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The Pyrenean Valleys

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Béarn is rich in three Pyrenean valleys of great beauty, they are called the Ossau Valley, The Aspe Valley and The Barétous Valley. These three valleys, land of bears and birds of prey, with a very strong pastoral identity, are anchored in Oloron, one of the oldest towns in Béarn, where the gaves of Ossau and Aspe which then form the Gave d'Oloron. The Ossau Valley is dominated by the emblematic summit of Béarn, the Pic du Midi d'Ossau, whose particular shark-tooth shape attracts attention from all points of the region. It is a magnificent valley, whose history is rich in particularities.

Map of the Pyrenean Valleys in Béarn
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The inhabitants of the valley have always had a lot of autonomy and very early on established their own democratic functioning, punctuated by transhumance, which is still today at the beginning of summer an event not to be missed. The emblematic product of the valley is of course sheep's cheese, of a taste quality labeled by the Ossau-Iraty appellation, known and recognized far beyond the region.

The Aspe Valley is close to both the Basque Country and Aragon on the Spanish side, while being typically Béarnaise, so it is also a valley with a very strong identity and strong character. But the Aspe valley is also and above all a valley of breathtaking beauty, needle cirques and other gorges rub shoulders there in perfect harmony, it is the opportunity to discover magnificent small picturesque villages. such as Escot, Bedous, Lourdios, or even Accous.

The Barétous Valley, on the border of the neighboring Soule and therefore of the Basque Country, is in their image a very green region, made of meadows and forests, fir trees in altitude. It is the valley of origin of the three musketeers, Aramis, Porthos and Athos, who, forced to flee the overpopulation of the time in the valley, like many cadets, then enlist in the special troops of musketeer regiments : the famous cadets of Gascony.

The Barétous Valley
Landscapes of the Barétous Valley

Oloron-Sainte-Marie, at the confluence of the Gaves

Under the prefecture of Béarn, Oloron-Sainte-Marie is a very old city at the confluence of the Gaves d'Ossau and Aspe, which constitute the Gave d'Oloron, after their reunion. It is therefore of course a strategic place, on the roads of Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle, and today a listed city of Art and History.

One of the striking images of Oloron when you arrive on the mountain spanning the Gave, is this row of tall houses plunging into the Gave, but the city is multiple, you will visit the Sainte Marie Quarter, and the treasure of its cathedral, the Quartier Sainte Croix, its church, the tower of Grède, and the Quartier Notre Dame, the church there too, as well as the crypt.
  • In Oloron-Sainte-Marie, visit the pretty Villa du Pays d'Art et d'Histoire des Pyrénées Béarnaises. It is an interpretation center on local heritage and architecture.
  • There is also the Maison du Patrimoine, which allows you to learn more about the life of the Béarnais in these valleys in autarky for a long time.
  • Renewable resource enthusiasts will be interested in the life of the local hydroelectric power station, to learn more about electricity production through dams.
  • Not far from Oloron, there is a pretty village : Aren, with a set of 2 castles in a stone setting against a backdrop of mountains.

Follow us for a roadtrip in the Barétous Valley (fr) ! Ideas for walking and enjoying the landscapes and villages.


In Oloron-Sainte-Marie, the Gaves, an integral part of village life

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Aramits and arette La pierre saint-martin

In the Barétous Valley, Aramits is the stronghold of a musketeer whose name you will recognize. It is an interesting vacation spot for hiking enthusiasts, because nature is directly accessible here. It is green, the food is good and you are only a few kilometers from the village of Arette and the large ski resort of La Pierre Saint-Martin. There you will find a beautiful alpine ski area of 75 ha, on 24 tracks. Beginners are not left out, since there is an area specially dedicated to the first slides on the snow, with ski lifts. The rest of the ski area also appeals to experienced skiers and there are modern and fast lifts. Do you like sledding ? You have a space dedicated to gliding on the buttocks and acrobats will have fun on the freeride area. It is a very pretty resort, with particular care given to the village, which is dotted with pretty chalets, very photogenic and pleasant to live in.

At La Pierre Saint-Martin is the longest blue slope in the Pyrenees : Le Boulevard des Pyrénées ! During the holidays, La Pierre Saint Martin comes alive during the day, but also in the evening after the slopes have closed ! Evening events are organized, torchlight descents, snow hikes and early morning snow groomer tours...

To find out more about skiing in Béarn, read our article on Ski resorts in Béarn (fr), there are several, to adapt the joys of skiing to your level, your family composition and your budget !

The Pierre Saint-Martin

Aramits   Aramits 2
Detail on pretty houses in Aramits

Visit the Aspe Valley : Sarrance, Bedous, Accous, Lescun, Urdos...

We start at the top : Sarrance is on the road to Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle, on the Via Tolosane and then has a religious heritage to discover, such as a 17th century cloister and a late 18th century chapel. In the town, the Monastery of Sarrance (Saint-Norbert) is a haven of peace that regularly welcomes the faithful. There is also the Aspe Valley ecomuseum, to learn more about local customs and life in this pleasant corner of Béarn.

