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Animal Magic in Andros

Andros Animal Shelter Sandy Piglet and Rupert
Andros Animal Shelter Sandy Piglet and Rupert
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A Chance Meeting In Chora

I had only just stepped foot onto the island of Andros, the second largest among the Cyclades Islands in Greece, but in no time I found myself strolling through its charming capital, Chora. Accompanied by my knowledgeable guide, Fotis from “Explore Andros” we met Mary. I instantly knew there was something about Mary that I liked.

As we walked amongst the pretty pastel-coloured residential houses at the far end of Chora Old Town, I noticed a few cats hanging around the top and bottom of some steps. I quizzed Fotis and he said that this was the home of an English lady living in Andros. She cares, feeds, vaccinates and has coordinated the sterilisation of about a dozen cats that live around the Church of St George in Chora – her name was Mary – the cat’s names I did not ask 😉  

The Fixer

I warm instantly to people who love animals. To me, it says a lot about a person. I asked Fotis, who knew her well, to find out if she was at home. Mary who first visited Andros in 1988, used to teach Fotis English and I might add, she did a fine job! As luck would have it Mary was in. From our brief discussions, talking about all things life in Andros, cats and animal welfare, Mary told me something that excited me beyond words.

There was another lady, Sandy, whom she knew, up high in the Andros hills in a place called “Magic Mountain”, where she runs the Andros Animal Shelter looking after mainly dogs, and some donkeys, mules and cats. Mary went on to say that Sandy featured on a UK TV show in 2022 with Ben Fogle called “New Lives in the Wild”. Now I don’t watch much TV, but I love this series…. It’s been on my record settings for as many years as I can remember. Each week it follows brave souls who have given up their daily lives and moved away to follow their dreams, often living off grid or somewhere inhospitable or miles from home. I guess the adventurer in me, and with my love of nature, has always wanted to do this – it might just happen one day.

Fotis and I had a schedule to follow so needed to be on our way. I suggested that Mary should be our “fixer” and she should try to arrange a meeting with Sandy later in the week!

Magic Mountain

Fast forward four days and we met Mary in a coffee shop in central Chora and together we drove deep and high up into the beautiful Andros countryside to Magic Mountain. As if we were on a secret mission, we were told to bring a stash…… of carrots for the donkeys. On arrival, a couple of donkeys and a pack of about 20 dogs of all shapes and sizes greeted us at the gate. Then there was Sandy. We took a seat on her terrace, and she made us all a coffee. I was so excited and engrossed in talking to her that I was oblivious to one of her mischievous pooches marking his territory on my rucksack. The culprit, not the rucksack, is pictured further down!

Sandy’s story, very briefly, is that in 1979 she came to central Greece. In 1986 she moved to Andros and opened a tourist office in the town of Batsi. After a downturn in tourism to the island due to a lack of flights, she then opened an art shop. In 2007 she inherited some money and bought the 9,000 square metre house and land that is now the Andros Animal Shelter on Magic Mountain where she has dedicated her life to rescuing the dogs and animals of Andros.

Funding The Andros Animal Shelter

To say her job is hard is an understatement for someone, who, like us all, is advancing in years. Over time she has funded the rescue, care, protection and rehoming of hundreds of dogs, and on the day that I visited, there were 30 dogs and 9 donkeys under her watch! She also gets help from volunteers including remarkably, as I found out last week, the daughter of one of my travel agent Facebook friends (John Marchant and Maisie Amber Marchant) who only last year stayed on site.

Brexit has caused Sandy many issues with more red tape surrounding adoption and of course, there is the money, with it costing her circa 3,000 euros a month to run the shelter. The TV show helped her in that regard, and hopefully, Ben Fogle will return one day soon and give the coffers a boost with a follow-up show. Meanwhile, she relies on the goodwill of donations via the Andros Animal Shelter website as well as kind souls organising events to keep the cash flowing in.

The Stars of The Show

I met many of Sandy’s dogs and a couple of her donkeys and mules during my visit. There was the wonderful Bonzo – a big loveable cuddly dog with a deep voice who was quite intimidating at first however, he soon came around with some attention.

I was particularly drawn to a mum and her three puppies. One of the puppies, despite being full of energy, very sadly had a swollen head. Sandy told me this was a condition called hydrocephalus, a form of water on the brain, and sadly at this stage, there was nothing that could be done for him except give him love and kindness. That is never in short supply here at the Andros Animal Shelter.

Sadly a few weeks after my return, I learned that the little fella had passed away.

Mum and Pups
Mum and Pups

Little Piglet

After an hour chatting it was time to get on my way, but not before I asked after one of the stars of that TV show – Piglet! Now some of you may remember that Piglet was a little dog who had a walking problem. Her brain did not fully engage with her legs, so at times, she kind of dragged her hind legs around behind her.

I was expecting Sandy to tell me she had also passed away but no, Piglet was in her room snoozing. To my delight, Sandy brought her out and Piglet excitedly rushed over to me, well as much as Piglet can rush, to see who had woken her up for a cuddle and a photo of course! It made my day and privately made me a little emotional, but I won’t tell if you don’t!

Just Magic

As we drove to Gavrio Port, via the seaside resort of Batsi, I reflected on my day and the wonderful people I had shared it with. Such kind people have all been drawn back to Andros for various reasons. Mary to live and care for the cats, Sandy, to set up the Andros Animal Shelter and in the case of Fotis my guide, who previously worked in the busy capital of Athens, to share with tourists the island that he loves.

My day in Magic Mountain and my entire stay in Andros was just that – Magic!


The Andros Aminal Shelter looks after these rescued animals and brings happiness back into their lives. Some are up for adoption so if you are thinking of taking on a dog, then why not contact Sandy and give one of these Andros dogs a forever home – I would love Bonzo but my lifestyle would not be fair on him as I am away so much!

