Small quaint towns of the Pyrénées Atlantiques in Nouvelle Aquitaine!

And on a nice sunny Friday from my end of France, it is time to showcase the small quaint towns of lovely Pyrénées Atlantiques. Another region of my belle France that I have enjoyed over the years with my dear late wife Martine.

This part of France have gone thru many name changes over the years into the unified kingdom of France, the empire and then the Republic. Before 1969, the region was called Basses Pyrénées.  And before the French revolution ,this was the province of Béarn ,including lower Navarre, lands of Labourd and Soule (from the province of Gascogne) as well as some parishes of Soubestre .  The Labourd, Lower Navarre and Soule were the three provinces of the French pays basque. The department 64 has two faces today, that of the Béarn with Pau as principal city and the Pays Basque with Bayonne as principal city.  The government site of the department already mention 3 stages of the Tour de France bike race will pass by it on July 26, 27, and 28.  See in French here: Pyrenees Atlantiques on tour de France

I have written pieces of it before in my blog, here is the post: The trip continues in the Pyrenees Atlantiques

Monein  is in the department 64 of the Pyrénées Atlantiques in the region of Nouvelle Aquitaine as all the towns in this post. The best way for me to get there is on the A64 highway (Toulouse-Bayonne); Exit 9 Artix at 11 km.  Monein counted a secular abbey from the 12C, a vassal of the viscounty of Béarn. King Henry IV dubbed Monein ,the Paris of Béarn!!!  The Church of Saint-Girons dates from the 15C and 16C. It is the largest Gothic church in the  Béarn. It houses a frame built in the heart of Oak, 50 meters long and 18 meters in height, in the form of a double hull of an overturned vessel. More info on the city of Monein webpage in French here: city of Monein on heritage


Thèze, is 20 km north of Pau and is part of the Vic-Bilh. The N134 and the D44 /D944 as well as the connection with the A65 connects the city very nicely. There are vestiges of two fortified ensembles of the 11C and 12C, testify to the ancient past of the town. One of the sites, the Moutta, is currently with a Calvary. The dovecote at its foot is built at the site of the primitive entrance. The 17C dates the Château de Miret and the name of the family of Fanget, is located at the top of the village and was restored after a long period of ruin to house municipal premises.  The town presents a set of houses and farms from the 16C to the 20C.  The Church of St. Peter dates from the 12C. It is remarkable for the volume of its porch tower and its Renaissance portal. It contains objects, paintings and furniture from the times.  More from the city of Théze in French here:  City of Theze on heritage


Morlaàs, is connected with the D39 and D943 roads in the area The municipality is served by the departmental roads 39 and RD 943 from Pau traversing the A64 highway.
From the 10C to the 12C, Morlaàs was the residence of the Viscounts of Béarn and capital of the Béarn in place of Lescar destroyed in the 9C. Orthez will follow in the 12C. The Morlaàs charter dates from 1101.  The town had a commandery of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem from Carvalho and Morlaàs. There were convents of Jacobins and Cordeliers. The town was part of the archdeaconry of Vic-Bilh, which depended on the bishopric of Lescar and of which Lembeye was the chief place. Morlaàs  printed money at the Château de la Hourquie (or the Fourquie, whose exact location is unknown to us today) since the 9C. The Morlan money was used throughout the south of France throughout the Middle Ages. In 1690, the monetary workshop was transferred to Pau. The weights and mesures of Morlaàs served as standards throughout the Béarn and up to Soule and lower Navarre.

In the Bourg-Mayou,  you see remains of  fortifications of the 11C, 12C and 14C, called Pousterles, testifying  to the ancient past of the town.  The fountain known as Baratnau, place Sainte-Foy, dates from 1635 and the house of Jeanne Albret from 1451. This square also welcomed, from the 17C until 1845, a market. This market was replaced in 1850 by a new building. Always at place Sainte-Foy, we find the old City/Town hall transformed into a police station of the Gendarmerie, then in school, built in 1832.  In the same place Sainte-Foy, the Musée de Morlaàs can boast a rich collection of medieval or newer objects, paintings, weapons, keys, furniture, sculptures, a funerary slab and various architectural elements.

