The 400th anniversary of Henri IV’s assassination has been the theme of a night show held in the castle every Saturday since the beginning of the year. The castle is floodlit for the occasion. From March to June, an exhibition was held in the castle’s national museum while a concert “Ball at the Henri IV court”, was given in July. In August, an equestrian show is organised in the castle’s park.
Henri IV was murdered on May 14, 1610 by fanatic monk Ravaillac, as he was blocked in his carriage in rue de la Ferronnerie in Paris, in the Les Halles quarter. Ravaillac stepped on the footboard and stabbed the King to death. With the death of Henri IV, France lost a monarch who managed to be loved by all in spite of his Huguenot origins. His conversion in 1593 – “Paris is well worth a mass”, he said – and the Edict of Nantes, by which he gave back their rights and possessions to the Protestants, earned him the nickname of “good King Henri”. As for Ravaillac, he was violently and publicly tortured on the Place de Greve in Paris and his remains were dispersed. It was never clear who had ordered the killing.
Pau is proud of its past as a pioneering town for aviation. It was first a haven for aerostation thanks to the presence in town of James Gordon Bennett or Gaston and Albert Tissandier. In January 1909, Pau welcomed the famous Wright brothers, who inaugurated the first flying school in history. Soon, Louis Bleriot and air companies Voisin, Antoinette, Deperdussin, Morane Saulnier and Nieuport, followed.
In 1912, the French army chose Pau as its base to form its future pilots. Pau’s air base trained more than 6,000 pilots, including celebrities like Guynemer, Roland Garros or Vedrines as well as the American volunteers of the La Fayette squadron. Pau’s aircraft history is now displayed in an exhibition in the Palais Beaumont.
The Adour area remains an important centre for aircraft industry and several world-leading companies are based around Pau: Daher-Socata
for turbine mono-engined aircraft, Dassault-Aviation for business jets, Messier-Dowty for undercarriages, and Turbomeca for helicopter turbines. These companies keep Pau up and flying.
Pau welcomed the Tour de France 62 times, which makes it the race’s third favourite halt after Paris and Bordeaux. The winners list in town reads like a cycling Who’s Who. Since Alfredo Binda, who opened the ball in 1930, Robic, Coppi, Bahamontes, Gimondi, Hinault, Kelly, Delgado, Chiappucci or Pereiro raised their arms on the finish line.
Binda’s inaugural victory deserves to be looked into as it was only one of two by the most gifted rider of the time, who won the next day in Luchon. Binda, who had thought about becoming French when he turned professional, took part in this 1930 Tour only, shunning the race for the rest of his career. An extremely powerful athlete, he was the first ever rider to stay on the saddle in the hardest climbs. Rene Vietto used to describe him this way: “You could put a glass of water on his head and he would climb the Tourmalet without losing a drop”. Three times world champion, winner of 41 Giro stages, Binda finally won the Tour four times… as Italy’s team director.
His compatriots have since emulated Binda in Pau to the point that the last three winners here were Italians.
Pau is also the town which saw the first stage victory by a Soviet rider when Dmitry Konyshev won in 1990.
A number of active riders were born in Pau like Stpehane Auge, Mathieu Ladagnous or Herve Duclos-Lassalle.
|11th century||Building of a castle to control the Gave (river) halfway between Lescar, the bishop see, and Morlaas, fief of the viscounts of Bearn.|
|1188||Gaston VI of Bearn gathered his cour majour in the castle called Pau since the beginning of the century.|
|13th century||Gaston Febus fortifies and enlarges the castle.|
|1464||Pau becomes the fourth capital of Bearn after Lescar, Morlaas and Orthez.|
|1512||Pau becomes the capital of the kings of Navarre.|
|1589||Henri IV is crowned king of France.|
|1796||Pau becomes the prefecture of the Basses Pyrenees department.|
|1830||Pau becomes a favourite holiday destination for the British.|
|1909||Pau becomes one of the capitals of the aircraft industry.|
|1951||Discovery of gas in Lacq, which boosts the town’s economy.|
Prefecture : Pau
Population : 643,000
Web site : www.cg64.fr
Between the Gascony Gulf and the Pyrenees, Pyrenees Atlantiques is the 10th biggest department in France. In the south, the Pyrenees stand as high as the eye can see while the North is covered in valleys. Pyrenean rivers – the “gaves” – shape narrow valleys through the mountains which widen into large plains. The Bearn province was extremely wealthy up to the Revolution and declined in the 19th century. The discovery of natural gas in Lacq created a new petrochemical industry while thermal waters and good wines have been known for a very long time.