Maybe you would like to volunteer and help at the shelter. There is so much work to do daily so any help is welcome. You just need to get in touch with Sandy.

For donations, volunteering, adoption and more information please visit the Andros Animal Shelter website. If you can’t help, then by sharing these posts on social media, maybe one of your friends would like to help. It only takes one person to make a difference.

Check out my Facebook and Instagram accounts or click on the social buttons below to share this story.

You may also like to leave a comment below. It would mean a lot so thank you.

To read all about Andros please head over to my blog “Taking My Time On Andros Island“.

Till next time

Hotel De Silhouette, Biarritz, France

Hotel de Silhouette, Biarritz
Hotel de Silhouette, Biarritz
Home » Travel Blog

When seeking the ideal hotel for a short break or holiday, certain components must align perfectly to earn my highest seal of approval. During a recent three-night stay in Biarritz, I discovered what I believe to be the epitome of a luxury boutique city hotel. Allow me to introduce you to the 4-star Hotel De Silhouette in Biarritz, France.

This haven of understated luxury, tradition, and tranquillity offers modern comforts seamlessly blended with historic charm, and complemented by a central location and an impeccable first-class service.

Let’s discover more about the charm of this hidden treasure nestled in the picturesque corner of South West Basque France;

Getting There

Direct flights from the UK to Aeroport Biarritz Pays Basque are few and far between so as alternatives, there are flights to Bordeaux, Bilbao or even San Sebastian. Any of those destinations would make for a lovely multi-centre holiday with Biarritz. Hiring a car is simple from the airport and the Hotel de Silhouette has a car park so it’s all pretty straightforward.

If you don’t fancy a self-drive then the local bus services are frequent and cost-effective. I travelled to Biarritz by bus from Bilbao (2 hours) via San Sebastian and was dropped off at Biarritz Airport. From there I took a short 20-minute taxi transfer costing 20 euros to the hotel.

Biarritz also boasts a well-connected railway station, making it convenient for European train adventurers to visit.

History of the Hotel De Silhouette

The origins of Hotel de Silhouette trace back to around 1600, making it one of Biarritz’s oldest establishments. Legend has it that in the mid-18th century, French finance minister Etienne de Silhouette introduced unpopular taxes targeting the wealthy, and from that day forward he was not the most popular of characters – with a name like Silhouette, some may even say he was a little shady!

The hotel, formerly Silhouette’s residence in Biarritz, still proudly displays his Coat of Arms engraved on the main entrance, embodying a piece of a rather intriguing and mysterious history.

At First Glance

As the taxi slowed on the approach to the hotel we passed patisseries, art studios, brasseries, cafes, and fashion stores. This is the trendy Quartier Des Halles and is a great place to be based – although maybe not for my waistline! We drove through the imposing iron gates and onto the cobblestone drive of the Hotel de Silhouette and immediately a gentleman emerged from the glass doors to assist with my luggage.

I felt at home as soon as I stepped inside the softly lit, modern, chic reception which was beautifully and elegantly decorated in tobacco browns, and burnt reds. A well-used hotel comments book had seen many a glowing recommendation, while incense sticks smouldered, and easy-listening music added to a feeling of calm and tranquillity.

With some brief administration formalities complete, I was soon in the lift to the first of just two floors, where I was to excitedly walk to the end of the corridor past stylish artworks and paintings. I felt at home!

Rooms & Views

The hotel has just 21 rooms in total. There are seven standard rooms overlooking the city, and there are five deluxe rooms with views of the garden and ocean beyond. Seven rooms are superior while two junior suites cater for larger groups or families. The hotel is also able to cater for those with any special mobility needs.

I was delighted to be staying in a Superior room during my stay. This spacious corner room overlooked the garden area and had a little balcony with seating and another French balcony. Facilities included a very comfortable bed, a flat-screen TV, air-conditioning, coffee machine, kettle, telephone, safe and minibar. A rather cool stylish radio, which I know tends to be a little old-fashioned these days, added a little, how do I put it, “je ne sais quoi”, well I am in France after all! The bathroom was superb with twin basins, a shower, a bath, his and hers robes and toiletries from Ortigia, Sicily. There was a separate toilet.

These days another test of a hotel is the WI-FI and the Hotel De Silhouette passed with flying colours, as throughout there is a strong signal ideal for hooking up your phone or for business.

Bar & Restaurant

The Grand Salon or restaurant and adjoining bar are very special. Beautifully appointed throughout, the walls are decorated in that same burnt orange and tobacco brown colour scheme, while art adorns the walls from a range of local contemporary artists. As someone who has been in the travel industry for more years than I care to mention the travel theme was particularly welcome.

I was up early every day keen to head out into the city. Breakfast is served from 7:30 am and is in tune with the rest of the hotel. The restaurant provides a calm space with background music and attentive but not overpowering staff who are on hand to serve coffee and teas leaving you to choose from a lovely buffet selection of fresh bread, pastries, jams, cereals, yoghurts, fruits and juices.

Lunch is served every day while in the summer months of July and August, you can enjoy Jazz in the garden while enjoying fresh seasonal regional produce on the sunlit terrace. Dishes include salads and steak and you can even pre-order seafood from Les Halles de Biarritz, the fabulous covered market across the road from the hotel.

The hotel bar is a show-stopper. Pull up a comfortable bar stool and study the excellent wine list, as well as a selection of cocktails, beers and spirits. Having studied the list, you can savour your drink in the most stylish and cool hotel bars.

Hotel De Silhouette Gardens

I visited out of season so I needed a little imagination to visualise those Summer nights relaxing with a cocktail whilst listening to a spot of Jazz.

The main terrace is the heartbeat of the garden however there is plenty of seating dotted around should you like to be alone with your thoughts while relaxing under an ancient tree.

Meetings & Events

The Hotel has a 55m² meeting room that is ideal for gatherings of up to 50 people. The room comes with state-of-the-art technology in terms of the sound system, a video projector, Bluetooth connection, and Wi-Fi plus staff are on hand to supply refreshments and snacks as and when required.