Morlaàs presents a set of houses and farms from the 15C to the 19C. The Château de Baratnau (at Place-dit Grange de Baratnau) was built around 1540.  The Château de Sarrabat, at the square of the same name, was built at the end of the 19C. There are eleven windmills in Morlaàs, some of which have preceded 1385.  St. Andre’s Church, rue Bourg-Neuf, partially dates from the late 11C. There are furnishings, paintings, statues and objects. The Romanesque Church of Sainte-Foy dates from the 11C. Its construction was begun during the reign of Centule V. The portal is the most interesting part, and proves the past importance of the city. The Ministry of Culture has recorded a monstrance of the 19C, paintings an altar and a commemorative plaque dated 1301. The church is a stopover on the via Tolosane (or Toulouse Road), the Latin name of one of the four paths of France of the Pilgrimage of Santiago de Compostela, the southernmost.
The Cloister of the Benedictine priory of St. Faith dates in part from the 11C. The priory contains furniture, paintings, statues, canopies of objects and architectural elements.  A Church belonging to the Saint John Hospital Commandery of Jerusalem is reported in 1318 at the place Berlanne. Several times demolished and rebuilt (destruction by the Protestants in 1569, re-erection in 1610, demolition in the 19C, new inauguration in 1902), it is still the subject of a pilgrimage.

A first Convent of Jacobins was built in 1268, north of Bourg-Mayou, then destroyed in a fire in 1569. The monks then occupied a new building, dating from the 16C. You can see five capitals of marble columns Rue Molaàs-Vielle, the Convent of Cordeliers was founded before 1290 by Gaston VII of Béarn. It has been noted several architectural elements (e.g. Keystone and capitals). The city of Morlaas has more in French: City of Morlaas on heritage


In our rides here we set out from/to Pau as our base on the D933 road direction St Jean le Vieux coming back from the further south. Then took the D918 direction Mauléon-Licharre.  Not expecting to see anything here but just passing and voilà to our surprise it has many interesting things if hidden to the general public, of course you need a car but I will always say , the best way to travel.

Mauléon-Licharre is located in the heart of the historical province of Soule, at the foot of the Pyrenees. Mauléon, an old feudal town, is built on the right bank of the Saison river or gave of Mauléon, at the foot of a hill where the ruins of the castle rise. In 1261, Prince Edward I of England made a demonstration of force on the site, which prompted the Viscounts of Soule to submit. He then decided, in order to establish his power, the fortification of certain cities, in Soule, Villeneuve-lès-Tardets (now Tardets-Sorholus) and Mauléon which became a Bastide.  The current town was created in 1841 by the union of the towns of Mauléon and Licharre.

The old castle of Mauléon is an 11C castle, the castle of Maytie called Andurain was built at the end of the 16C by Pierre de Maytie. The rectangular House of Pavilion is adorned with windows with mullions and ornate dormers in Renaissance style;  the city/town hall, located on the Place des Allées, was built for Count Philibert de Grama by François Mansart whose style is recognized with the alternation of skylights arched and triangular pediment and large spaced windows.  The states of Soule bought this mansion in 1777. It became the sub-prefecture of Mauléon from 1789 to 1926. Since 1980, it is the new City/Town hall of Mauléon. The writer Pierre Benoit has used this location for the action of his novel for Don Carlos ,la Maison de La Fee (fairy ), at 8 Rue du Fort, known as the oldest in Mauléon. It bears the date of 1485 but probably dates more like 1785. It reflects the traditional peasant habitat, with a large door on the ground floor for the cattle and the apartment on the floor.   The Maison de Bela which dominates the upper town with its Rounded tower. It is particularly well known because in 1587 its owner, Gérard de Béla, decided to introduce taxes, an innovation that displeased particularly  the inhabitants of the city.

