Charming old Sauveterre de Béarn!!

In my road warrior trips all over France, I have come to many quant towns and villages, however, one that always struck my fancy was coming to charming old Sauveterre de Béarn! Let me update/revise links on this older post and hope you enjoy it as I do!

As we are moving in the deep south of France, let me tell you about a town drawn from the middle ages and still almost intact . The best is the car by here and you will love it ,the scenes are spectacular. We were canvassing the region and came here from reading a tourist brochure , my dear late wife Martine love it.  Sauveterre-de-Béarn is in département 64  Pyrénées-Atlantiques, région of Nouvelle-Aquitaine. The town is one of the principal roads of Santiago de Compostela on the Via Lemovicensis (or Vézelay).

Sauveterre-de-Béarn is located at about 15 km  from the exit of the autoroute A64 connecting Pau with Bayonne via the D933 that takes you to Salies-de-Béarn , Saint Palais etc; Other roads are the D23 to  Orthez and from Mauléon  ; D936 to Navarrenx and Oloron-Sainte-Marie (see posts) and continues to Bidache. The bus line transport 64  809 Orthez/Salies-de-Béarn/Sauveterre-de-Béarn/St Palais also takes you here. The train station closes to the town is at about 17 km in Puyoô. The station at Orthez is about 22 km and  Dax is at 45 km.  By plane, the closest airports are at Pau and Biarritz at about same distance of 60+ km.

A bit of a long history i like

The first mention of the town with the name of Sauveterre was shown in a map of Dax around the year 1120.  In this map it was explained that by 1055 a certain Loup Brasc de Sauveterre  was sent by the Viscount of Oloron, to remove the clergy in favor of the bishop of Oloron du Garenx and of Reveset areas. The mission was accomplished and this Loup Brasc received a war horse as prize and the right to governed the town of Sauveterre. Thereafter  ,Sauveterre belongs to the  Viscount and the Bishop of Oloron. A bit later , the Viscount of Oloron is attached to the Viscount of Béarn of which Sauveterre was made part of.

In the 13C, Gaston VII of Béarn reinforced the fortifications of Sauveterre-de-Béarn.  He ordered built the Viscount castle ,a Hospital for the pilgrims of Santiago de Compostela and strenthen the bridge. He died at the castle of Sauveterre in 1290.  In 1276, king Philippe III le Hardi, decided to established his sister Blanche de France (Blanche de Castile), on the throne of Castile (Spain). To do this , he raises an army to invade Castile. The French army stops at Sauveterre de Béarn ,and do not cross the Pyrénées for insufficient stock of food and winter was arriving. 

In the 14C, in the reign of Gaston Fébus a lot is given to Sauveterre-de-Béarn. The fortifications are streghten and improved; the castle, the bridge are renovated. This is now the bridge or pont de la Légende.  Finally upon orders of Gaston Fébus, the Pope Urbain V authorized the Carmelites to come to Sauveterre. Gaston Fébus died in 1391 in the forest of Hôpital-d’Orion during a hunting trip. His body is brought to the castle of Sauveterre ,and buried eventually in the Convent of the jacobins of Orthez.

During the campaigned of Catalunia (1456-1466),in 1462 and 1463, Gaston IV of Foix-Béarn received the king of France Louis XI in Sauveterre.  King Louis XI meets with the Juan II king of Aragon in 1462 on the bridge or pont d’Osserain here.  The viscounts of  Béarn, becomes the legitimates kings of Navarra after a war of succession in 1479. Sauveterre will play a pivotal role in the independence of Navarra during the 16C as a frontier town. A neighborhood of Pléguignou  was reinforced as a military outpost facing Navarra and the arsenal built in the 15C is still here. In 1523, Henri d’Albret, Viscount of Béarn, tried to reconquered the Upper Navarra lost by his father Jean d’Albret, taking advantage of the differences between the king of France ,François Ier and the king of Spain ,Carlos V. France invaded Navarra and takes Pamplona. Carlos V counterattack and recovered the Upper Navarra as well as invades the Lower Navarra. Under the Spanish army led by the Prince of Orange the kingdom of France is invaded. To do this it will need to pass by  Béarn, and in 1523, they are in front of  Sauveterre. The city is attacked and surrended. However, few months later the Baron of Miossens and a group of locals re takes  Sauveterre. After the situation returns to normal the Navarra is cut in two, with the Upper Navarra (Autonomous comunidad de Navarra) under Spanish domination, and the Lower Navarra kept by the Béarn (eventually France).