This would be a great little hotel for a small conference given its service, comfort and location right in the heart of the city, not to mention just a short flight from the UK.


There is no boutique as such, but there is a small display cabinet in reception where you can purchase a few gifts from your stay such as branded bags, perfumes, key fobs, towels, and scents.

I took a shine for the unusual but very clever coffee mugs that sit within a cork base. There will be no more coffee marks on my table as I decided to purchase a couple of them for my morning brew, where I can dream of being on that terrace with my face in the morning sun.

Sport & Activities

While there is no swimming pool this is a hotel that frankly does not need one! Just 300 metres away and a 5-minute walk are the legendary beaches of the Côte de Basque and La Grande Plage where you can swim, surf, and sunbathe to your heart’s content!

Also down on the beaches, the hotel can direct you to a range of activities including yoga, surfing lessons, sailing and diving.

If you are a golfer then one of the top courses in France is located up near the lighthouse (Le Phare de Biarritz) at the northern end of the city. The Golf De Biarritz Le Phare is a prestigious and challenging course, with adult prices starting from 78 euros for 18 holes.

The French also love their tennis and there are public courts available plus if you are a spectator then the city is home to the Biarritz Tennis Club which hosts professional tennis competitions.

Cyclists can discover the Basque coast by e-bike and again the hotel can advise the best rental companies in the vicinity.

Another popular sport in this part of France is Rugby with the local side Biarritz Olympique Pays Basque, a professional side in the top division of French Rugby.

In The Vicinity

I have written a separate blog about Biarritz featuring some of the top attractions and things to do in the city plus highlighted some of the villages, towns, and cities in both the French and Spanish Basque Country.

Perhaps the most popular cities within two hours are Bordeaux, San Sebastian and Bilbao while closer to home are some delightful French towns or villages including Guéthary, Ainhoa, Espelette, Saint Jean Pied de Port and Bayonne.

Whatever your plans rest assured the elegant Hotel de Silhouette is ideally positioned to discover every corner of the town and with a car you are in a great location to explore!

Final Thoughts – Hotel de Silhouette

My stay in Biarritz exceeded all expectations. The three nights at the charming Hotel De Silhouette were the epitome of perfection, from its understated elegance to impeccable service, delightful restaurant, cosy rooms, enchanting gardens, and ideal location.

Choosing the Hotel de Silhouette in Biarritz guarantees satisfaction—it exudes class effortlessly, thus mirroring the city’s sophisticated charm.

I have stayed in many hotels all over the world – the little Hotel De Silhouette delivered exactly what I would look for in a city break or holiday hotel, nothing but good memories!

Contact Information

To book visit the Hotel De Silhouette website or contact your local travel agent or specialist tour operator. For further information you can also contact the Office de Tourisme de Biarritz.

Hotel De Silhouette
30, rue Gambetta 64200

Telephone (+33) 05 59 24 93 82

E-Mail reservations@hotelsilhouette.com

Biarritz – Timeless Elegance Meets Laid-Back Cool

Biarritz City Centre At Night
Biarritz City Centre At Night
Home » Travel Blog

With a local population of approximately 33,000, the French city of Biarritz combines a refreshing blend of opulence, chic allure, and easy-going charm. Renowned as a luxury seaside resort, this French gem boasts some of the best beaches in Europe which attract surf enthusiasts and sun-seekers alike.

With its classy boutiques, art studios, and vibrant cafes, Biarritz also provides a sophisticated shopping and culinary experience, while the city’s history unfolds through landmarks like the Phare de Biarritz and Sainte-Eugénie Church.

I recently visited Biarritz and whether I was strolling the seaside promenades, or uncovering the history, it was soon clear that this captivating city offers a wonderful mix of timeless elegance and laid-back cool that is ideal for a short break or a holiday.

When To Visit?

The best time to visit Biarritz is between May and October. Temperatures are generally quite mild and ideal for those looking to explore the region or simply relax on the many beaches along this gorgeous stretch of the French Basque Coast.

How To Get To Biarritz

The city is often overlooked by British guests due mainly to the lack of direct flights to the small but perfectly located Aeroport Biarritz Pays Basque, which is just a short 20-minute transfer and just 5 km to the city centre by taxi. Bordeaux, Bilbao and San Sebastian, all about 1-2 hours away, have airports but again limited flights from the UK.

There is however great news for those of you living in Guernsey as Aurigny Airlines are operating a one-off flight on the 28 September 2024 directly from Guernsey to Biarritz. They also feature a flight to Bilbao from Guernsey on the 12th of October 2024.

Hiring a car is simple from the airport or town. If you don’t fancy a self-drive then the local bus services are frequent and cost-effective. I travelled to Biarritz by bus from Bilbao (2 hours) via San Sebastian and was dropped off at Biarritz Airport. From there I took a short 20-minute taxi transfer costing 20 euros to the hotel.

There is also the rather amusing on-the-eye electric bus service called Txik Txak, which links the city centre of Biarritz and Bayonne directly in less than 30 minutes.

Biarritz also boasts a well-connected railway station, making it convenient for European train adventurers to visit.

Where To Stay in Biarritz?

I stayed at the beautiful 4-star Hotel de Silhouette. Built around 1600, the building is one of the oldest in Biarritz. Located opposite the Halles de Biarritz market, this charming boutique hotel is ideally positioned to explore all corners of the city. The hotel has just 21 exquisitely furnished rooms, a gorgeous bar, a restaurant, pretty gardens, and delightful staff on hand to assist with every request.

Getting Around In Biarritz

Exploring Biarritz on foot is both easy and enjoyable with the city following the contours of the coast. For sites, a little further away a very easy and cost-effective option is to use the local bus service which can whisk you from one end of the city to the other in just a few minutes.