Mauleon Licharre

Mauleon Licharre

Other beauties in this amazing small town are the market or halles dated 1765, was claimed by the inhabitants since the terrible fire of 1641 which had destroyed about 20 houses, leaving only eleven that could still properly shelter the market under their awnings.  The Chapel of Saint-Jean-de-Berraute is attested from 1220. It was part of the Commandery run by the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem or Knights of Malta. This commandment housed the pilgrims of Santiago coming from Oloron by the Hôpital Saint-Blaise and headed by Ordiarp towards Ostaba it was saved from the total destruction in 1983 by the municipality: repair of the roof, consolidation of the vault and walls !! great!  The Notre-Dame Church in the Upper Town; it has a parchment of 1373 which gave permission of the Bishop of Oloron to build a new chapel. The Chapel even though it was small, this Chapel became Church and even Cathedral, having sheltered, with its houses contiguous, the bishop of Oloron and his chapter of canons on two occasions, from 1378 to 1412, during the Great Schism of the West which saw the Catholics divide between supporters of the Pope of Rome and those of that of Avignon . And again, from 1570 to 1599 during the Wars of religion. The Bishop of Oloron Claude Régis, expelled from his cathedral by the Protestants, took refuge in this Church of the upper town to which he bequeathed his heart at his death in 1592. Inside, it has a Baroque altarpiece devoted to the life of the Virgin.  The paving of the entrance is original, one heart, two squares and their diagonals, a half-erased Monstrance . To the left is not a blessing but an old grain measure that was used for the market that stood at this place on Tuesdays.

And I told you was a surprise, many things to see here. We continue…. the Calvary (or white Cross) from the  17C made in  white marble located in the Rue de Navarre is a marble column erected at the site of the Walnut tree where the judges of the ancient Court of Licharre, (today a crossroads in the traffic roundabout), were gathered.  The Church of St. John the Baptist was built in the late 19C. The decision to built dates from 1877, the first stone was laid in 1879 and it was consecrated in 1885. It was partly built with the stones of the Church of Licharre which had been demolished . In the next five years, it has been endowed with glass windows with character from the master glass maker Ferdinand Hutcher. Then the choir and the nave are adorned with paintings by abbé Xavier Montaut, completed by Auguste Montaut and the Atelier Decrept.

Mauleon Licharre

More on this wonderful little town from the city town hall: City of Mauleon Licharre on Heritage

And last but not least the wonderful Lescar very near Pau , our home base always in the area for years, and you can tell we like it very much.  Lescar is located at 6.5 km  west of Pau;  it is also 52 km north of Urdos, which allows the passage to Spain (via the Col du Somport), heck yeah for many years our route even before the tunnel was built !!!,  and 87 km east of Capbreton on the Atlantic coast. It sits on the east-west axis by the A64 highway ( aka  La Pyrénéenne). A highway exchanger to reach the new highway A65 ; (aka Autoroute de Gascogne), crossing the A64 on the territory of the town and allowing to reach Langon in the north.  The town is also served by the old national Roads RN117, Route de Bayonne, and RN417 (forming part of the Beltway of Pau) which are grouped under the RD817 (super road connecting to many areas of Pau and out to other towns, great).

The medieval town develops on a rocky headland , overlooking the gave (river) to the south, and bounded by the brook of Lescourre to the north and then to the plain of the Pont-Long. Lescar is the heir of the Gallo-Roman city of Beneharnum, the first capital of the people of Venarni which gives its name to the former sovereign state of Béarn. Having lost its role as capital Béarnaise, in favor of Morlaàs, the city rebuilt at the end of the 10C under the impulse of the Duke of Biscay Guillaume Sancho. He built a chapel in Upper town dedicated to Saint Mary, which is consecrated Cathedral in 1062. It became the seat of the bishops of Lescar, following the primitive Cathedral of Saint-Julien in Lower town. Taking part in the Reconquista in the 12C, Bishop Guy de Lons replaced  the Chapel-Cathedral by constructing the present Assumption Cathedral in the Romanesque style in  1790 as part of a grouping with Bayonne and Oloron.  From this period, Lescar retains several heritage elements including its ramparts (partly ancient), with the gates of the Esquirette and certain towers constituting them. It remains one of the stages of the Via Tolosana, on the pilgrimage of Santiago de Compostela. Lescar became an educational center, first with the installation of the Protestant Academy of Béarn in 1562, then with the decision of king Henri IV to establish a college of Barnabites. This college built in the 18C is the ancestor of the current lycée Jacques-Monod.