The town is mostly known for its wines. In the 16th century, the princes of Bearn introduced the notion of “cru” before any other wine region in France, in order to protect the authenticity of the Jurancon wines. In 1553, Jurancon wine made history when the newly born Henri of Navarre, the future King Henri IV, was baptised with a drop of Jurancon and a bit of garlic on his lips. The current grapes are derived from the original ones: gros Manseng, petit Manseng or Courbu. Whatever the grape, the best bottles are obtained by successive selections. Whereas in Sauternes, a mushroom is responsible for extracting water from the grapes, in Jurancon, the same result is obtained thanks to the drop in temperatures between day and night. Jurancon has been an AOC since 1936.
The original town of Iluro, named after a local divinity, was destroyed by the Normans in 835 and disappeared for two centuries. It reappeared in 1060 when bishops settled in the small chapel Ste Marie built on the other side of the river Aspe. Twenty years later, the viscounts of Bearn built a new town on the spot of the old one. It soon became a fortified halt on St James Way. Two rival towns grew on each side of the river but they were later merged by a decree of Empress Eugenie in 1858.
The town was one of the main Episcopal towns of Bearn from 5000 to 1802. Its Ste Marie cathedral, built between the 12 and the 14th century is a World Heritage site thanks to its position on St James Way. Its construction was ordered by Gaston IV the Crusader, Viscount of Bearn, who was the main promoter of the roman art in the region. From the original church, only the great door survives. It is noteworthy for the sculptures executed by two unnamed artists.
In 1283, Gaston VII created fortifications around the 17 local houses and made the inhabitants freemen. There were three churches in the 15th century but only one reached us, St Martin, rebuilt in 1534 on its original setting.
The Castle of Abere belonged to Goalhard de Badie in the 12th century and passed on to the Abere family in 1501. During the Religion Wars, in August 1569, D’Abere received Protestant captain Montgomery in the castle. The following day, he was murdered in his castle with his two daughters by Catholic chief Bonasse. Since the 19th century, the castle has belonged to the Luppe family.
Prefecture : Tarbes
Population : 235,000
Web site : www.cg65.fr/
Hautes Pyrenees has a population of 220,000, split between the three distinct sectors which form the department, mountains, valleys and plains. In the south, the Pyrenees are a high barrier marking the Spanish border – 35 peaks reach 3,000 metres or more. Tourism is the main activity, especially thanks to Lourdes, the world’s second pilgrimage centre, and the Gavarnie Circus, a World Heritage site. Another important site is the Pic du Midi, which can be reached by a lift leading to the 600 m2 panoramic terraces revealing a breathtaking view on the summits. Ski resorts are plenty – 12 in all including Luz-Ardiden, Hautacam and St Lary, familiar to Tour aficionados. Hydrotherapy is also a tradition in Argeles-Gazost, Bareges-Barzun or Beaucens. An ideal Pyrenean meal always starts with a garbure, a soup made of beans, ham bone, bits of duck and goose confit, cabbage, carrots, turnip, onion and garlic.
Arrens and Marsous merged in 1972. Arrens spreads on a 7-km ridge along the Spanish border in the Balaitous massif. It is the economic heart of the Val d’Azun.
The Golden Chapel, built and restored from the 12th to the19th century is an architectural treasure overlooking the village. A hostel was built on its flanks to host the pilgrims on St James Way. It was enlarged and enhanced many times but the most important works took place after the visit by Queen Hortense, the mother of Napoleon III, in 1807. The entrance is a huge gate preceded by a porch toped by a dome. The ground is the original rock, which has been levelled by Lourdes quarry-workers. The steps were also carved in the rock itself and a spring was originally running through the chapel.
Lead and brass quarries were exploited for a long time in this lovely village. The St Martin church is a picturesque mountain church with a big square tower. Inside, a beautiful vault with painted wood panels was executed in 1696 by Guillaume Pujo de Nay and other unnamed artists. On the top of the village, the Castelnau d’Azun fortress, currently being restored, reminds that the village once belonged to the English under the Black Prince.
The Bareges valley; one of seven valleys in the Lavedan county, once was a small independent Republic with its own customs. It was called the valley of the Toys, inhabited by mountaineers who proudly defended their freedom and were never subdued.
