1258. Situated in the heart of the historic centre of Bayonne on a mound overlooking the Nive and Adour rivers, the cathedral contains relics of St Leo (St Léon in French), a 9th century Bishop of Bayonne and was listed as a World Heritage Site in 1998 as part of the French Pilgrim Routes of Santiago de Compostela. The adjoining cloister dates back to 1240.

Constructed in stages between the 13th and 16th centuries, it was not until a major operation led by Boeswillwald a pupil of Viollet-Le-Duc that the 85m high spires were completed in the 19th century giving the cathedral the elegant outline it retains today. The chapels are decorated with 14th century style paintings by Steinhel and the stained glass windows are in the style of Chartres Cathedral.

A visit to the Basque city of Bayonne in the southwest of France is not complete without a stop at the Gothic Bayonne Cathedral. Construction of the cathedral began in the early thirteenth century but wasn’t completed until the seventeenth. The cathedral is on a little known route of the Camino de Santiago, la Voie de la Côte, or the Way of the Coast, which joins the Camino del Norte in Irún, Spain.

The Gothic cathedral and cloister are modelled on the northern France cathedrals. A compact but worthwhile Fine Arts Museum (Musée Bonnat) is in Petit Bayonne, with its picturesque narrow streets filled with Basque handicraft shops and some great dining, elegant old whalers’ mansions lining the quais, more chocolate shops that you can imagine (Bayonne’s chocolate making tradition dates from the early 17th century), a chateau and fortifications by Vauban.

sare[1]Nearby villages of Ascain, Sare, Ainhoa, Itxassou and Espellette are famed for ewe’s milk cheeses, red peppers, black cherries and their distinctive pink pelote basque courts, their whitewash fortress-looking churches, all sporting triple-tiered, polished wooden balconies (men sat in the galleries, “closer to God”, ladies below in the nave guarding the tombs) and adjacent cemeteries filled with lauburu (discoidal) crosses-the lauburu being an ancient Basque symbol.

St. Vincent de Paul was a French Roman Catholic priest who dedicated himself to serving the poor. He is venerated as a saint in the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. He was canonized in 1737. He was renowned for his compassion, humility and generosity and is known as the “Great Apostle of Trumpets”.  The St. Vincent de Paul Society helps those in need with material, moral, and spiritual support.


Religious Cathedrals and Churches

The Russian Orthodox Church (Biarritz) was built thanks to the intervention of Czar Alexander III and the dedication of Father Herodium.  It was inaugurated in September 1892 in the presence of members of the Russian imperial family.  September to November was the Russian season.  A classified historical monument, the church is one of the symbols of Biarritz.

The Imperial Chapel (Biarritz): was built in 1865 on demand by Eugénie de Montijo, wife of Napoleon III. This charming chapel is a perfect combination of Romano-Byzantine and Moorish architectural styles.  It is dedicated to the black Mexican virgin, Our Lady of Guadalupe.  It was classified as a historic monument in 1981.

StEugenieChurchThe Church of Saint Eugénie (Biarritz) is a splendid Roman-Byzantine style edifice dedicated to Sainte Eugenie, patron saint of Eugenie Empress of France. The entrance is through a large carved door and inside you will notice, among other things of interest, the statue of Our Lady of Good Help, patron of the church, and of Saint Martin the patron of Biarritz, as well as the fonts made with sea shells, the white marble altar, the organ (honorary award at the Universal Exhibition of 1900) and the podium with stained glass representing biblical scenes.

St Leon Church (Anglet) is located in Anglet centre in front of the Town Hall Square. The Church is dedicated to St Leon, patron saint of Bayonne. Its interior is typical of the Labourdine churches. Its galleries and balustrades date from the 17th and 18th centuries.

Ste Marie Church (Bidart) dates from the 16th century. It has wooden galleries overlooking the nave, an 18th century altar and a beautiful statue of St Jacques in pilgrim’s costume.  The stunning Oriental-style baptismal font was given by Queen Natalie of Serbia, who retired in Bidart during her conversion to Catholicism. The church often hosts choral Basque songs.

