A trip around the Béarn

This was a day spent dodging the rain, but eventually it caught up with me. Thankfully I am on the western side in the Pyrénées Atlantiques. To the east on the Mediterranean side they have been experiencing massive deluges of rain with terrible flooding and so much damage. They have had 2 months of rain in 24hrs! I consider myself very lucky.

My day started of with a beautiful drive to the Bastide (fortified town) of Navarrenx, one of the Beaux villages de France. It is amazing to think that there has been a site here dating back to the 1st century. The fortifications were built in the mid 1500’s with 10 metre high ramparts, reputed to be impenetrable.

Navarrenx (hélicoptère)Obviously not my photo, but it gives you a very good idea of the fortified town.


DSCN5412There’s a LOT of wall to get through, isn’t there? I’m not suprised it was impenetrable!


DSCN5401Navarrenx has also been, and still is, a major stage of the pilgrim’s route to Santiago de Compostela, with the crossing of the Gave d’Oloron.

DSCN5406Onwards through the glorious countryside to Sauveterre-de-Béarn, a mediaeval village and originally a walled refuge, perched above the river Oloron. In the Dark Ages this was one of the main routes to Spain due to it’s old bridge. The stone part remains with the old wooden section long gone.

DSCN5422The Bridge of Legend

It is called the Bridge of Legend because, as the legend goes, in 1170 the recently widowed Queen Sancie gave birth to a still-born and malformed baby. Witchcraft was rife in those times and she was accused of killing her new-born child. So, her brother, the King of Navarre, ordered that her fate should be decided by God by having her hands and feet tied and to be thrown into the raging river below. She survived and was therefore declared innocent! Nice lot, weren’t they? From the bridge there is a lovely view of the church and the Monréal Tower. I doubt that Queen Sancie had time to take in the view.


DSCN5424The 12th century Tour Monréal

DSCN5417The 13th century Église Saint-André (Church of Saint Andrew)


The bells had rung out and everywhere was closing for lunch…well, it’s France so everything stops for 2 hours! And if you can’t beat them, join them! In such a small place, options were limited so I followed the crowd to the only restauant in sight. Initial feelings were that it wasn’t going to be that great…it looked a bit grubby and run-down, the staff were totally not bothered and one spent more time on her mobile phone than serving. That left a young chap (who looked to be about 14yrs old) to take orders, run around like a headless chicken and smile when he had time to breathe. There was no choice of menu so you had what you were given or went without! But at 13 Euros for a 3-course meal that turned out to be really excellent there was nothing to complain about.

Suitably refreshed (well, I just wanted to go to sleep really), it was time to continue my round-trip. The rain had started to fall and the clouds were lowering at every turn in the road, but I was only a short distance from Salies-de-Béarn and as I always say, you never know when you’ll be back in the area, so go and see places! I’m pleased I did.


This is the ‘Citadel of Salt’ Throughout the ages salt has been it’s lifeblood and the town has grown and developed due to the salt. The River Saleys runs through the town in a sort of long drain, set below the street level.





Along with it’s picturesque streets and buildings, Salies-de-Béarn has developed as a renowned health spa, due to the salt. If you are feeling in need, you can take the ‘cure’.

DSCN5441The Thermal Baths

It seems that you can get cured from all manner of ailments.

DSCN5443I can happily report that I am in no need of any of these being ‘cured’!

But there was a funny incident when I was wandering around and snapping pics at the Thermal Spa. A couple, perhaps their 70’s, were leaving the spa. They were in a state of semi-undress, sandals unbuckled, hair still wet and Monsieur licking his lips as if to savour every drop of salt he could manage. I have to say that they didn’t look in great shape, and Madame was wheezing and coughing whilst hanging onto old Salty Lips. Next thing…Salty was on the ground having slipped down the last step. He yelled out and of course Madame Wheeze went with him. She was NOT happy with him and whilst both were sitting on the gravel, in the pouring rain, she started yelling at him like an old fish-wife! Before anyone could get to help them, she fished in her bag and produced a hip-flask which was passed around, but not before they both lit up a cigarette! Obviously the ‘cure’ was working 🙂

Last stop of the day was a brief dip into the Basque Country and another of the Beaux Villages de France, La Bastide-Clairance. This fortified village was founded in 1288 and features the traditional and very distinctive white and red (or green) colouring, typical  of the region.




The church, Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption (1315) is unique in the region for it’s covered cemetery yard with pavements of gravestones…very unusual indeed.


DSCN5467Inside I was also amazed by the tiered wooden galleries that completely circles the nave…certainly I’ve never seen this before in my travels. I wonder if ayone else has.



I’m sure that like me, you are tired of the travelling and need a nice glass of wine! Cheers till next time.

A Bientot!

About Al in France

Dreams do come true and I am now retired and living with Maggie, my chocolate labrador, in France in the Deux-Sevres. I love travel and photography and hope to combine both interests here to make a record for myself, and somewhere where I hope you will get to enjoy a part of my life in this region, in France and further afield when I get the opportunity. Please feel free to follow and comment. A Bientot!
This entry was posted in History, Pyrénées, Weather. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A trip around the Béarn

  1. margaret21 says:

    I need to get to know this part of my former ‘patch’. And weren’t you lucky with the weather, given that this area is so green because of its high rainfall usually? A couple of my French friends are currently on ‘cure’ thanks to their health insurance. I’ll send them in this direction next time. It looks wonderful.


  2. Colin Bisset says:

    Didn’t know any of these, so thank you. Looks like Vauban was at work in the first place.


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