Cycling is also popular with the rental of traditional bikes and also e-bikes readily available.

La Grande Plage

La Grande Plage is the main beach in the heart of Biarritz. Located between the Hôtel du Palais and Casino Barrière, this enormous beach offers more than just sun and sand. Take time to explore the beachfront promenade where locals proudly walk their pampered pooches, savour the fresh seafood at oceanfront eateries, or take a coffee as I did at the bustling Dodin Biarritz on the seafront.

Surfing is popular here, although I understand the better surfing beach is its neighbour, the Plage de la Cote des Basques. I will let the surfing fraternity argue that one out!

From thalassotherapy spas to family-friendly play areas, La Grande Plage is a vibrant blend of relaxation and seaside excitement.

The Plage Miramar is next to La Grande Plage, however, the currents here can at times be quite strong and so surfing is not permitted.

La Plage de La Côte des Basques

La Plage de la Côte des Basques in Biarritz is a legendary surfers’ haven, renowned for its powerful waves and vibrant surfing culture. This beautiful sandy beach, framed by dramatic cliffs, is not just a paradise for wave-riders, but also a picturesque retreat for beachgoers looking to unwind.

With its stunning natural beauty and iconic status in the surfing world, La Plage de la Côte des Basques captures the essence of Biarritz’s coastal charm.

Alongside La Plage de la Côte des Basques is the Plage Marbella, a wild beach, also popular among surfers and bodyboarders.

La Plage du Port Vieux

In between the two main beaches of La Grande Plage and La Plage de la Côte des Basques and nestled between rocky cliffs, La Plage du Port Vieux is a charming little cove offering a more secluded and intimate atmosphere.

Its golden sands and clear waters are perfect for swimming or simply relaxing on the shore, surrounded by stunning coastal scenery. I loved the little covered arcade with cute shops and cool artwork adorning the wooden shutters.

La Plage de la Milady

As always, I like to get some local recommendations and I was told that many locals favour the Plage de la Milady. I jumped on the local bus which takes just 10 minutes from the centre of Biarritz to the bus stop across the road from the beach.

Nestled between rocky cliffs, this sandy beach offers a more peaceful experience compared to the bustling centre. There is the lovely restaurant Milady Beach which is popular for cocktails at sunset and dinner overlooking the ocean.

Villa Belza

Built in the late 1880s, Villa Belza is a historic and iconic mansion. Known for its distinctive architectural style, it features a blend of Gothic and Moorish influences, creating a unique and visually striking appearance.

Originally built as a private residence, the villa has witnessed the transformation of Biarritz from a small fishing village to a fashionable seaside resort. Over the years, it has become a symbol of the city’s rich history and while not typically open to the public, it can be admired from the sea or as I did whilst walking along the coastal paths.

Aquarium Biarritz

I am not normally someone who enjoys Aquariums as I am a firm believer that animals should live wild and free in their natural environment. That said the Aquarium Biarritz or Le Musee de la Mer, is one of the most talked about visitor attractions so it would be remiss of me to ignore it.  

Located on the iconic Rocher de la Vierge, the Aquarium was created in 1935, and today showcases diverse sea life from the Bay of Biscay. As you would expect there is everything from colourful fish to hammerhead sharks and sea turtles to sea lions, along with educational exhibits and engaging displays.

The cost to enter is 16.50 euros for an adult and 12 euros for a child. To my delight, I learned that a percentage of the entrance fee goes into supporting an area out of site to the public which looks after seals and turtles that are rescued and need specialist care.

La Rocher de la Vierge

One of the most famous attractions in Biarritz is the Rocher de la Vierge, meaning “Rock of the Virgin.  Historically used as a lookout point for whale watching, the Virgin Mary statue was placed on top in 1865 after whalers were guided back to shore during a fierce storm. Then, at the instruction of Napoleon III, the rock was joined with the mainland by a wooden footbridge and later replaced with a metal one.

After you cross the metal bridge, you can look back and admire the views of the La Grande Plage, La Plage de la Côte des Basques and the Villa Belza.

Sainte-Eugénie Church of Biarritz

In the heart of the city, the Sainte-Eugénie Church of Biarritz sits on the hill above the port overlooking the Bay of Biscay. Constructed in the mid-19th century, the church is dedicated to Saint Eugenia, a Christian martyr. Known for its neo-Gothic architectural style, the church is characterized by pointed arches, ornate stained-glass windows, and a slim bell tower.

The Eglise Alexandre Newsky is located on the north side of the city. This Russian Orthodox Church was constructed in 1890 in the Neo-Byzantine style for the Russian community that frequently visited.

Port des Pêcheurs

From Sainte-Eugénie Church, there is a little path that will take you down to the Port des Pêcheurs below.

Arriving in the port you will find several well-used fishing vessels, some gorgeous fisherman’s cottages known locally as “Crampottes” and a choice of restaurants serving up fresh fish and seafood.

This is a great place to visit early morning when the boats are unloading their haul or when the restaurants are open at lunch or dinner and serving the catch of the day!

Casino Barrière Biarritz

As with Aquariums, Casinos have never been my thing, but again for those interested the art deco Casino Barrière Biarritz which was built in 1929 by the architect Alfred Laulhé is one of the symbols of the city!

I dropped by to look around but was restricted to the reception area. It seemed the receptionist sensed I wasn’t a regular gambler!

Musée Historique de Biarritz

This former 19th-century Anglican Church was transformed into the Musée Historique de Biarritz dedicated to the city’s history and culture by volunteers in 1980. Entrance costs just 6 euros, allowing you to delve into the narrative of how this small fishing village evolved into a favourite retreat for European aristocracy.

I found particular interest in the 20th-century history, detailing Biarritz’s golden era between 1919 and 1930, the economic downturn, and the impact of World War II. The 1950s marked a resurgence in tourism, shifting from aristocracy to mass tourism, eventually establishing Biarritz as the European capital for surfing!