The Chapel Saint Joseph
(Bidart) overlooks the ocean on the cliff above Parlementia beach.  Under the porch is a font that was reserved for bigots, outcasts among outcasts.
Saint Nicolas Church (Guethary) a 17th century Church in Guethary is dedicated to St. Nicolas, patron of fishermen, children and pilgrims. His statue adorns the top of the covered porch. Inside there is a 18th century model sailboat.

Saint Jean Baptiste Church
(Saint Jean de Luz) is the biggest in the Basque Country; it is dedicated to Saint Jean Baptiste, patron of the city. Following the signing of the Treaty of the Pyrenees, it was in this church that celebrated the marriage of Louis XIV and the Infanta Maria Teresa in 1660. The Saint Jean baptiste Church has an extraordinary acoustics and hosts many concerts and other musical performances.

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Biarritz History

Biarritz
Biarritz, Beach, Mountains, and Sea

A young girl named Eugenie, daughter of the Countess of Montijo (Spain) used to come on holidays to Biarritz. She enjoyed swimming and playing with the Fishermen’s children on the beach. A few years later. Eugenie – by now an attractive young lady – met Napoleon III, the French Emperor, who fell in love and married her.

A year after the wedding, Empress Eugenie invited her husband to visit Biarritz for the summer and that is how the story of royalty in Biarritz began. Discovering the idyllic village, (as it was then) Napoleon III decided to build a fabulous palace on the seaside as a token of love to his wife. And so for 15 years, the imperial couple came to ‘Villa Eugenie’; for summer vacations. And where they went the cream of fashionable society followed. Princes, dukes and kings moved to Biarritz, building villas and palaces. Biarritz was born as ‘THE’ fashionable seaside resort to be seen in.

As the result to the 1870 disaster of Sedan for France, and the abdication of the Emperor, Biarritz could have easily become one of those places that just experiences 15 minutes of fame. But thanks to the charm of the town, Biarritz remained the place to go to. Sold by Empress Eugenie in exile to buy the Farnborough estate in England, where she is buried with Emperor Napoleon 111, (the Imperial Prince who fell in the Zulu war fighting on the British side) the fabulous Villa Eugenie became the Hotel du Palais, the apex of social life in Biarritz.

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Hotel du Palais, Biarritz

During the ‘Belle Époque’ Russians and British were the main European visitors. Biarritz owes a lot to its British guests who came, holidayed and imported quintessential British things like polo, fox hunting, golf and lawn tennis. By 1886 more than 1,100 British families plus their servants were staying for the whole winter season in Biarritz from November to April. The town began to adopt English fashions and habits.

Queen Victoria visited Biarritz in 1889, but the monarch most associated with Biarritz was Edward VII – the great Francophile – who stayed for one month each year, managing Great Britain and the British Empire from Biarritz. He was staying at the Hotel du Palais in 1908, when there was a change of prime minister in the UK, Asquith became the new prime minister, but only after travelling to Biarritz and ‘kissing hands’ with the king. Gladstone and Stanley Baldwin were other prime ministers who stayed… Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson were regular visitors until the middle of the 20th century.

Edward VII with the master of the Biarritz hunt

Then it was Hollywood and international film stars and celebrities that came such as Sarah Bernhardt, Charlie Chaplin, Cocteau, Hemingway and Coco Chanel – all of whom changed Biarritz from being fashionable to chic. Frank Sinatra, Gary Cooper, and Jane Mansfield were the ambassadors of a new wave of visitors from America. Nowadays, maintaining the spirit of elegance and luxury, the Hotel du Palais is one of the first eight high-ranking hotels that won the title of ‘Palace’ the new official French marcque/brand/label.

Biarritz nowadays
Even if the past is present everywhere throughout the town, Biarritz is a lively place that can fit with any type of holidays. The welcoming spirit of Biarritz people is not the only reason why you should visit. Sports, culture, leisure, gastronomy, all you need is in Biarritz.

