Six departments: Dordogne, Gironde, Landes, Lot-et-Garonne, Pyrénées Atlantiques.
Aquitania (near the sea) in Occitan, Gascon, Languedocian and Limousin. Aquitania and Akitania in Basque and Aquitaina in Poitevin Saintongeais. Palaeolithic Aquitaine has left vestiges at Brassempouy and the remarkable Lascaux cave paintings (17,000 BC).
Eths pirénéu atlanticq in Gascon Occitan; pirinio atlantikoak in Basque. The department was called Basses-Pyrénées when it was carved out of the Béarn region on 4 March 1790 and renamed Pyrénées Atlantiques on 10 October 1969.
French is the official language, but road signs are bilingual (French-Basque) and the regional language is taught in public schools.
Basque (Euskara), is spoken in the French Basque country’s villages. Béarnais is the regional language in Béarn and Gascon in the Bayonne–Anglet–Biarritz metropolitan area. Road signs in Bayonne are trilingual: French, Basque and Gascon. Béarnais is taught in some public schools.
As in the Gers and Landes, local food specialities include foie gras, pipérade, Madiran, Pacherenc, Jurançon and Irouliguy.
Chicken-in-a-pot has been Béarn’s signature dish since Henry IV made it famous, but garbure is also a speciality.
Basque food specialities include axoa, chicken Basquaise, Basque cake and Bayonne ham, which provides the excuse for a festival in early May.
Administrative centre of the canton of the Pau district.
Gaston III of Moncade built Orthez, which, after Morlaàs and before Pau, was the capital of Béarn for 200 years. The wars of religion shook the town, which lost its status as capital in 1569. It had an independent Protestant university until 1620.
Orthez’s coat of arms features a four-arched bridge surmounted by a crenellated tower. It is in silver faced with sand, with two gold keys. The town’s motto is “Toquoy si gaouses”, which means “Touch it if you dare”.
Orthez has several noteworthy buildings, including the 13th-century Saint Peter’s church, which took 100 years to build and was confiscated by the Protestants in the 16th century; Moncade Tower from 1250; the old bridge, dating from the 13th and 14th centuries, which still spans the Gave and withstood onslaughts by Montgomery’s troops in 1569 and the Duke of Wellington’s in 1814.
The Reclus left their mark on Béarn in the 19th century. Elisée is the family’s best-known member because so many streets in France are named after him. Onésime (1827–1916), a pastor’s son, was a geographer. He coined the term francophonie in a book, France, Algérie et colonie, in order to promote the learning of the French language.
Elisée Reclus (1830), a geographer, political activist and anarchist thinker, wrote L’homme de la terre and the 19-volume Nouvelle géographie universelle.
Considered a founder of nudism, which “develops socialisation”, Elisée Reclus had planned to make a 1:10,000 scale globe to study the planet.
Navarrenx was originally called Sponda Navariessi, or ““the wood of the bed of the Navarrais” or the “edge of the Navarre”. As time went by the town was also known as Navarrensis, Navarrencx, Navarrencal and Nabarrencx (Nabarrencx in Béarnais, Nabarrenks in Basque).
A charter dates the origin of Navarrenx’s present spelling to 1078.
A wooden bridge was built over the Gave d’Oleron in 1188.
Navarre is the name of a robusto cigar made in the town, which produces 100,000 of them every year. Vin et cigares magazine rated it among the world’s best three cigars in 2006.
Mauléon Licharre has origins stretching back to 1261, when Prince Edward I of England forced the viscounts of Soule to submit to him. He fortified Villeneuve les Tardets (today known as Tardets), Soholus and Mauléon.
The Gave du Saison splits Mauléon in two. The eastern part includes the castle overlooking a fortress; the western part, which used to be a separate town, has become a commercial and industrial quarter where rope espadrilles are made, making Mauléon the Basque country’s leading manufacturing centre.
The noteworthy Hôtel de la Maytie, in the lower town, is the Basque country’s most beautiful Renaissance house. Built by the Bishop of Oloron in the 17th century, this magnificent palace has a huge roof, mullioned windows and square corner towers.
Tardets Solhorus is known for its AOC Iraty as well as Basque linen and umbrellas. It is the birthplace of Augustin Chaho, a Romantic writer and Basque patriot.