Other museums worth visiting in Biarritz include the L’Atelier du Chocolat Museum and the Asiatica Oriental Art Museum.

Phare de Biarritz

Perched atop the cliffs and at the northern end of Biarritz, the Phare de Biarritz stands as a historic beacon overlooking the Bay of Biscay. This iconic working lighthouse was constructed in 1834 and entices visitors who can climb the 248 steps to the top for spectacular views.

There are plenty of seating areas around the lighthouse. There is also the propeller of a ship that was lost off the coast, an ancient sundial and gardens full of craggy Tamarisk trees that are common throughout the city.

Halles de Biarritz

Located in the Quartier des Halles, the Halles de Biarritz is a covered food market hall that first opened in 1885. With my lovely hotel just opposite, I was up early one morning to enjoy the many incredible stalls selling meat, fish, pastries, cheese, flowers, coffee and more. Upon chatting to one of the many jovial stall holders, I was told that the almonds grown locally are the best in the world – quite a claim and to be fair they were delicious!

This lovely market is highly recommended and is open every day from 7:30 am to 2:00 pm with additional evening hours during July and August.

Hotel Du Palais

The Hotel du Palais stands as one of Biarritz’s iconic landmarks. In 1854, Empress Eugenie de Montijo commissioned her husband, Napoleon III, to construct the magnificent Villa Eugenie. Over the next 170 years, despite a fire in 1903, the property welcomed high society from across the globe and entertained names such as Ernest Hemingway, Gary Cooper, and Barbara Streisand.

Today the Hotel is part of the Hyatt Hotels chain and welcomes not only affluent guests but visitors to drop in for a drink at the intimate Napoleon III Bar. Here you can marvel at the incredible chandelier and take a drink where Frank Sinatra once held court with friends.

I popped by for a visit one evening and enjoyed the experience – there is no advanced reservation required although if there is a major event taking place you may be turned away at the gate.

Shopping in Biarritz

One of the greatest pleasures of any stay in Biarritz is the shopping. There is the French department store Galeries Lafayette as well as familiar brands such as Max Mara, Quicksilver, and Hermes.

You’ll find plenty of cool independent shops in Biarritz, offering everything from surf gear to designer jewellery. There are also several antique shops to explore. I was drawn to the art studios and shops showcasing paintings or poster prints inspired by local artists from the vibrant tourism era of the 50s and 60s.

Coffee & Sweet Treats

Finding a delicious Patisserie or Café is not a problem in Biarritz as many will tempt you with decorative windows showcasing their cakes and pastries.

I was recommended the Patisserie Miremont, one of the oldest and most popular patisseries in the city. I loved the history of this café as it was once visited by Queen Victoria no less. With ocean views, stylish décor from yesteryear and the smooth sounds of the 1920s, it was a great place to immerse yourself in the Biarritz vibe before heading off to explore more of the city.

Another lovely coffee shop with a trendy, younger atmosphere and great brownies is the Milwaukee Cafe.

For those of you like me, who have a love of Chocolate, check out Puyodebat with its shop and salon where you can have a coffee to accompany the incredible creations from the resident chocolatier.


Another highlight of a trip to Biarritz, and France for that matter, is the cuisine.

With Biarritz so close to the Spanish border and being on the French Basque Coast, you’ll find a thriving tapas scene with restaurants serving fabulous Pintxos and Bocadillos.

For more traditional French fayre I chose the typically French brasserie and bistro, Café Du Commerce which offers a wide choice of seasonal dishes as well as Tapas, Charcuterie, and delicious fresh Salads. The prices were reasonable with main courses starting from 14 euros.

Other suggestions include:

Le Moulin d’Alotz – Discover creative cuisine in the idyllic setting of a 17th-century mill. Fabrice Idiart offers a sublime blend of traditional and plant-based cuisine.

Chistera & Coquillages – A Basque brasserie par excellence which is both authentic and friendly.

Ostalamer – Chiringuito 7 – Have a drink on the ocean-view rooftop at Chiringuito 7, then head down to the Ostalamer restaurant to sample the finest marine cuisine. Enjoy a DJ set in the late evening light as you head back up to the terrace

Bars & Nightlife

Biarritz has a vibrant and varied nightlife scene. Many of the most popular bars are near La Grande Plage or around the streets of Port Vieux including Le Bar Jean, La Tireuse and Biarritz Smugglers.

Epic – This is the most coveted rooftop bar in the area, and is located on the Plage de Côte des Basques.

Those looking for more of a lively pub then head to the Newquay Bar with its range of ales and beers. On Thursdays, they host an open mic night which draws in talented and some not so talented, musicians from across the city.

For those looking to dance the night away then the Duplex Nightclub and the Playboy Club are both located in the centre of Biarritz, and just a few minutes from La Grande Plage and the Casino.

In the Vicinity

Biarritz is in the French Basque country, but that does not mean you cannot nip over the border into Spanish Basque country and I would very much recommend it! Bilbao and its famous Guggenheim Museum are just two hours away by road while the gastronomic town of San Sebastian is one hour – you can almost smell the Pintxos from Biarritz!

The French city of Bordeaux is famed for its wine growing, however, the city is also a delight with attractions such as the Place de la Bourse Square and the Cathédrale St-André, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city of Bayonne is also not far with its 13th-century Gothic Cathédrale Ste-Marie. The traditional old town of St Jean Pied de Port is worth a visit for its medieval cobbled streets and beautiful Pont Romain bridge.

On top of these recommendations, this is Southwest France and there are countless little villages, beautiful countryside and delightful watering holes and restaurants to enjoy.

For lovers of golf, there is the Golf de Biarritz on the edge of the city near the Phare de Biarritz Lighthouse. Rated as one of the best golf courses in Europe it provides both a challenge and stunning views of the region.