Arriving in Biarritz, you soon learn that walking is the easiest way to discover the town centre. Begin at the Casino, a superb art deco building overlooking the Grande Plage and end at the Rocher de la Vierge, a small  rock linked to the coast by a footbridge high over the rough seas. On the way you will see some magnificent 19th century villas, but be sure to stop by the very small and hidden harbour. It has a picturesque wharf with surrounding tiny fishermen houses called ‘crampottes’ which, today, have been mostly transformed in fashionable bars and restaurants.

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Rocher de La Vierge

Walk a little further to the next small beach where you’ll find a genuine natural swimming pool. It was here that the whales were processed by the whalers but you’d never know it today. From there you can stroll down back to the centre by twisted streets. This will give you an overall view of the town centre.

The Sea Museum (Musée de la Mer), just in front of the Rocher de la Vierge has recently been extended. Now, this art deco building shelters nearly 50 aquariums and a magical spectacle of sea life, including a new vast aquarium with hammer-head sharks, barracudas and rays.

On rue Pellot, you’ll find the Imperial Chapel, a charming quiet monument built for Empress Eugenie’s use. It has been built in an off pairing of Roman-Byzantine and Hispanic-Moorish styles and has been listed as an historical monument for the last thirty years.

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Biarritz Lighthouse

The lighthouse, 73m high, offers a beautiful view over the coast and the town. Those who climb to the top, say that the view is worth the 248 steps!

The Biarritz Historical Museum is situated in the old Anglican Church, St Andrew’s, and is full of souvenirs of the town’s evolution from a fishermen’s village to the favourite of kings. At the entrance stands the memorial to British soldiers from Wellington’s army who died around Biarritz during the Napoleonic wars.

Asiatica, the oriental art museum, is one of Europe’s most important private collections of Asian art with around a thousand masterpieces.

As a haunt of the rich and famous, what could be more luxurious than the best chocolate? The Planete Chocolate Museum presents the history and art of making chocolate. Biarritz and Bayonne, a nearby city, were the first French towns where chocolate was made. Ancient machines and a huge collection of chocolate moulds are displayed throughout the old factory building. Try resisting a sample of hot chocolate, which is offered to all visitors.

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Biarritz Surf Mecca

Biarritz is also nicknamed the European Surf Mecca. Beginning in the 1950s and as long ago as 1978, the Australian writer, Clive James, was drawing attention to the revival of Biarritz. The beaches, small or big, can delight everyone. Some are geared to families whilst others such as the ‘Côte des Basques’ are paradises for accomplished surfers having strong waves from the Atlantic. The ‘Grande Plage’ in the middle of town is located just under the Casino’s promenade with cafés and restaurants. It’s the beach to swim at, to be seen at and to meet up with friends. It’s also a place for beginners to practise surfing.

With six golf courses around the city, among them the Golf du Phare (the oldest) Biarritz pleases any golf player. And the International Golf Training Centre of Ilbarritz housed in over 65 acres along the coast is a real plus with its new modern techniques for training. A Golf Pass grants access to five courses among a choice of six golfs during a week. http://www.golfpassbiarritz.com

PelotaBasque
Pelota Basque

And of course, easier to watch (for a novice) is the famous ‘pelota basque’ with several choices, hand games, chistera games or cesta punta games. To attend a match is a must. In the fast-moving game of cesta punta the ball can reach 300 kilometres an hour.

© justAboutTravel/Frederic de Poligny adapted for BAB Conventions information

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MORE INFORMATION

Slideshow presenting Biarritz and area is available here

Video Introduction to Biarritz is available here

Who are the Basques more information available here

Basque Mythology, Ancestral Religion, Spirituality, and religion available here

History of the Biarritz Basques, and Commercial Whaling available here

Biarritz Local information for the visitor available here

Biarritz History available here

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HISTORY OF THE BIARRITZ BASQUES, AND COMMRECIAL WHALING

Biarritz_PaysBasque

Biarritz is pronounced Bjaʁits in French; in Basque: Biarritz [biarits̻] or Miarritze [miarits̻e]; and Gascon Occitan: Biàrritz [ˈbjarits]

Biarritz is located on the Bay of Biscay, on the Atlantic coast of Aquitaine in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department in the French Basque Country in southwestern France. It is located 35 kilometres (22 mi) from the border with Spain. It is a seaside tourist destination known for the Hôtel du Palais (originally built for the Empress Eugénie circa 1855), its casinos and its surfing culture.