More on the history of this amazing small town which we stopped by every year we passed by here.   The birth of Lescar as a city occurs in the 1C, from the time of the Roman occupation of Aquitaine. The city becomes the capital of the people of Venarni, sheltering in Lower town the bulk of the habitat and activities. The earliest Roman period occupation indices date back to around 15-10 B.C., but a true urban plot only appears from the second quarter of the 1C. It was at the end of the 10C that the city was reborn, under the impetus of the Dukes of Biscay and, in particular, Guillaume Sancho. Legend has it that a soldier, named Loup Fort or strong wolf, finds in the ancient city only a forest and a baptistery dedicated to Saint John Baptiste in the  Upper town. Loup-Fort then built a Church under the Saint Mary name in this place, in repentance of past crimes. This Church became a Cathedral in 1058, before its official consecration in 1062. The name Beneharnum is abandoned for that of Lescar, the city rebuilt on the rocky spur in the 5C.  The ramparts of the city are reinforced, while the Cathedral attributed to Loup-Fort is rebuilt in the 12C in the Romanesque style, mainly under the episcopate of Guy de Lons, it takes the name of Cathedral Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption. Already highly independent since its formation around the 9C, Béarn won its independence in 1347 under Gaston Fébus,  it is in the Cathedral of Lescar that the Kings and Queens of Navarre choose to be buried from 1483 to 1555.


After becoming king of France in 1589, Béarn Henri IV promulgated the Edict of Fontainebleau for the Catholics of Béarn in 1599. It is necessary to wait 1610 for the Cathedral of Lescar to be restored in its Catholic cult, but it is the military expedition of King Louis XIII in 1620 which allows to restore definitively the Catholic cult in the whole country of Béarn. The Château du Bilaà is made for the family of Ariste in 1853. It occupies the top of a former oppidum of the 1C B.C. and displays a neo-classical style. After its abandonment in the years 1970, its rehabilitation decided in 2005 was completed in 2011, it becomes the new city/town hall of the Lescar to replace the house Rozier. The historical part of the town is composed of ancient houses dating for most of the 18C, sporting a classic Béarn style with roof steep covered with slates, stones of size at angles and openings, sponge cake between the roof and the wall, Pebbles of the gave river to make the walls. Older houses of the 16C and 17C are also present in the city, made especially for the canons of Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption dating partially from the 12C and 13C. The construction of the building takes place mainly under the episcopate of Guy de Lons, following a first Cathedral built in the middle of the 10C. The cathedral is considered the most imposing Romanesque building in Béarn.


The town maintains more than 600 000 m2 of gardens, 12 000 m2 of compound massif shrubs, and has 2 674 trees on its territory. The best on are the Parc de Beneharnum, at the foot of the ramparts, then the  garden of the place Royale or the park of the city hall.

An oppidum of the second Iron age was also identified in the district of Bilaà, on which is built the castle of the family of Ariste. The lower town of Lescar represents the heart of the ancient Beneharnum. Archaeologists have exhumed in the district of Bialé  178 traffic lanes, sewers, foundations of houses, as well as ditches. The first complete plan of an ancient villa in the south of Aquitaine could be drawn up.  During excavations conducted in 2008,  traces of public baths are discovered on the area. A caldarium of 53 m2, as well as another room of 69 m2 (tepidarium or frigidarium) are notably identified in the Quartier Saint-Michel.  The remains of a large suburban villa are finally discovered during excavations carried out between 1885 And 1887 , the villa is implanted on an overhang of the gave valley, located 1.5 km east of the lower Town . A first building was built in the middle of the 1C, during the Haut-Empire it seems that the villa remains occupied throughout the 4C, before being abandoned in the second half of the 5C. Still on the Domaine Saint Michel, the remains of the funeral enclosure La Tourette are discovered dating from  the lower empire period of Rome. Several elements discovered on the site are exposed to the museum of Lescar, including furniture and a mosaic of 6.5 meters long on 3.3 meters wide.  More from the city of Lescar in French: City of Lescar on heritage


In addition to the above some webpages to help you plan your trip here and it is recommended are

Tourism of the Pyrenees Atlantiques

Area of Monein on tourism

Area of Morlaas on tourism

Area of Mauleon Licharre on tourism

Area of Theze on tourism

Tourist office of Pau on Lescar tourism

Area of Lescar on tourism

There you go now you are loaded and ready to visit this region, no excuses. A wonderful experience always and immense memories of our family by here, always in our hearts and maybe it will be in yours if dare to come.

And remember, happy travels, good health, and many cheers to all!!!




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