Final Thoughts

Despite my visit being out of season I enjoyed my stay in Biarritz. The city effortlessly blends surf vibes with elegant charm, offering a unique holiday experience. I could only imagine surfing the waves on pristine beaches; however, I was able to explore this wonderful city and get under the skin of what is a beautiful and timeless resort.

Contact Information

For more information visit the Tourism de Biarritz website or contact your local travel agent or specialist tour operator.

Exploring Holguin & Guardalavaca, Cuba

Guardalavaca Landscape
Guardalavaca Landscape
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Nestled in the eastern part of Cuba, away from the main tourist hubs of Havana and Varadero, lies Holguín. The city is known for its rich history, vibrant culture, and untouched natural beauty. From historical landmarks to pristine beaches, Holguin offers visitors a diverse range of experiences, making it an ideal destination for those seeking an authentic Cuban adventure.

Not far from Holguín is Guardalavaca, a tropical paradise renowned for its pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and laid-back atmosphere. This coastal gem has become a sought-after destination for travellers seeking complete relaxation.

I was fortunate enough to spend a day and night in Holguin and Guardalavaca. This is what i discovered:

Historical Heritage

Holguín boasts a wealth of historical sites that weave a captivating tapestry of the city’s past.

The Plaza de la Marqueta, the city’s main square, stands as a testament to colonial architecture, with its charming layout surrounded by well-preserved buildings.

The San Isidoro Cathedral, dating back to the 18th century, adds to the city’s architectural allure.

Loma de La Cruz

For panoramic views of the city, day or night, and a touch of local folklore, the Hill of the Cross (Loma de la Cruz) is a must-visit. A climb to the summit reveals a large cross overlooking Holguín, offering breathtaking vistas of the surrounding landscapes.

Legend has it that the cross was erected to protect the city from natural disasters, making this site not only a scenic viewpoint but also a place of cultural significance.

At the top is a restaurant and a place to get refreshments while looking out across the city skyline!

Pinares de Mayarí and El Salto Waterfall

Holguín is surrounded by natural wonders so ideal for those looking to go hiking and exploring. In Pinares de Mayarí, there are hiking and birdwatching options while the Turquino National Park is home to El Salto del Guayabo, Cuba’s tallest waterfall.

Carnivals & Festivals

To get a true understanding of the atmosphere and culture of Holguin why not plan your visit during one of the traditional carnivals or festivals? August is a great time to catch one with several exciting parades, traditional music, and energetic dance performances on the streets as part of Holguín’s Annual Carnival.


The coastal town of Guardalavaca is about an hour’s drive from Holguín. Guardalavaca boasts some of the most breathtaking beaches in Cuba, with powdery white sands and turquoise waters. It is also a popular choice for sunbathing, water sports, and strolls along the shoreline.

Two of the best-known beaches in the vicinity, are Playa Esmeralda and Pesquero where you can relax in the sun or enjoy the crystal clear waters. For water sports there are catamaran rides, kayaking, boat trips and so much more, Guardalavaca provides a variety of water activities for adventure seekers

The vibrant marine life around Guardalavaca attracts diving and snorkeling enthusiasts while the Bahía de Naranjo Nature Park is a protected area near Guardalavaca and home to diverse flora and fauna. It offers opportunities for hiking, bird watching, and simply for those looking to enjoy the natural surroundings.

Experience the warmth of Cuban hospitality by engaging with the local community in Guardalavaca. Explore nearby villages, savor traditional cuisine, and immerse yourself in the authentic Cuban way of life. For ancient history head to the nearby Chorro de Maita Museum or to get a greater understanding of the sea life there is the Cayo Naranjo Aquarium.

Banes – The Birthplace of Bacardi

For a taste of culture, visit Banes, a town close to Holguín. Emilio Bacardí, the man behind the well-known Bacardi rum, was born in Banes. To learn more take a visit to the Museo Bacardí which provides information on the history of the Bacardi family as well as the technique of producing rum. The technique for drinking rum is down to you!

Where To Stay Near Holguin

I was fortunate enough to spend one night at the Gran Muthu Almirante Beach Hotel in Guardalavaca. This 5-star hotel offers great service and is in an enviable location on the beach. For families and sports enthusiasts it is a great choice.

Another option to consider for the future could be the Gran Muthu Ensenada again close to Holguin or how about heading to the Cayo Islands of Cuba and a stay at the Gran Muthu Rainbow Hotel.

Final Thoughts on Holguin

Holguín is a popular hidden gem in Cuba. From its historical sites, immaculate beaches at Guardalavaca, and cultural events – the city has much to offer those looking for a genuine and authentic experience.

I particularly enjoyed Guardalavaca with its glorious beach and high-quality hotel. I would recommend a stop here on any tour of Cuba!

With Thanks

My Thanks to MGM Muthu Hotels, Gaviota Tours and the Ministry of Tourism for Cuba (MINTUR) for sponsoring my trip to Cuba which included this trip to Holguin and Guardalavaca.

Gran Muthu Almirante Beach, Holguin, Cuba

Gran Muthu Almirante Beach Holguin Cuba
Gran Muthu Almirante Beach Holguin Cuba
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I was lucky enough to spend one night at the gorgeous Gran Muthu Almirante Beach Hotel on Guardalavaca Beach near Holguin.

This large beachfront hotel offers a perfect blend of modern comforts and tropical allure, providing an idyllic escape for both families and discerning travellers. From the moment you step into the reception, be prepared to be captivated by its stunning vistas, exquisite amenities, and warm hospitality.

Whether you seek relaxation by the turquoise waters or adventure in the vibrant surroundings, Gran Muthu Almirante Beach Hotel promises an unforgettable experience.

Getting There

After landing in Havana, travellers can opt for various transportation modes to reach Holguin and Guardalavaca.

For a swift and convenient option, domestic flights from José Martí International Airport in Havana to Frank País Airport in Holguin are I understand soon to be available.

