Over the Hills and Far Away – 7 – Last look at Biarritz
As I promised the other day, here’s few more shots from our wanderings around Milady beach in Biarritz. I noticed a strange looking house atop a hill at the far end of the beach, and discovered it was
In 1854 Biarritz’s became renowned when Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III, built a luxurious palace on the beach (now called the Hôtel du Palais). The city now has an international reputation as a glamourous seaside resort, making it much more famous than the whaling village it once was, and has been frequented by the British royal family; European royalty such as Queen Victoria, Edward VII, and Alfonso XIII of Spain. A variety of archietecture adornes the cliffs of Biarritz including one eclectic residence built by Gustave Huguenin, know for his secrecy, which faces Spain and still intrigues locals.
What goes on up on the hill of Handia? The new owner is reclusive, eccentric, and very strict about trespassing on his land and insists he does not was to be disturbed. To help him keep his privacy he has erected 2 iron fences on the 148 acres of land making it a fortress to all who would hope to visit. He is quite open that no one is welcomed on his land. Not only that but he rarely leaves his estate and has nothing to do with society in general. Who is this modern day Howard Hughes? We may never know.
In 1903, the house contained an amazing pipe organ, which now can be seen in in the church of Uzurbil, close to San Sebastian in Spain.
Sold in 1911 the building was transformed into a hospital around 1917. It then shut its doors again in 1923 and doesn’t see activity until 1939. In the 1940’s the building is requisitioned by the Pyrenees Inférieures and is used as a recovery location for refugees from the Spanish Civil War and then as a holiday resort used by Hitler’s SS Divisions (especially “Das Reich”) fighting on the Eastern front and allowed them a strategic lookout point while enjoying their time.
While fortifying the cliffs from Biarritz to Hendaye by the Todt Organization, it is found that the Castle is so enormous and built of concrete and iron that no fortifying was necessary. In 1945 the FFI staying in the castle testify to the excellent state of the castle and comment on the marble tops, woodwork, and titled floor covering the 1200m² terraces are in pristine condition.
After the turmoil of World War II the castle was left to the elements and was used as an annex for a farm. Looting also took place during this time as supplies were scarce.
Within 10 years of neglect the castle is torn apart. Fireplaces and rare marble covering first floor rooms and the organ room up to its gallery are all stolen. Fine chiseled woodwork, golden bronze doors, window frames, and anything of the remotest value are stolen. All that is left after this period of plunder are a few tiles from the terraces.
In 1958, an attempted renovation of the castle is started by a new owner, but he files for bankruptcy in 1986 and the castle is again left to the elements, looters, and squatters.
In 2002, the building is taken over by a private project for reclamation but they find the iron work of the building in sad shape. The metallic structures are badly damaged and require severe work. This slows down the progress of the project, not-to-mention that the design of the building itself (initially planned to house an organ and a couple!) makes the use of the building difficult.
In 2008 the building is a permanent residence and is guarded around the clock. Although it may appear as a ghost ship this incredible building shines once again over the Basque Coast.
We left it with fond memories and a hope that the weather would continue to hold, planning to head inland to stay in Cambo les Bains.