Churches and architecture
Commanderie de Lacommande
This stunning complex was established between 1100 and 1124 and is the principal piece of the hospital network put in place by Gaston IV le Croisé to welcome the pilgrims arriving on the path from Arles. The visit offers a fascinating melée of interesting sites and objects like church, cloisters and sculptures as well as well tended gardens.
Opposite the Commanderie is the ‘Maison des Vins et du Terroir’ stocking an impressive range of Jurançon wines and local produce. Ideal for a calming tasting if you’ve reached cultural saturation point!
St Vincent church at Lucq de Béarn
Originally a Bénédictine abbey founded in 1020, the church of St Vincent features the remains of an ancient tower and a more recent XVI century bell tower. The site is rich in history and intrigue – don’t miss the Vth century white marble tomb, its origin unknown.
St Girons church at Monein
This listed monument of France is really worth a visit. It took 70 years to build and features an extremely rare charpente built with the hearts of a thousand oaks.
The intimate ‘son et lumière’ display combined with the guided visit amply rewards those who climb the 72 steps above the twin naves of Béarn’s biggest Gothic church.
Chapel of Caubin at Arthez de Béarn
Arthez de Béarn is an ancient fortified village on the heights of the Béarnais hills. It’s a delightful hidden away place in the middle of nowhere on the route from Puy. The chapel is the last vestige of a hospital founded in 1154. It’s a unique architectural design externally and houses a collection of artifacts including the statue of a knight and some original ceramics.
Domaine du Ch'teau de Laàs
A beautiful 17th century manor house and classic French gardens, home to an extensive collection of decorative art including paintings by Grand Masters such as Rubens, porcelain, earthenware, furniture and tapestries.
An historic and enchanting site that retains all the splendour of a bygone age – highlights include the impressive ‘son et lumière’ performance and the stunning views of city and Pyrenees from the top of the keep.
Camp de Gurs
A slightly chilling yet fascinating site is the concentration camp at Gurs where 60,000 men, women and children were incarcerated between 1939 and 1944. Both information centre and replica huts portray a macabre reminder of the horrors of the Spanish civil war and subsequent anti-semitic era in occupied Vichy France. The adjacent cemetery constitutes a national memorial.
Musée Jeanne d’Albret
Four centuries of Béarnaise history from the Reform period until beginning of the 20th century. The exhibition of paintings and artefacts retrace the key events of Protestantism and evoke the grandiose characters of the era.
A pretty market town and spa resort full of character and traditional architecture. The famous salt museum portrays the history of salt from the Bronze Age and depicts the development of the town and industry. The original Hotel du Parc now houses the Casino and the Spa centre is renowned for its fitness treatments and salt-water therapies.
Orthez was the former capital of the Béarn and has been an historic overnight stop for pilgrims on the route to Santiago de Compostela since the 11th century. Of entertaining note, it was near Orthez that the Duke of Wellington crushed French forces in what the English considered a decisive conflict and French history books speak little!
A picturesque medieval village perched above the Gave d’Oloron river that dates back to the dark ages. The name ‘Sauveterre’ means safe haven and comes from the village’s original purpose as a walled refuge providing safety against marauders. The village grew in importance due to its strategic position and impressive bridge spanning the river on the main pilgrim route to Spain.
A thriving fortified town beside the river Gave on the ‘chemin de Saint Jacques’ that is well worth exploring. There’s an array of attractive buildings, artisan shops, bars and restaurants inside the city walls and the buzz on market days is addictive.
Winding lanes, beautiful scenery and great views are abundant. As you move about exploring the area, you’ll stumble upon a hidden treasure around every corner, whether Gothic church, chapel, ancient castle, tradition farmhouse, ‘bastide’, tower or pretty village. The heart of the Béarn region has a multitude of charming surprises that make the experience such a pleasurable one. Stone, wood, cobbles and slate are commonplace in the traditional architecture that is in evidence everywhere.