Analysis of stones from the Middle Palaeolithic age shows that the Biarritz area was inhabited at that time. The Middle Palaeolithic broadly spanned from 300,000 to 30,000 years ago.  Modern humans began migrating out of Africa during the Middle Stone Age/Middle Palaeolithic around 100,000 or 70,000 years ago and began to replace earlier pre-existing Homo species such as the Neanderthals and Homo erectus.

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French Basque Country

Middle Ages
The oldest mention of Biarritz appears in a cartulary, Baiona’s Golden book, from 1186. The first urban town was at the top, and in the interior, where the church of San Martin is located today. This church is the oldest in Biarritz. In 1152, Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry II of England, who became suzerain (Emperor) of the Duchy of Aquitaine. Prince Edward, oldest son of Henry III of England, was invested with the duchy, and betrothed to Eleanor of Castile, who brought him rights over Gascony. (Modern day Aquitaine/SW France)

Two population centers are recorded in the middle Ages. On one hand, the église Saint-Martin (Biarritz) was active in the neighbourhoods in the territory’s interior. On the other hand, the château of Belay, also called château de Ferragus (Biarritz), protected the coast and the current Port-Vieux (old port), while religious life and community assemblies took place at Notre-Dame-de-Pitié dominating the Port-des-Pêcheurs, or fishing port in Biarritz.

Fishing activity is documented on May 26, 1342 authorising les Biarrots to “(…) remit to Bayonne all the fresh fish that inhabitants of Biarritz can fish from the salt sea”. Suffice it to say Biarritz was a settled community from early in the 2nd millennium and earned its wealth from fishing and whaling. Construction of the château de Ferragus was decided by the English, on the foundations of a Roman work, on the summit of the promontory overlooking the sea. Atalaye was used as a whale-observation post.

AtalayeSuperb view from the Atalaye plateau Lookout

Basques and Whaling
Most documents, records and official agreements in the archives from Biarritz mention whaling. This was the principal local industry. Consequently, the town’s coat of arms features the image of a whale below a rowing boat manned by five sailors wearing berets, one of whom is preparing to throw a harpoon. The inscription written on it is: Aura, sidus, mare, adjuvant me (The air, the stars and the seas are helping me).

Biarritz has long made its living from the sea: and from the 12th century onwards, it was a whaling town. In the 18th century, doctors claimed that the ocean at Biarritz had therapeutic properties, inspiring patients to make pilgrimages to the beach for alleged cures for their ailments. After the 7th century, Biarritz had many confrontations with Baiona, with the Kingdom of England – (Labourd/Lapurdi was under English control) – and with the Bishop of Baiona. Almost all the disputes were about whale hunting. In 1284, the town’s right to hunt whales was reinstated by the authorities of Lapurdi and the Duchy of Aquitaine.

From the middle Ages and Early modern period a watchtower looked down over the sea at Biarritz, from Atalaye, waiting for the sight of a whale. Whenever a whale was sighted, they would burn wet straw, to create a large amount of smoke and thus communicate the news to their fellows. The watchtower no longer exists. Even though the population from Biarritz was originally Basque, it is hard to assert whether the main language of the village was Basque or French.

RightWahleRight Whale

The Basques were among the first to catch whales commercially, and dominated the trade for five centuries, spreading to the far corners of the North Atlantic and even reaching the South Atlantic. The French explorer Samuel de Champlain, when writing about Basque whaling in Newfoundland, described them as “the cleverest men at this fishing”. By the early 17th century, other nations entered the trade in earnest, seeking the Basques as tutors, “for they were then the only people who understand whaling”, lamented the English explorer Jonas Poole.