Alternatively, travellers can embrace the scenic route by utilizing long-distance buses, offering an opportunity to witness the diverse landscapes of Cuba. The journey however is long and will take up one day of your holiday so maybe it’s best just to include Holguin as part of an island holiday tour over several days.

Gran Muthu Almirante Beach Hotel – At First Glance

On arrival at the Gran Muthu Almirante Beach Hotel, the large, bright and busy reception was alive with people coming and going. However, unlike some hotels there seemed to be a calm and order about proceedings.

The welcome from the staff was first class and gave me the feeling that this hotel would deliver a great holiday experience whether for families or couples.

Rooms & Views

The Gran Muthu Almirante Beach Hotel has 514 rooms ranging from Standard rooms to family choices and suites.

Standard Sea View rooms offer spectacular views of the sea, garden, and pool. The room is equipped with King Size or Double Bed with essential facilities and amenities such as tea and coffee, flat screen TV and a bathroom with shower.

Family rooms cater for five people while the suites offer that extra touch of comfort and luxury.

Bars & Restaurants

The Grand Muthu Almirante Beach Hotel has five restaurants, offering a choice of different flavours. How about Italian at the Rosemarino restaurant, Asian delights at Yukata or seafood at the Mar Adentro? There is an international restaurant La Roca and for those on a VIP package, there is an Elite restaurant.

You will not be short of places to enjoy a drink and a view. There is the rooftop Mirador Zafiro, the Aqua Bar, the Sala de Juegos, Bar Maharaja and Bar Mar Adentro. There are also snack bars, a lobby bar, a cigar bar and the Bar Club Nocturno to dance the night away!

I particularly enjoyed the breakfast on the terrace overlooking Guardalavaca Beach. A wide choice of hot and cold dishes in calm surroundings made even better on the morning I visited with some guys singing local Cuban and international songs to order!

Swimming Pools

There are five freshwater pools in total. There is one for recreational activities, one for activities, one for decorative purposes, one for children and one for adults in the exclusive Maharaja section.

i particularly liked the main pool with its swim-up bar and spacious areas with plenty of sun loungers.

Sport & Fitness

One of the distinguishing features of the Gran Muthu Almirante Beach Hotel is the range of sports and activities available for guests.

For those looking to work out, there is a fully equipped gym. There is a Spa that includes a beauty salon, baths, a sauna, a steam room and an outside relaxation area. Additionally, there is a swimming pool with hydro massage, Jacuzzi, massages and foot baths.

There is a children’s playground area with a waterpark, splash pool and a mini club while down on the beach, there are non-motorized water sports facilities such as kayaks, water bikes, surfing, snorkelling and catamaran.

There is a games room for billiards and other indoor games, and a theatre for regular entertainment while outside there are tennis, basketball, volleyball and soccer facilities not to mention many organised daily activities such as dance classes, aerobics, aqua gym, outdoor sports, theme parties, and barbecues.

Boutique & Gift Shop

There was a small boutique/gift shop selling beach wear, souvenirs, and toiletries.  

Meeting Room & Conferences

The Gran Muthu Almirante Hotel features indoor and outdoor banqueting and conference halls, making it an ideal location for weddings, business meetings, and other events.

In The Vicinity

Guardalavaca Beach in Cuba is not only a pristine stretch of golden sands but also a gateway to a choice of nearby attractions.

Why not take a trip to the historic Chorro de Maíta, an archaeological site that offers insights into the indigenous Taino culture?

For nature enthusiasts, Bahia de Naranjo Nature Park is a lovely excursion with its lush landscapes and vibrant marine life, ideal for snorkelling or catamaran excursions.

Holguin showcases colonial charm and the majestic Hill of the Cross, providing panoramic views of the city.

Whether indulging in water sports along Guardalavaca’s coast or discovering the region’s history, the area offers a delightful blend of sun-soaked relaxation and cultural exploration.

Gran Muthu Almirante Beach Final Thoughts

The Gran Muthu Almirante Beach Hotel is a great choice for a family holiday. This large hotel provides so many activities to keep the kids entertained whilst also giving areas to relax and unwind. The beach is superb as are the pools dotted around the grounds.

With excellent restaurants, this is a great all-around choice for a Cuban beach holiday.


To book contact your specialist Cuba Tour Operator or travel agent or contact:

Gran Muthu Almirante Beach Hotel
Calle 3, Guardalavaca, Banes, Holguín, Cuba. CP 84170 Banes, Holguín, 84170
Phone: +53 24 432801
E: reservations@muthuhotelsmgm.com
W: www.muthuhotelsmgm.com

With Thanks

My Thanks to MGM Muthu Hotels, Gaviota Tours and the Ministry of Tourism for Cuba (MINTUR) for sponsoring my trip to Cuba which included my stay at the Gran Muthu Almirante Beach Hotel.

The Cayo Islands of Cuba

Cayos of Cuba
Cayos of Cuba
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What many people, including myself were unaware of, is that Cuba is the largest single island in the Caribbean. Travelling by road from top to toe, a journey of about 850 km, takes over 10 hours! That alone should indicate that there is so much more to Cuba than just Havana and Varadero, which is often people’s understanding. Strung out along both its north and south coasts, there are said to be some four thousand Cayo Islands which are connected by causeways.

Many are uninhabited and undeveloped and some of the most isolated parts of Cuba, yet the most beautiful. They are flat and devoid of towns or villages; however the beaches are idyllic, the nature is pristine and the hotels are excellent.

I was lucky enough to visit five of these Cayos. Let’s see what I discovered:

Causeways or Pedraplens

To reach the Cayo Islands there are three main causeways or Pedraplens on the north coast which connect the northern mainland of Cuba with the islands. Trust me the best way to understand this is to look at a map but I will try my best to simplify the explanation:

The first causeway to be built, known as Pedraplen Cayo Coco is 28 kilometres long and links the mainland of Cuba, from the town of Moron near Ciego de Avila to the islands of Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo, midway down Cuba’s north coast.

