Places of Interest
Bedous includes a fine church, an arcaded mairie, and the miniature 18th century Château Lassale. Bedous is also home to an excellent restaurant, Chèz-Michel, as well as a first class butcher. A lively market takes place in Bedous every Thursday. There is also a helpful tourist office with English-speaking staff in the main square.
Driving time to Bedous from Lescun: 20 minutes
A delightful mountain hamlet that sits at the top end of a pretty valley behind Bedous. Aydius is delightfully positioned to receive the last rays of sun (as late as 5pm in winter). On the final approach to Aydius are signs pointing to farms that sell their award-winning goat cheese direct to the public. A trip to Aydius can be combined with a visit to le moulin d’Orcun, a mill that stonegrounds bread in the traditional manner. The mill lies on the road to Aydius a short distance from Bedous.
Driving time from Lescun: 35 minutes.
Etsaut is the nearest village to the renowned Chemin de La Mâture hiking trail. It is also home to the Maison du Parc National. Here you can receive advice on hikes in the park, and view the the Pyrenean Brown Bear exhibition. The Fort du Portalet (which dates from 1842) is also close to Etsaut. Originally built for defense and border surveillance, the fort became a prison. Its inmates included Pétain, the 119th Prime Minister of France.
Driving time to Estaut from Lescun: 20 minutes
Sarrance is an attractive village that is best known for the ancient monastic church of Notre Dame de la Pierre. This has a fine organ in the gallery and a wonderful rustic cloister with strange pyramidal turrets. Opposite the church is the Ecomusée de la Vallée d’Aspe. This is devoted to the history of the region.
Driving time to Sarrance from Lescun: 20 minutes
Situated on a bluff, Oloron-Sainte-Marie is a fortified town built by the Viscomtes of Bearn. The town was the manufacturing centre for the famous pancake-shaped beret basque, which was at one time the standard headwear for French men. Points of interest for the modern visitor are the town’s two churches. The first is Sainte-Croix, one of the oldest Romanesque buildings in Béarn. It features unusual interior vaulting copied from the Great Mosque at Córdoba. The second is the Cathédrale Sainte-Marie, a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela. It boasts a beautiful Romanesque portal carved from Pyrenean marble. Inside, away from the main area of worship, is a stoup reserved for use by the Cagots . This is a stark reminder of the centuries-long persecution and segregation of this mysterious group of people.
Oloron-Sainte-Marie is home to a Lindt chocolate factory (and attendant shop) which has produced top-flight chocolates for many years. Its speciality is ‘Les Pyrénéens’ which are produced between November and January. If the wind is blowing in the correct direction, it is possible to be overwhelmed by chocolate aromas as you explore the town.
Driving time to Oloron-Sainte-Marie from Lescun: 45 minutes
Cave of La Guixas
A natural feature which began to form during the glaciations of the Quaternary period. It continues to evolve today thanks to the action of underground water which creates a multitude of calcareous structures. Men and women sheltered here from Neolithic times through to the 3rd century. The caves have also been used by witches to celebrate rites and also by soldiers (presumably not at the same time). To schedule a visit, call +34 974 373 217.
Driving time to Cave of La Guixas from Lescun: 50 minutes
Jaca is a medieval town just over the border in Spain. The cathedral is one of the Pyrenees’ most architecturally important monuments. Rebuilt on old foundations during the 11th century, it was the first cathedral in Spain to adopt French Romanesque architecture. Inevitably, it exercised considerable stylistic influence upon other churches along the Camino de Santiago (a network of pilgrimage routes across Europe which had Santiago de Compolstela as their final destination).
Jaca is also home to the Ciudadela (also known as the Castillo de San Pedro). This 16th century fort was built to mirror the French pentagonal star shape. The fort is still partly occupied by the Spanish army, and you can visit sections of the interior on a guided tour. Its walls offer good views of the surrounding peaks. Also worth a visit is the Puente San Miguel. This triple arch bridge marked the end of the arduous Pyrenean stage for medieval pilgrims following the Camino Aragones (a branch of the Camino de Santiago) from Provence into Spain.
Driving time to Jaca from Lescun: 1 hour
High in the Sierra de la Peña, 20km south-west of Jaca, this is the best-known monastery in the region. In medieval times, an important variant of the pilgrim route from Jaca to Pamplona detoured here, as San Juan reputedly housed the Holy Grail. These days, most tourists visit by car for the spectacular views. The carved capitals of the 12th century cloister are among the finest examples of Romanesque carving. Travelling to San Juan de la Peña from Jaca also takes you through the picturesque village of Santa Cruz de la Serós with its stylish Romanesque church.
Driving time to San Juan de la Peña from Lescun: 1 hour
A meeting of Romanesque and Moorish art has made this 12th century church and mercy hospital a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela. A guided audio tour is available. Nighttime visits are also possible during the summer months.