Having learned the trade themselves, other nations adopted their techniques and soon dominated the burgeoning industry – often to the exclusion of their former instructors. Basque whaling peaked in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, but was in decline by the late 17th and early 18th centuries. By the 19th century, it was moribund as the right whale was nearly extinct and the bowhead whale was decimated.

In the 16th century, the whales migrated to other places. Whale hunters from Labourd/Lapurdi crossed the Atlantic in pursuit of them, and spent time in the Labrador Peninsula and in Newfoundland. Later, instead of hunting whales, they started cod fishing in Newfoundland. A century later, due to the ban on fishing off the coasts of America and the steely competence of English and Dutch fishermen, the number of fishing boats from Biarritz diminished and nowadays, the Biarritz fishing industry in these areas has come to an end.

Basques_Northern_Whale_Fishery_.jpgBasque Whaling fisheries in 1720

A document exists which states in the year 670 a delivery of 40 “moyos” (casks of 250 litres) of “aceite de ballena” (whale oil) or “grasa de ballena” (whale blubber) was made from Bayonne to the abbey of Jumièges, between Le Havre and Rouen, for its use in lighting.  A bill was passed in 1059 to concentrate whale meat in the market of Bayonne. By 1150 whaling had spread to the Basque provinces in Spain. This document also states that “in accordance with custom, the King should have a slice of each whale, along the backbone, from the head to the tail”. Whaling also spread to Asturias in 1232 and finally to Galicia in 1371.

Up to 49 ports had whaling establishments along the coast from the French Basque country to Cape Finisterre. The principal target of the trade was what the French Basques called “sarde” later called the Biscayan right whale, and now known as the North Atlantic right whale. It was caught during its migration from October/November to February/March, with peak catching occurring in January. They may have also hunted the grey whale, which existed in the North Atlantic until at least the early 18th century. They may also have caught the occasional sperm whale. Remains of this species have been found in the old buildings used to try out the blubber into oil.

When a whale was sighted, the watchman alerted their fellows by burning straw, beating a drum, ringing a bell or waving a flag. Once alerted, the whalers launched small rowing boats. The whale was struck with a two-fluted harpoon, lanced, and killed. A larger boat manned by ten men towed the carcass ashore, waiting for high tide to beach the whale, where it was flensed. The blubber was then brought to a boiling house where it was rendered into oil.

Whalers
Whalers preparing to harpoon

The whalers of Biarritz and the rest of the French Basque country were exempt from taxation, although they voluntarily gave the whales’ tongues to the church as a gift. The kings of England, acting as the Dukes of Guyenne (Aquitaine), began tax/charges to be enacted against them. Under a 1324 edict, Edward II (1307–27) collected a duty on the whales caught in British waters, which included the French Basque coast. His successor, Edward III (1327–77), continued this tradition by collecting a £6 tax for each whale taken and landed at Biarritz. In 1338, this was relinquished to Peter de Puyanne, admiral of the English fleet stationed at neighbouring Bayonne.

The trade had reached such importance in the Basque Provinces that several towns and villages depicted whales or whaling scenes on their seals and coat-of-arms. This practice included many towns in Spain, and Biarritz, Guéthary, and Hendaye in France. Whaling was important enough that laws were passed in 1521 and 1530, barring foreign (French) whalers from operating off the Spanish coast, while in 1619 and 1649; foreign whale products could not be sold in Spanish markets.

The industry in the French Basque region never reached the importance it did in the Spanish provinces. Few towns participated and only a small number of whales were probably taken. From the number of documents and written references Aguilar surmised that French Basque whaling peaked in the second half of the 13th century, and subsequently declined.

Only four whales were reportedly caught in the Bay of Biscay in the 19th century. The first was caught off Hondarribia in 1805, the second off San Sebastian in 1854, the third off Getaria-Zarautz in 1878, and the last off San Sebastian in 1893. The Basques, Bretons, and Normans were the first to reach the New World “before any other people”. Bordeaux jurist ‘Etienne de Cleirac’ in 1647 made a similar claim, in stating that the French Basques were pursuing whales across the North Atlantic, and discovered North America a century before Columbus. Belgian cetologist Pierre-Joseph van Beneden (1878-1892) repeated such assertions by saying the Basques, in the year 1372, found the number of whales to increase on approaching the Newfoundland Banks.

