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Biarritz Diary: Beach Blanket Bunkers

Beloved of royals, Russians and surfers, the resort of Biarritz on France’s southern Atlantic coast also bears remnants of WWII. Located a little more than twenty miles north of the Spanish border, its broad beaches were probably too far away from England to support an Allied seaborne invasion of Europe (Normandy and Calais seems to have been the only two serious options), but the Germans did prepare coastal defenses nonetheless:


The two bunkers embedded in the cliff look down the beach at Anglet, just north of Biarritz’ lighthouse. The fortifications are more typical of German beach defenses than the gray, sea-facing bunkers that make it into movies. Military planners know that bunkers directly open to the sea will be easily put out of action by fire from ships; Anglet’s impregnable, obliquely mounted bunkers would resist any naval attack, yet their own gunfire would rake the length of the beach with deadly effect.

The contrast of such purposeful construction with bathing suit-wearing beach-goers never fails to elicit wonder in me.

Addendum: Needless to say, Soviet citizens did not buy much property in Biarritz between 1917 and 1991; Lenin, Stalin and their successors saw to that. But Biarritz still has its own cupola-sporting Russian Orthodox Church that was much used by pre-Revolutionary nobility and other wealthy citizens of the Czarist monarchy, and the memory of that time seems to have survived the Communist Party. Russian real estate investors and tourists were much in evidence during our visit. The same is true, I am told, of the French Riviera. Old traditions do not fail.


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