The thermal baths were revived in the 18th century – after the visit of Madame de Maintenon (see elsewhere) – and the small thermal village became a commune in 1946. Its waters are used in traumatology, dermatology and to cure rheumatisms.
Of course, Tourmalet is one of cycling’s monuments and the sport made it a household name when it was only known by a few mountaineers. But the slopes of the Pyrenean giant are also an ideal playground for other sports which have always been in good terms with cycling. In La Turbie, the resort director has been for years one of the best fullback in French rugby union history, Jean-Michel Aguirre, while French Tennis Federation president Jean Gachassin, himself a former rugby international, was a brilliant skier who left his mark in La Turbie. Skiing, of course, keeps the Tourmalet busy in the winter when the pass is closed. Annie Famose, whom we already met in Avoriaz on this Tour, is the most famous skier from Bareges, where a piste is named after her. Nowadays, downhill specialist Adrien Theaux, who took part in the Vancouver Olympics, keeps the ski flame alive in the Pyrenees even though the Tarbes-born skier now lives Val Thorens. One of the greatest snowboarders of all time, Mathieu Crepel, also learnt his sport on the slopes of the Tourmalet. It is part of the mountain’s magic that some go up it in the summer when others go down it in the winter.
In 1675, Madame de Maintenon, mistress of King Louis XIV, went from Bareges to Bagneres de Bigorre by the Tourmalet in a Sedan chair. It was at the time, in spite of the altitude, the safest way to go since the valley road was often flooded or littered with stones. Francoise d’Aubigne, who was then 40, was looking after the Duke of Maine, the King’s son, who had come to Bareges to cure articular problems preventing him from walking normally. He would be a limp his whole life. Her nurse, who was made a marquise that year, always treated “the little duke” as her own son. The Duke of Maine spent most of the summer in Bareges and made some progress. “The Duke of Maine walks and even though it is not very vigorously there is ground to hope that he will some day walk like us”, Madame de Maintenon wrote in October.
The marquise returned to Bareges twice and always recommended the baths to her friends. She became the King’s mistress that same year and married him secretly nine years later.
The Souvenir Henri Desgrange is awarded every year on the highest summit in the Tour and it will be handed this year at the top of the Tourmalet. Yet someone important was missing when the race went on top of it for the first time in 1910 – Henri Desgrange himself.
The Tour founder had been reluctant to include the Tourmalet on his itinerary and its presence on the course and frightened a number of riders. There were only 110 men at the start of that edition. The Perpignan to Luchon stage, with its first climbs in the Pyrenees, did not boost Desgrange’s morale. Riders had told him bluntly before the start what they thought of his initiative and when the stage reached Luchon, the mood was even worse. Desgrange suddenly fell ill and chose to stay in Luchon for a little bit of hydrotherapy, handing the reins of the race to Victor Breyer, a boxing expert who could use his fists in case of need. Desgrange was probably right to take the derivation. Stage winner Octave Lapize, who was also first at the top of the Tourmalet, used only one word to describe the organisers: “Criminals!” The crime has remained unpunished for a 100 years!
|1675||Madame de Maintenon climbs the Tourmaket in a Sedan chair to take the young Duke of Maine to the thermal baths of Bareges.|
|1774||Scientists Monge and Darcet climb up the Pic du Midi de Bigorre for atmospheric observations.|
|1910||The Tour climbs the Tourmalet for the first time. Octave Lapize is fist at the top.|
|1913||Eugene Christophe repairs his bike’s fork in a forge in Ste Marie de Campan.|
|1945||First skilift in La Mongie.|
|1974||Jean-Pierre Danguillaume wins the only stage to date finishing on the top of the Tourmalet.|
|1985||World Cup ski races in La Mongie.|
|2010||Centenary of the first Tourmalet climb on the Tour.|
PIC DU MIDI
Before being an astronomic base, the Pic du Midi had been used for weather forecasts. As early as 1774, scientists Monge and Darcet climbed on top of it to study atmospheric pressure and in 1873, General de Nansouty installed a weather station in which he measured pressures, temperatures, humidity and other figures of interest. The first astronomic observations only started in 1884. Little by little, the observatory became devoted to a astronomy, botanic studies and cosmology. Threatened with destruction, it was saved in 1996 and open to the public in 2000.
STE MARIE DE CAMPAN FORGE
Eugene Christophe, known as the old Gaul, repaired his bike’s fork in this forge in the 1913 edition. A plaque reminds the feat.