Basques-at-Red-BayBasque whalers at Red Bay Labrador

The first undisputed presence of Basque whaling expeditions in the New World was in the second quarter of the 16th century. It appears to have been the French Basques, following the lead of Breton cod-fishermen that reported finding rich whaling grounds in Newfoundland and Labrador. The Basques called the area they frequented “Grandbaya” (Grand Bay), today known as the Strait of Belle Isle, which separates Newfoundland from southern Labrador.

Initial voyages to this area were mixed cod and whaling ventures. Instead of returning home with whale oil, they brought back whale meat in brine. The French Basque ship La Catherine d’Urtubie made the first known voyage involving whale products in 1530, when she returned with 4,500 dried and cured cod, as well as twelve barrels of whale meat. After a period of development, expeditions were sent purely aimed at obtaining whale oil. The first establishments for processing whale oil in southern Labrador may have been built in the late 1530s,

By the end of the 1500s the Basques (French & Spanish) were delivering large cargoes of whale oil to Bristol, London, and Flanders. A large market existed for “lumera”, as whale oil used for lighting was called. “Sain” or “grasa de ballena” was also used (by mixing it with tar and oakum) for caulking ships, as well as in the textile industry. Ambroise Paré (1510–90), who visited Bayonne when King Charles IX was there in 1564, said they used the baleen to “make farthingales, stays for women, knife-handles, and many other things”.

Two species of whale were hunted in southern Labrador, the North Atlantic right whale and the bowhead whale. The former were taken during the “early” season in the summer, while the latter was caught from the fall to early winter. The Spanish Basques used well-armed galleons of up to 600–700 tons, while the French Basques usually fitted out smaller vessels. An intensive era of whaling began when peace was established after the French/Basque ‘Valois marriage’ in 1572. An average of fifteen ships was sent to Newfoundland each year, with twenty being sent during the peak years.

Bowhead-Whale-Balaena-mysticetus.jpg

Bowhead Whale

The end came in 1697, when the Spanish Basques were prevented from sending out whaling expeditions to Newfoundland, while the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) finally expelled them from the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Later the French Basques still sent whaling expeditions to Newfoundland, often basing them at Louisbourg, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. The port of Louisbourg was an important investment for the French government because it gave them a strong commercial and military foothold in the Grand Banks. For France, the fishing industry was more lucrative than the fur trade in New France /North America.

As early as the 14th century, Basque whale men made “seasonal trips” to southern Ireland and the English Channel undoubtedly targeting right whales. These regions became particularly well-known to them by the 16th century. By the first decade of the 17th century, Basque whaling had reached Brazil, on the initiative of the colonial government. With imports of whale oil from the Basque region and Cape Verde not meeting the demands of the expanding colonial sugar industry, they saw a solution in the humpback and southern right whales that inhabited their coastal waters.

Lacking the technical know-how to hunt them, they sought help abroad. In 1602, Basque whalers accompanied the governor general of Brazil; to the colonial capital of Bahia de Todos os Santos and it was there that crews introduced commercial whaling to colonial Brazil. Each year for a decade Basque ships made runs from Biscay to Brazil, where the oil they produced supplied sugar mills with a dependable source of fuel for nocturnal grinding, as well as oil for lubricating machinery and caulking boats and ships. This ended in 1610, when one of the Basque captains tried to smuggle Brazil wood out of the country. The same year the crown declared whaling to be a royal monopoly.

