Béarn

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Presentation and Geography

Béarn forms with the Basque Country the department of Pyrénées Atlantiques. Nestled between the majestic chain of the Pyrenees to the south and the Landes and Gers department to the north, Béarn has an identity marked by the image of its neighbor Basque. Here the roots and traditions are strong, as much as the climate is mild.

Béarn in France

Béarn is plural. It is made up of Pyrenean peaks (with among others the majestic Pic du Midi d'Ossau), valleys where tumultuous gaves flow (the name of the local wild rivers), green hills installed on the foothills of the Pyrenean chain. and vineyards, such as Madiran and Jurançon. It is a festival of colors, bluish gray slates that protect the roofs as far as Pau to the ocher tiles from the north of the region...

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Pau is the capital of Béarn. It is also the prefecture and the second city of Aquitaine with an agglomeration of about 180,000 inhabitants. It is a pleasant city where it is good to walk, to make heritage visits and to shop ! If the Basque Country which shares the number 64 of the department, is turned towards the coast, the Bearn offers an incredible diversity of landscapes, an ocean of greenery and mountains of medium to high altitude, which nature lovers know how to appreciate.

Béarn is a restful and cultural destination, there are Pau, Orthez, Lescar and Jurançon which are large cities pleasant to visit, but above all many charming small villages, nestled in the heart of green valleys, such as Laruns, Navarrenx, Sauveterre- de-Bearn... and it is through these places that we learn about the history of France and Europe.

Discover our article on the most beautiful villages of Béarn, to organize your road trip without missing the treasures and jewels of this beautiful territory.


Sauveterre de Béarn
Sauveterre-de-Béarn


It was the hydrotherapy and the mild climate that first attracted tourists in the 19th century. People flock to Salies-de-Béarn, its very salty waters are recommended for rheumatic ailments. The discovery of its waters and their multiple uses is not new, since already in the Bronze Age, the waters of Salies-de-Béarn were used for preserving food. It is only much later that we see that the inhabitants of the city, who regularly bathe in the waters, are more robust and less sick ! Having medically observed the thermal effects of the waters, Charles Nogaret gave the impetus for the construction of the first thermal building. Other towns have thermal baths, such as Eaux-Bonnes or Eaux-Chaudes. The cures are for medical purposes and sometimes for relaxation and tourism, to take advantage of the benefits of these mineral laden waters, which soothe ailments, heal and relax.

Salies-de-Béarn   Salies-de-Bearn
Salies-de-Béarn


Béarn does not hide its affection for gastronomy, let's face it, we will eat well during a visit to Béarn ! Here, we discover duck and poultry specialties, such as hen-au-pot, garbure, foie-gras, duck breast. Farms and small producers will be essential stops for gourmets. Béarn is also the homeland of appetizing little cakes, chocolate specialties, jams and naughty sweets (as at Francis Miot in Pau). Would you dare to forget your cheeses ? There is plenty to prepare gargantuan platters with Ossau Iraty, fresh cheese specialties made from sheep's milk, or with a cow-sheep mix like in Barousse cheese...

Do you like cheese ? Read our article on Béarn cheeses for gourmets, which deals only with cheese from Béarn, enough to savor delicacies from valley to valley, made with cow's or sheep's milk !



Gastronomy
A delicious local lamb, tender and accompanied by a creamy sauce


Béarn is in the heart of the Pyrenees and in the Aspe and OssauValley you are in the Pyrenees National Park, which also extends to the neighboring Hautes-Pyrénées. Created in 1967, its vocation is the protection of local flora and fauna species, this very rich biodiversity of inestimable value. National Parks combine human and tourist activities with the protection of nature, through strict regulations that apply to residents, tourists and entrepreneurs. In Etsaut near Borce in the Aspe Valley, there is the Maison du Parc which is an interesting starting point for excursions. In the region, you can go on wonderful hikes, horseback riding, mountain biking, observe wild animals: falcons, vultures, eagles, ibex, squirrels, marmots, ermines...

The most beautiful walks ? They are in our articles on bike rides in the Béarn, for sports or walking lovers, because you can also explore them on foot...


Pic de l'Escurets Ossau Valley
The Pic de l'Escurets in the Ossau Valley

The climate of Béarn

Thanks to its privileged location at the foot of the Pyrenean chain, Béarn has a mild climate , especially in winter when the southerly wind (foehn) crosses the Pyrenees and brutally heats the foothills of Oloron as far as Pau. (we can then frequently cross 20° in the middle of winter !)