Driving time to L’Hôpital Sainte Baise from Lescun: 90 minutes
Built in 1316, Navarrenx was also the first fortified town in what would become the Kingdom of France. Over the centuries, the 13th century fortified wall has retained its main features. From the top of the ramparts there is a wonderful view of the Pyrenees and the arches of the bridge of Navarrenx. A pretty village, Navarrenx is one of the three hosts of the World Salmon Fishing Championships, and a noted white water rafting centre.
Driving time to Navarrenx from Lescun: 90 minutes
Pau is the capital of the Béarn region. It is an elegant town with Belle Epoque buildings and well-preserved parks. The centre of the town is perched on top of a hill, high above the River Pau. Here you’ll find the Boulevard des Pyrenees, with its superb views of the snow-capped peaks of Vignemale and the Pic du Midi d’Ossau. At one end of the boulevard is the English-style Parc Beaumont. At the other end is the town’s renowned château. The boulevard can be comfortably reached from the railway station by way of the free funicular.
Henri IV of France was born in the castle in 1553. The most substantial alterations to the original design – including the addition of an arcade, and a tower close to the entrance – were carried out during the 19th century by Louis-Philippe and then by Napoleon III and Eugenie. Inside the castle, the Musée National showcases Napoleon III’s and Eugenie’s apartments. Just north of the castle is the quartier du Hédas, which houses the remains of medieval Pau.
Pau also boasts an art museum, the Musée des Beaux-Arts. This museum headlines several local painters, and also houses Rubens’ The Last Judgement and Degas’ famous The Cotton Exchange.
Pau is home to the only automobile competition outside Monaco that takes place in an exclusively urban setting.
Driving time to Pau from Lescun: 90 minutes (assuming you’re not in a race)
The Nive river divides Bayonne into Grand Bayonne and Petit Bayonne, with five bridges between the two towns. The Nive acts like a high street, hosting restaurants, squares and a covered market on its quayside. The houses lining the Nive are picturesque examples of Basque architecture, with half-timbering and shutters in the national colours of red and green.
Grand Bayonne is the commercial and civic hub, with small pedestrianised streets packed with shops. Basque bars and restaurants throng the streets of Petit Bayonne.
The Cathédrale Sainte-Marie is an elegant Gothic building that rises over the houses. It can be frequently glimpsed whilst exploring the narrow streets. Construction of the cathedral began in the 12th century. The south tower was completed in the 16th century and the cathedral was completed in the 19th century. The edifice is renowned for its charming cloisters. There are other details and sculptures of note, although a lot of the architecture was destroyed during the French Revolution. Nearby is the Château-Vieux, some parts of which date back to the 12th century. The governors of the city, including the English Black Prince, were based here.
There are two important museums in the town. The Musée Basque is the finest ethnographic museum in the Basque region. It has special exhibitions on agriculture, handicrafts, and seafaring. The Musée Bonnat began life with a large collection bequeathed by the local painter Léon Bonnat. The museum is now one of the best galleries in south-west France. It exhibits paintings by Degas, El Greco, Botticelli and Goya. At the back of Petit-Bayonne is the Château-Neuf. Now an exhibition space, it was started by the newly-arrived French in 1460 as an attempt to control the city. Bayonne’s botanic gardens adjoin the walls on both sides of the Nive.
Driving time to Bayonne from Lescun: 2 hours
The spectacular beach resort of Biarritz lies on the Atlantic coast. Surfers rub shoulders with the rich and famous in this luxurious seaside town. Its beaches have received awards on several occasions for their high standards.
Biarritz began as a whaling port. Sailors set out from here to the Atlantic and the notorious Bay of Biscay. When the Spanish countess Eugenie de Montijo built her summer palace at the bay, the aristocracy followed. Soon Biarritz became a fashionable resort alongside Cannes and St. Tropez.
Attractive art deco villas, Basque houses and 19th century castles combine with lovely sandy beaches to make Biarritz one of the most attractive coastal destinations in Europe. A stroll along the seafront to the old fishermen’s port with its tiny cottages is charming.
The proximity of Spain strongly influences the local cuisine of Biarritz. Dishes tend to be spicy and the way of grilling fish and meat comes directly from Spain. A la plancha is meat or fish cooked on an open hotplate in its own fat, a delicious way of preparing the local specialty of chipirons (baby squid). Paxtaran is a liqueur made from anis seeds, wild prunes and vanilla.
Founded in 1993, the annual Biarritz Surf Festival is one of the premier surf events in Europe. Biarritz also has a chocolate museum and a museum dedicated to the ocean. The latter consists of 24 aquariums that include sharks and seals. The museum of chocolate takes visitors on a journey through 3000 years of chocolate. The onsite shop includes hand-crafted delicacies that look more like jewels than sweets.
Driving time to Biarritz from Lescun: 2 hours