The first mention of Basque whaling in Iceland is from the early 17th century. Basques whalers were active around the Westfjords in 1610.and were whaling from Strandir in 1608. 26 Basque ships were sent to Iceland in 1614. Only ten reached Iceland, as the rest had been scattered or robbed by the English. Most of the Spanish Basque ships spent the summer in Steingrímsfjörðer, while a few of the French Basque were situated to the north. Basque whaling in Iceland continued, but by the second half of the 17th century, French and Dutch whalers were more often than the Spanish Basques. Ships from the French Basque ports hunted whales off Iceland. They resorted to Iceland during the latter part of the season after having finished whaling off the eastern coast of Greenland.

whalingIn Iceland17thCenturyBasque whaling in Iceland 17th century

It was in the northeastern North Atlantic in the early 17th century that Basques whaling expeditions went to Spitsbergen, where they hunted the bowhead whale. Upon reaching Spitsbergen they discovered such an abundance of whales “that for a stretch of sixty leagues along the coast the sea was obscured.” The expedition returned “with glowing reports of the wealth of the fishery” that a patent was secured from the Viceroy of Navarre. Its report led others to send out a fleet of whaleships to Spitsbergen, including the ports of Holland, northern France, and the Basque provinces. This ended in commercial disaster and conflict with the English and Dutch.

In Finnmark (Northern Norway) the Basques received the same undue treatment they had met with in Spitsbergen and Iceland. In order to avoid having to pay fines to the sovereigns of northern lands (e.g. Spitsbergen, Finnmark), the Basques began using ship-board tryworks to process blubber into oil. This technique was introduced in 1635. Whales could now be caught and processed offshore. Off Northern Norway, French Basque whaleships hunted whales “à flot”, in other words, offshore

In the northeastern North Atlantic the French Basques employed 250-ton frigates (r. 100–350 tons) with reinforced stem-posts and timbers in order to withstand the rigors of whaling in the West Ice – the area between eastern Greenland and Spitsbergen. They were also fitted with six to fourteen cannons, as France and Holland were often at war during this period. Poor catches in the 1680s and the War of the League of Augsburg (1688–97) caused a dramatic decline in French Basque whaling. By the early 18th century, only one or two vessels were left in the trade.

The last Basque (French or Spanish) whaling expeditions were prior to the outbreak of the Seven Years’ War (1756–63). Several attempts were made to revive the trade, but they were unsuccessful. The first Biarritz lighthouse was built in 1650.

whaling-ship-drawing-6
Whale ship design

Biarritz was an independent municipality until 1784, governed by a clergyman, and twelve deputies. Deputies were democratically chosen: there were four neighbourhoods, and three deputies had to be chosen from each of them. However, deputies were chosen by the abbot and sworn. Since they had no Town House, they gathered in a ward near the church. As they had no place for meeting, they had their meetings in the cemetery. At that time, Biarritz had around 1,700 citizens. In the mid-18th century, the city began to change into a worldwide known ‘bathing-town’.

From 1784 onwards, after the French Revolution, taking a bath in the sea was no longer behaviour of those who were considered fools; sea-baths were fashionable. In 1808, Napoleon himself broke prejudices and took a bath on the Basque Country’s coastal water. In 1840, the Municipality of Biarritz organized an initiative to promote and attract those who loved the sea. From the 11th century, Biarritz was a village dedicated to whale hunting, until Victor Hugo, found it in 1843. He complimented Biarritz in his book “Alpeak eta Pirinioak” as follows

I have not met in the world any place more pleasant and perfect than Biarritz. I have never seen the old Neptune throwing joy and glory with such a force in the old Cybele. All this coast is full of humming. Gascony’s sea grinds, scratches, and stretches on the reefs it’s never ending whisper. Friendly population and white cheerful houses, large dunes, fine sand, great caves and proud sea, Biarritz is amazing. My only fear is Biarritz becoming fashionable. Whether this happens, the wild village, rural and still honest Biarritz, will be money-hungry. Biarritz will put poplars in the hills, railings in the dunes, kiosks in the rocks, seats in the caves, trousers worn on tourists.

Either for good or for bad, Victor Hugo’s prophecy was fulfilled. Biarritz planted poplars, tamarinds, hydrangeas, roses and pitosforuses on the slopes and the hills, set railings on the dunes, covered moats with elegant stairs… and polluted with land-speculation and money-hunger. Humble and proud tourists praise Biarritz’s coast. Biarritz became more renowned in 1854 when Empress Eugenie (wife of Napoleon III) built a palace on the beach (now the Hôtel du Palais). European royalty, including British monarchs Queen Victoria and King Edward VII (who caused a minor scandal when he called H. H. Asquith to kiss hands at Biarritz in 1908 rather than return to London for the purpose), and the Spanish king Alfonso XIII, were frequent visitors.