Tardets has a chapel with Basque inscriptions. The agriculture museum has a fine exhibit of farm implements, old clothes and decorative objects for Basque homes.
Licq Atherey is popular with kayakers, who practice the sport on the tumultuous waters of the Saison. The Akerbeltz brewery, which makes artisanal beer, offers tours and tastings.
Larrau, a mountain village on the pilgrimage route to Compostella, is home to Saint John the Baptist church, which was sometimes a hospital, other times a priory. It is at the bottom of a hill with the same name where doves are hunted. Relatively easy hikes from here to the Holzarte Gorges start at the Logibar inn.
Navarre Province has 528,837 inhabitants living in 17 autonomous communities. The capital is Pamplona. Ninety percent of the population speaks Castilian and 10% Basque. Both languages are allowed in towns and government offices. Navarre lies between Rioja, Aragon and the French Basque country. It is one of the Basque country’s seven provinces.
Arette, located where the borders of the Basque country, Béarn and Spain meet, is the village of France’s former national Olympic committee president, Nelson Paillou, who was born in Bordeaux in 1924 and died in a traffic accident near Arette in November 1997.
Arette has the Baretous House, where you can see the Junte de Roncal, the ancestral treaty that has united the French and Spanish for over 600 years. The document established a lasting peace between Béarn and Navarre.
The name Marie-Blanque comes from mari (without an “e”) blanque, a vulture that feeds on carrion.
Belgium’s Michel Pollentier won the first Marie-Blanque Pass race during the 1978 Tour de France. Bernard Thevenet, the outgoing winner, gave up due to exhaustion.
Cyril Dessel won the Marie-Blanque in 2006.
The village of Bielle dates back to Caesar’s Roman occupation in 51 BC.
The promenade along the stream is a huge playground (cycling and pony-riding on marked trails) and the Maison du Lac, a nature centre dedicated to water, flora, fauna and hydrology, has fun, interactive exhibits about the environment.
Laruns opened the Pyrenees National Park visitors’ centre on 8,000 hectares of land in Ossau Valley. In July and August, the park rangers teach classes about the fauna, flora and rural life. Visitors can watch hawks, marmots and izzards with them.
This year is the first time since 1910 that the summit of Aubisque Pass will be the Gourette stage’s arrival point. Once called Les Eaux-Bonnes, Gourette, the resort associated with the event, used to lie on the ancient road. In 1881, the municipal council authorised archaeological excavations in Gourette, where gold and silver ore were once mined. During the winter of 1932-1933, the Arre mining company employed 33 workers in galleries 2,100 meters above sea level. An avalanche killed 17 of them, including 13 Italians. Then the mine moved from Arre to neighbouring Anglas. In 1890, 100 miners managed to extract 40 tons of crushed ore per day.
Then the ore was carried by cartloads to Laruns, and from there to Bayonne by rail before being exported to Spain and England. In 1888, 3,720 tonnes were extracted, the best output until 1916.
In 1930, Gourette had the road paved, installed electricity, set up a bus line and had the first heated chalet built. At the time, that was the height of luxury for the wealthy residents from Bordeaux who came here to enjoy winter sports.
In 2001, Gourette invested several million euros to modernise the resort’s lower section, which has been magnificently redesigned. Part of the budget was earmarked to improve the slopes, install new, ultra-modern ski lifts and eliminate approximately 100 useless, hazardous, unsightly pylons.
“Green Mountain” honey is produced at an outstanding site in Gourette. Philippe and Suzanne invite you to learn about bees, an insect species where the queen makes workers toil. Her life expectancy is three times longer than theirs!
In the first stretch of the 16th stage of the 1971 Tour de France, Luchon-Gourette (145 km), which took place the day after Luis Ocana fell in a rainstorm while descending the Mente Pass wearing the yellow jersey and dropped out, Bernard Labourdette, who was born in Lurbe Christau, a small village in the canton of Oloron Sainte-Marie and a teammate of the Castilian from Mont-de-Marsan on the Bic team, took revenge by winning this beautiful stage in the Pyrenees in a torrential downpour, passing the great Eddy Merckx, Van Impe and Zoetemelk in Gourette–Les Eaux Bonnes.
As the bouquet was being handed to him on the wind-swept podium, a strong gust blew it away – a sight seldom seen in the Tour de France.