Sarrance © AdobeStock_AngelLuis
Sarrance © AdobeStock_AngelLuis

We continue to Bedous, a typical mountain village with old traditional houses, a pretty market place and the Tourist Office of the Aspe Valley, to obtain valuable information on this region.
Accous, is the capital of the Canton of Aspe Valley, located near the Gave d'Aspe. It's a bird conservation area, don't forget your binoculars and a book to identify them ! Accous is nestled at the exit of the Iseye Circus and here, nature is generous and sumptuous. Bring your hiking boots and venture out in search of the last (or first ?) Bears in the Pyrenees. Pastoralism is a very useful activity here, which contributes to the preservation of biodiversity. Accous is a very popular spot for paragliding, maybe it's time to do a baptism ?

  • The Espace Ludopia Leisure Park, with unusual fun routes, will appeal to the whole family
  • To taste the good cheeses of the Pyrenees, visit the salting rooms and meet a family that lives to the rhythm of transhumance, meet at the Ossiniri Farm
Lescun is crossed by the GR10, one comes there for its magnificent panorama and one can hike towards the cirque of Lescun. It is the highest municipality in the Atlantic Pyrenees, with an altitude of 900m ! It is generally a high place for hiking, several routes lead to emerald mountain lakes, in a breathtaking natural environment. Take a stroll through the typical mountain village with its stone houses with sloping slate roofs.

Lescun © AdobeStock_Roger
Lescun © AdobeStock_Roger

It is the last French village before the border with Spain : Urdos is a former customs post, on the road to Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle. The ideal starting point for splendid walks... Visit the surprising Fort du Portalet, built on the cliff and partly troglodyte. From Urdos, you will access the Nordic ski resort of Somport at an altitude of 1600m and the Somport tunnel which has linked France and Spain since 2003 without going through the pass. Spread out and in the heart of a magical panorama, Somport enjoys good snow cover for its 25 km of cross-country ski trails. For snowshoe enthusiasts, there are 9 km of specially dedicated trails.

© Rainer-bleek- Unsplash
© Rainer-bleek- Unsplash

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The Ossau Valley : Rabénacq, Arudy, Laruns, Les Eaux-bonne and Gourette

La Bastide de Rébénacq in the Ossau Valley, where a small torrent flows suitable for fish farming, is ideally located for exploring Béarn. Founded in the 14th century, it sports the traditional shape of the bastides except that the ornaments of the houses change with the times: a particularity to discover during a walk by following the information boards in the bastide.
Not far and still in the Ossau valley, take a walk in Arudy, the most populous village in the valley.

Come and cycle in the region, there are many passes to climb and cross, to feel close to the efforts of the Tour de France champions. The famous Col de Marie Blanque is not far from Arudy. Read our article on the best mountain passes in Béarn by bike.

Laruns © AdobeStock-Lukasz-Janyst
Laruns © AdobeStock-Lukasz-Janyst

Laruns is a must visit ! It is crossed by the Gave d'Ossau and only 40 km from Pau, it is a popular destination for summer weekends. Discover its pretty alleys, with quality built heritage. Laruns is the host of a big festival on August 15, which celebrates the Béarnaise culture. In the village, admire the Chapel of Gabas, the Saint Pierreu church, the small wash houses and fountains. The old houses as well as the station, date from the period of hydrotherapy, where in the XIXth century, the Pyrenean destinations were very famous. Laruns is the starting point for several hikes, including reaching Lake Bious-Artigues (1400m) and its changing colors according to the seasons and the weather. It is also a sporting place where you can go canyoning, and rent a mountain bike to tackle the small paths.

Further south, Les Eaux Bonnes - Gourette, hydrotherapy meets winter sports. It is the Empress Eugenie, who is at the origin of the development of hydrotherapy in this mountain village. She frequented the place to treat her respiratory tract. Today, we also go to Laruns and Eaux-Chaudes, its neighbor, for cures. People also come to this region to enjoy the joys of the mountains all year round, and especially in winter, where the Gourette ski resort is located. It is the first ski resort created in the Pyrenees, in 1908 ! Since then, it has of course been renovated and its large and modern ski area covers 120ha and 42 slopes. The slopes are wide, well served by chairlifts and fast ski lifts. Please note : Gourette is a certified station that practices selective sorting and promotes renewable energies...

Gourette © AdobeStock_sasha64f
Gourette © AdobeStock_sasha64f

The Shepherds and the Béarnaise pastoral tradition

The wealth of Béarn has long come from its flocks of sheep, and their wool, and the shepherds of "Béarn d'en haut" have long regarded the Béarnais of the plain with superiority. It must be said that pastoral life remains very rich. At the beginning of July, you will be able to attend the transhumance, and taste the products of the valleys including the famous sheep's cheese, matured in the old-fashioned way and switch to Salies salt, today a trendy product in fine grocery stores and cheese dairies in our country.

Nature and Leisure

You are here in the western part of the Pyrenees National Park, and therefore in a protected area. You may be able to at the turn of a hike see an Isard (Pyrenean chamois), a vulture skinning a prey or, but it is much more rare and dangerous, cross the path of a Bear, reintroduced with great media support in the Pyrenees for fifteen years. It must be said that since the beginning of the last century, the bear had almost disappeared from the Pyrenees, going from a population of more than 150 to less than 6 in the early 1990s.

Ibex, met at Parc'Ours - Photo @ Lesley Williamson