10296998lpw-10297025-article-victor-hugo-jpg_4565978_660x281Victor Hugo

The Biarritz casino, opened 10 August 1901, and beaches make the town a notable tourist centre for Europeans and East Coast North Americans. The city has also become a prime destination for surfers from around the world, developing a nightlife and surf-based culture.

The presence of French Republic’s authorities and the fact of having launched the Paris-Hendaye train, led Biarritz to become one of the most outstanding tourist areas all over Europe. The queen of the beaches became the beach of the kings: Oskar II from Sweden, Leopoldo from Belgium, tireless traveller, the empress of Russia, Nikolas II’s mother, Elisabeth from Austria, Natalia from Serbia, and her ill son Alexandro, Jurgi V from England, Eduardo VII and England’s Queen Victoria, Alfonso XIII from Spain, aristocrats, rich people, actors, from Europe and South America… In the summer-time, high-status people gathered in Biarritz. Therefore, the number of population remarkably increased, from 5,000 to 18,000. At the end of the 19th century, 50,000 vacationers were gathering in Biarritz.

The big store, Biarritz Bonheur, created in 1894, and enlarged twice (in 1911 and 1926), and still operating, became the temple of luxury and fashion. At the start of the 20th century, most of its workers spoke in English.

At the end of World War II in Europe, the U.S. Army’s Information and Educational Branch was ordered to establish an overseas university campus for demobilized American service men and women in the French resort town of Biarritz. Hotels and casinos of Biarritz were converted into quarters, labs, and class spaces for U.S. service personnel. The University opened 10 August 1945 and about 10,000 students attended an eight-week term. This campus was set up to provide a transition between army life and subsequent attendance at a university in the USA, so students attended for just one term. After three successful terms, the G.I. University closed in March 1946

BestBeachBreak_surf_hossegor_2048.jpgSouthwest France, maybe the ‘best beach breaks’ in the world

In 1957, the American film director Peter Viertel was in Biarritz with his wife Deborah Kerr working on the film The Sun Also Rises. One of his Californian friends came for a visit, and his use of a surfboard off Biarritz is recognized as the first time surfing was practised in Europe. Biarritz eventually became one of the most popular European surfing spots and the coastline is known for having the ‘best beach breaks’ in the world

Recent royal visitors to Biarritz in 2016 were Prince William (future king of England) and his wife Kate the Duchess of York and their two children Prince George and Princess Charlotte.

World Surfing Champions, Jeff Hakman, Nat Young, Paul Nielsen, Ian Cairns, Mark Richards, Mark Warren, Reno Abeliro, Peter Townend, Shawn Tomson, Wayne ‘Rabbit’ Bartholomew, Tom Carroll, Tom Curren, Damien Hardman, Barton Lynch, Martin Potter, Kelly Slater, Derek Ho, Marc Occhilupo, Sunny Garcia, C.J. Hobgood, Andy Irons, Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson and Gabriel Medina have all surfed at Biarritz such is the quality of the waves there. The Champions represent the cream of the competitive surfing world since 1974.

The Quiksilver surf brand has their European headquarters just to the south of Biarritz since 1984, whilst Billabong and Rip Curl have their European headquarters just to the north of Biarritz. With France having been selected for the 2024 Olympics, Biarritz will again be the focus of sports and surfing world fans in 2024. If nature fails to provide suitable waves at the beaches, an artificial wave pool is to be constructed in or near Biarritz with a projected budget of 20 million euros, which will ensure a successful Olympic surfing event.

G7GuysG7 meeting for Biarritz in 2019

Biarritz will again be in the headlines in august 2019. The 2019 G7 meeting of World Leaders takes place in Biarritz 25 to 27 August 2019. It is hoped the reader will be suitably attracted to Biarritz and to attend the AA Conventions hosted there in this or the coming years.

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