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The last thing I expected to see when I arrived at the Palmito hotel in Biarritz, France, was the greeting “Aloha!”
I was meeting a friend in the seaside resort to kick off a weeklong trip through the Basque region that straddles France and Spain in the western Pyrenees. She arrived first and, unable to check into the hotel until I arrived, decided to wait for me at the Palmito food market and tiki bar across the street from the hotel.
Photo: Alex Bresler
Palmito’s property occupies two sides of Rue du Port-Vieux, a pedestrian street that connects downtown Biarritz to the Old Port. From the street, you can see the waters of the Bay of Biscay rippling seaward from the Old Port Beach. Plage du Port-Vieux is smaller and quieter than Biarritz’s main beach, Grande Plage, which is a short 15-minute walk from the hotel, but you’ll nonetheless see swimmers and loungers spread out on the half-moon cove at all hours of the day.
Really, everything in Biarritz is walkable from the hotel — even the airport, as my friend discovered, which is technically located in the neighboring town of Anglet. It was still light outside when she landed around 9:30 PM, and the journey to the city center only took about 35 minutes on foot.
Photo: Alex Bresler
I arrived an hour later and hailed a taxi, cutting the travel time from the airport down to about 15 minutes. When I arrived at the Palmito food market, I found my friend snacking on a quesadilla alongside a healthy crowd of late-night diners. The food market is made up of a handful of mini-kitchens specializing in everything from Basque cuisine to Taiwanese street food, with both sit-down service and takeout windows that run until 11 PM. The bar stays open until 2 AM.
Despite the mixed fare, the Palmito food market leans heavily into the tiki-bar aesthetic, with a faux thatched roof and a palm-frond arrangement crowning the awning. The look carries over to the hotel, starting with the surfboard display in the front hall. In fairness, Biarritz has had a surf culture of its own since the 1950s when wave-catchers discovered the consistent swells at beaches such as Grande Plage and Côte des Basques. Today, it’s a popular spot for European surf competitions such as the Quiksilver Pro France and Roxy Pro France.
Photo: Alex Bresler
As far as the hotel’s clientele is concerned, surfers would fit right in. Somewhere between a boutique hotel and a stylish hostel, Palmito has 18 accommodations that range from private and shared rooms to a rooftop suite. The shared rooms are separated by gender with six capsule beds in the male dorm and four capsule beds in the female dorm. There’s also a room designed specifically for families that comes with a queen bed and an additional set of bunk beds. The largest room, the Palmito Suite, resembles a two-bedroom serviced apartment with two queen beds, a sofa bed that can comfortably accommodate two people, and two bathrooms.
My friend and I — both 30-something remote workers — booked a private room within a few days of our arrival for 70 euros ($75) per night. Our room was small but trendy and nicely appointed, with a private patio that made the space feel considerably larger when it came time to work, as did the communal lounge on the second floor and the food market across the street (although the WiFi was much stronger in the hotel).
Long past our backpacking days, we were slightly apprehensive about the crowd that Palmito would attract as a hybrid hotel and hostel. But we quickly learned that Palmito is no youth hostel. If anything, I’d describe it as a youthful hostel, having encountered a variety of guests who appeared to be young in spirit if not actually in age, from a family with a toddler, to an older couple, to a group of 20-something British bachelorettes who’d booked the Palmito Suite.
If it’s hard to categorize Palmito, it’s probably because the hotel has evolved over four generations of ownership. The latest iteration delivers a carefully curated aesthetic and ecological awareness, providing guests with environmentally friendly bath products and locally sourced produce at breakfast, an all-you-can-eat buffet for 15 euros ($16.50).
One thing that’s remained constant throughout the years is the hotel’s “values of conviviality, sharing, and family” as outlined on the website — whether you’re vacationing with relatives, traveling around the Basque region with a good friend, or bunking with fellow solo travelers who could end up becoming lifelong buddies.