However, with more than 3000m of altitude difference between the highest point and the lowest point of the region, the climate of course cools very quickly from the plains of Aquitaine to the summits, covered with snow for a good part of the year.

In autumn, especially when the southerly wind operates, you will appreciate a wonderful palette of colors, from the green of the hills, to the yellow of the leaves, to the white of the first snows on the summits.

In the plains, the annual temperature variation is moderate, the rains often abundant. On the other hand, winter is characterized by a very long period of sunshine... You will also notice the very many palm trees planted throughout the territory, they thrive very well in this climate !

The Boulevard des Pyrénées in Pau
The Boulevard des Pyrénées in Pau Photo @ Lesley Williamson

The history of Béarn

Béarn has more than 1000 years of existence and it is a lord of the Middle Ages, Centulle, who made it from the start a very independent and autonomous region, by conquering, from the then capital, Morlaàs, the region d'Oloron then the Pyrenean valleys.

Then came the reign of the Gaston line (including the most famous, Gaston Fébus) who over the conquests, will make the wealth of Béarn, and will build Abbeys and paths leading to Compostela. As part of a game of alliances, Gaston Fébus will even become King of Navarre, crowned in Pamplona.

Catherine d'Albret, his aunt, succeeded him after his death, and despite the wishes of Charles Quint, the Albrets, very powerful, will keep for a long time an important kingdom and the title of " Kings of Navarre ". They will install the Cour Majour in Pau, which will later become the Parliament of Navarre.

Constitution Kingdom of Navarre When Jeanne d'Albret gave birth to her son, Henri III of Navarre, she did not yet know that the latter, when he acceded to the throne of France to become Henri IV of France, would first request authorization to climb on the throne in the Parliament of Navarre. Béarn will remain sovereign for a long time to come.

It was only at the instigation of Louis XIII that the legal regime of Béarn was finally modified. In 1620, Béarn was then attached to the crown of France and became a French province like the others.

Another important date in the history of Béarn, on January 12, 1790, the National Assembly created the Department of the Basses Pyrenees bringing together the three Basque provinces (Labourd, Basse Navarre and Soule), the Gascon lands of Bayonne and Bidache and Béarn.

Finally, in 1969, the department of the Basses Pyrenees was renamed Pyrénées Atlantiques, it took several centuries of history for the fate of Béarn to merge with national history...

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Map of Béarn

Discover Béarn, 5 areas to explore

We invite you to discover in detail the department of Béarn, through these 5 regions, which all have their charm and are conducive to nature holidays :

  • Navarrenx and Béarn des Gaves : Between mountain streams with blue waters and medieval towns full of character, come to this region to walk, do sports in the wild waters, appreciate the local culture and why not hydrotherapy ?

  • The Cœur de Béarn and the Vic-Bilh : In the north-east of the department, you are almost in the plain and enjoy beautiful views of the Pyrenees. Here, it is a land of vineyards, you can take a beautiful walk along the wine châteaux, to discover Jurançon, Madiran (very close) and Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh. Orthez is the largest city in this territory.

  • The Pyrenean Valleys : Conquering the 3 valleys of the Béarn Pyrenees ! The Valleys of Ossau, Aspe and Barrétous are territories with fantastic landscapes, magical in all seasons. Go to Oloron Sainte-Marie, one of the oldest towns in Béarn, admire the Pic du midi d'Ossau and its jagged peaks, stop at small farms, to taste local products, fish, cheeses, honey, meat... Between the Basque Country, the Hautes-Pyrénées and Spain, this is a region with many facets, for lovers of nature and small picturesque villages.

  • Pau and its surroundings, the Jurançon and Madiran vineyards : Pau is an attractive city, which has many assets and which has been popular for centuries thanks to its pleasant climate, its strategic geographical position and its rich cultural past. Visit of course, the castle of Pau, birthplace of the famous King Henri IV, take a walk on the Boulevard des Pyrénées with its ocean of mountains in front of you and its palm trees that will remind you of a certain town on the French Riviera ! Take the funicular and shop in the city's pedestrianized streets. Then on to the Jurançon and Madiran vineyards, not far from Pau. Yellow color and sweet fruity aromas for Jurançon and a beautiful deep red color, suave and structured flavor for Madirans... To taste with Béarnaise gastronomy of course.

  • The Pays de Nay : In the south-east, the Pays de Nay is a little apart, it tilts towards the Hautes Pyrénées, towards the Bigorre. It is a land of pilgrimage and tradition, of artisans and gastronomy, nestled in the heart of the mountains.

Vic Bilh
The Landscapes of Vic Bilh, with the Pyrenees mountain range in the background

NavarrenxNavarrenx
Navarrenx, on the banks of the Gave d'Oloron, suitable for nautical activities, fishing ...