The second causeway is 48 km long and links the mainland, near Caibarien, to the island of Cayo Las Brujas and then onto Cayo Santa Maria. Together, Los Cayos de Villa Clara, Cuba, Cayo Las Brujas, Cayo Santa Maria and Cayo Ensenachos, form a mini archipelago called Los Cayos de Villa Clara.

The third causeway is 12 km long and connects the mainland at Playa Jigúey with Cayo Cruz and Cayo Romano.

The Archipelagos

Now to complicate matters further, while each Cayo Island has its name they also are clustered into groups of archipelagos, such as the Jardines De Rey or the Jardines de la Reina or the Colorado’s Archipelago.

All of this can get a little confusing especially if you don’t have a map so my top tip for exploring the Cayos is to buy a good one before you arrive in Cuba as despite every effort you will struggle to find one outside of the main towns or cities and even that may not be easy.

Let’s discover the Cayos that I had the pleasure of visiting to give you an idea of what to expect:

Cayo Paredon

The opening night of my tour around Cuba was a fabulous event held on the very small island of Cayo Paredon. The event took place under the shadow of the quite magnificent Faro Paredon, a colourful working lighthouse built in the mid-19th century. At 40 metres tall this iconic Cuban landmark was the perfect setting for a night introducing everything that is Cuba – colour, cuisine, music, and the most friendly, welcoming people! 

The small diverse island of Cayo Paredon is located north of Cayo Romano, in the Jardines del Rey archipelago and is famous for the northern beaches at Playa Los Pinos, Playa del Norte and Playa Los Lirios while in the south there are mangroves and lagoons. Cayo Paredon is also popular amongst anglers for its fly fishing which is some of the best in the world.

Cayo Cruz

Nestled along the pristine shores of Cuba, Cayo Cruz invites those seeking an idyllic tropical escape. Known for its unspoiled beaches and crystal-clear waters, this secluded paradise offers a haven for relaxation and water enthusiasts. Renowned for world-class fishing opportunities, the expansive flats are teeming with diverse marine life. The laid-back atmosphere and lush surroundings create an ideal setting for beachcombing and nature walks.

Whether you’re an avid angler or a sun-seeker yearning for tranquillity, Cayo Cruz promises an enchanting retreat away from the hustle and bustle.

Cayo Coco

Cayo Coco is one of the more developed Cayo Islands in Cuba and with its range of luxury hotels, it makes an excellent choice for holidaymakers.

Embraced by the azure waters of the Caribbean, Cayo Coco stands as a tropical jewel off Cuba’s northern coast. Renowned for its pristine beaches like Playa Flamenco, this captivating island lures travellers seeking sun-kissed relaxation and water adventures. Connected to the mainland by a scenic causeway, Cayo Coco boasts all-inclusive resorts, providing a perfect blend of luxury and natural beauty.

Nature lovers flock to the island for the spectacular Birdwatchers’ Trail, home to diverse avian species, including flamingos. The vibrant coral reefs surrounding Cayo Coco beckon snorkelers and divers to explore the underwater wonders of the Jardines del Rey archipelago. Whether basking in the sun, exploring nature reserves, or partaking in water sports, Cayo Coco promises a blissful escape.

Cayo Guillermo

Perched off the northern coast of Cuba, there is the small island of Cayo Guillermo which beckons with pristine beaches and azure waters. Renowned for its stunning Playa Pilar beach, often hailed as one of the Caribbean’s finest beaches, the island lures visitors with its powdery sands and gentle surf. Adventure enthusiasts can explore vibrant coral reefs while snorkelling or diving.

This idyllic escape, once frequented by author Ernest Hemingway, offers a tranquil ambience and a peaceful realxing holiday. Cayo Guillermo provides an exclusive retreat, blending natural beauty with a touch of history, making it a sought-after destination for those seeking relaxation and outdoor pursuits.

Cayo Santa Maria

Nestled along Cuba’s northern coast, Cayo Santa Maria draws holidaymakers to its immaculate shores. Renowned for its dazzling beaches, such as Playa Perla Blanca, the island offers powdery sands kissed by the gentle Caribbean waves. A paradise for water enthusiasts, its crystal-clear waters host vibrant coral reefs, ideal for snorkelling and diving.

Cayo Santa Maria entices visitors with luxurious, all-inclusive resorts, creating an ideal setting for relaxation and indulgence. The island’s natural beauty is complemented by an array of outdoor activities, including water sports and eco-tours.

Other Significant Cayo Islands

Cayo Largo del Sur is popular for scuba divers and snorkelling. Cayo Levisa is a great place to switch off given its peaceful ambience whereas Cayo Jutias also offers an out-of-the-way haven yet with natural beauty and more of those mangrove trails that make exploration so exciting. The Isla de la Juventud on the South coast is the largest of Cuba’s islands and is quite difficult to reach so has yet to attract the hotels and much tourism.

Where To Stay In The Cayo Islands

I spent five nights at the Gran Muthu Rainbow on the island of Cayo Guillermo. This was an ideal base from which to explore the Cayos as well as parts of mainland Cuba such as Camagüey and Holguin.

Other options could be the Gran Muthu Cayo Guillermo, Gran Muthu Imperial, Muthu Colonial and the Gran Muthu Cayo Santa Maria.

Final Thoughts on the Cayos

The Cayo Islands are ideal for relaxation as the sun-soaked beaches and the general atmosphere are quite low-key. For nature lovers, divers, and bird spotters I would also recommend a stay.

A two-centre with Havana would be a good option to experience both aspects of Cuban life.

With Thanks

My Thanks to MGM Muthu Hotels, Gaviota Tours and the Ministry of Tourism for Cuba (MINTUR) for sponsoring my trip to Cuba which included my visits to each of the Cayos.