Now a renowned destination worldwide, Biarritz was merely a small whaling port until the 17th century. The location of the port, nestled in a sheltered inlet, and its gently sloping beaches made it an excellent site for hunting these large mammals. When whales began to become rare in the Bay of Biscay, Basque sailors either emigrated or became infamous pirates, such as Michel le Basque or Junqua de Bayonne. The town's coat of arms bears witness to its past, depicting a whale being pursued by a number of sailors.
The fame of the resort began to grow in the 19th century, when sea bathing became fashionable. The Empress Eugénie played a significant role in developing this fame. As a child, she spent her holidays in Biarritz and, after her marriage, she introduced her husband, Napoléon III to the resort. He built her a superb residence, Villa Eugénie, and transformed the town by commissioning major works (tunnel, breakwater, etc.), welcoming all the royals in Europe.