The Tourist Sites of Béarn

Béarn has many natural riches to discover. Tourist sites allow you to appreciate its qualities, landscape, fauna or culture. First of all, you can count on museums. They are about 25, scattered over the territory. Between the state museums, the ecomuseums to find out more about the Béarnais lifestyle, heritage and art museums and visits to emblematic places, you will not be disappointed.

Here is our article which lists the museums in Béarn and offers you a quick overview of the things to discover there.


Salt Museum of Salies de Béarn
Salt Museum of Salies de Béarn

You can also visit the beautiful villages, the characterful bastides of Béarn. Many points of interest will allow you to compose an interesting and eclectic road trip. The small villages that are scattered throughout the valleys are sometimes more difficult to reach and do not forget, when preparing your stay in Béarn, to look not only at the kilometers, but also the journey times, which take into account the altitude...

Read our article on the prettiest villages in the Béarn Pyrénées.


Oloron Sainte Marie
Oloron Sainte-Marie
Campmagne Béarnaise
The Béarnaise countryside in the plains, a climate very favorable to agriculture

Local Béarn products

Béarn is a rich land, a land prolific in gastronomic products. The plains of the vic-bilh are fertile and in addition to the vines, there are fruit trees. The large forests and the mountainous foothills are suitable for hunting and breeding, in the rivers one can of course find wild fish. The auction of Saint-Jean-de-Luz not being very far, we often eat good fish in the restaurants of Béarn :

  • La Palombe
  • Trout and salmon from gaves and torrents
  • Lamb of the Pyrenees
  • Ham
  • Cheese including the famous Ossau-Iraty and its AOC
  • Wine, from Madiran or Jurançon

Find these products in our " Tasting " chapter and on our page devoted to Béarnese gastronomy.

Read our article on Béarn cheeses, they are very diverse, there is something for all tastes and preferences !



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Holiday accommodation in the béarn

You can find accommodation in Béarn all year round and at all prices. During the summer season, the campsites are warm, it is an option popular with families, who also like to rent a cottage in nature, to be autonomous and independent. The guest rooms are high quality, often run by Béarn residents who will be keen to help you organize your stay, with tips and good addresses.

There are also hotels, especially around Pau, where there are hotels for business stays. It is a city with a central location which attracts companies for the organization of seminars. Spa tourism also concerns a certain number of establishments, open all year round.

In recent years, unusual accommodation has been popular and you will find a large number of them in Béarn, for long or short stays, depending on the budget and the level of comfort.

  • Visit our chapter "Where to Stay", to find an accommodation for visiting the Béarn.


Unusual accommodation in the Bearn
Family holidays in the Bearn

Sports and leisure activities in Béarn

If you love sport and nature, Béarn is a perfect destination. You can go rafting, canoeing, kayaking or swimming in the Gaves du Béarn, these wild rivers that originate in the Pyrenees. The forests are perfect for walks, hiking, mountain biking, but also leisure activities such as archery, tree climbing. In summer, there are many centers offering this type of activity !

If you like the road bike, get on it to climb the great passes of Béarn, like the riders of the Tour de France. Some peaks will keep you going... A stone's throw from the ski resorts, the snow invites you to go downhill skiing, cross-country skiing or ski touring, snowshoeing, exploring the sled dogs, build an igloo. The resorts are full of inventiveness to offer you original activities at all prices.

  • Visit our " Have fun " category to learn more and find activities that appeal to you.
Leisure center in the bearn
The blue waters of the ô Kiri leisure center a few minutes from Pau

The famous Béarnais

In addition to the famous historical figures of the region, such as Gaston Fébus, Jeanne d'Albret, Henri IV, Béarn is or has been talked about through some personalities from political, cultural, media and sports life :

Politics

  • Francois Bayrou
  • Jean Lassalle
  • Henri emmanuelli
  • ...

Show biz

  • Marcel Amont
  • Daniel Balavoine
  • Bertrand Cantat
  • ...

Poets, Writers

  • Francis jammes
  • Jules Supervielle
  • Frédéric Beigbeder
  • ...

Sportsmen

  • Tony Estanguet (Kayak)
  • Gilbert Duclos Lassalle (Cycling)
  • Jean Michel Larqué (Football)
  • Nicolas Brusque (Rugby)
  • Damien Traille (Rugby)
  • Annie Famose (Ski)
  • Nicolas Escudé (Tennis)
  • ...
Hiking around Lake Aydie
Hiking around Lake Aydie, welcome to Béarn !