During the Wars of Religion, Sauveterre as the whole of the Béarn becomes Protestant. The town faces the Calvinist Protestants with the Catholic Basques; and Sauveterre is attacked by the Basques in 1569. The town is retaken by force on orders of Jeanne d’Albret.  During this time , the Catholic rite is prohibited in the city and the Convent of Carmelites is destroyed; all Catholics are sent to exile.  The Church of Saint-André (St Andrews) is preserved for the practice of the Protestant rite,and a temple is built later on.  The fort of Tolose is built in 1580 in order to protect Sauveterre from potential attacks by Catholic France.

During the French revolution, the parliament of Sauveterre is canceled and all need to abandon speaking the local language or Béarnais, the language of the sovereign State of  Béarn. In 1814,following the lost of Spain by Napoléon, the allied army of English-Portuguese  under the Marquis of Wellington invaded the south of France, and Sauveterre needed to be evacuated.  Before leaving they destroyed the bridge ,and the English entered the town.

Things to see in Sauveterre de Béarn:

There is a wonderful feodal castle (14C) of Gaston here with the great pont vieux or légende,  and the gave d’Oloron or river of Oloron, with beautiful natural views and great panels mentioning the wonderful old history of Gaston Fébus. The story goes that the pont de la Légende link the right back of the gave d’Oloron. However in 1732 a huge flooding took away part of this bridge. It now remains but half of it, both Gaston VII Moncade (1229-1290) , and Gaston Fébus (1349-1391)  fortified this bridge and added a tower with an adjoining stairs (still there) , rooms and levy bridge and the entry to this the old Hôpital Saint-Jacques des pèlerins de Compostelle (St James hospital of the pilgrims of Compostela).

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The bridge or Pont de la Légende, there were three bridges ( pont de la Légende, pont du Miéy ,and pont de la Réclusy) connecting the right bank to the left bank of the gave d’Oloron river. However, in 1732, a huge flooding took place taking a great part of the pont de la Légende. Today, it is only half of this fortified bridge remaining.  It is here that the queen  Sancie received her judgment of God in 1170. Gaston VII of Béarn and Gaston Fébus later strenghten the bridge around a tower and view stairs, working room,  way road and levy bridge. At the entrance of the bridge , there was a hospital for the pilgrims of Santiago de Compostela.

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The tower or tour Monréal, built during the 12C at a height of 37 meters was a tower for defense and living. It looked over the incursions of the Basques and Spanish.  today it houses a model of the medieval city of Sauveterre between the 13C and 16C . The Arsenal from the 15C. An adjoining tower dates from the 11C. This are now the ruins of the viscount castle ordered built by  Gaston VII de Béarn , and renovated under Gaston Fébus in the 14C. The city/town hall or Hôtel de Ville,an old mansion from the 16C former property of the marquis of Nays, Count of Salette. The gate or porte de Lester , 12C. The porte du Datter, and the ramparts  done between the 12C and 19C.   The pilgrims hospital for the way to Santiago de Compostela. The fort Tolose  built in 1580 durinng the wars of Religion to reinforced the northern ramparts of Sauveterre. The walls are 1,25 meters thick, and pierce with deadly points. All surrounded by a moat  as well as an upper level.

The Church of St Andrews or Saint-André. (see post) It was fortified and built in the romanesque gothic style of the 12C and 13C.  On the tympan are represented St Mathieu(as a young men) St Mark (as a lion), St Luke (as a bull) , and St John (as an eagle).  The old convent of Carmelites founded in 1364 upon orders of Gaston Fébus, remaining intact until 1569 when the Basque pillage the town against the Protestants (as the Church was used as a temple). The town of Sauveterre is on the way or via Lemovicensis (or via Limousine or via Vézelay), Latin names to the four roads from France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. On the South side of the Church you will see a door reserve to the cagots, a category in the population deem of the lowest levels in the social scale but admitted to the Christian community.  Some tourist historical information on it . It has a length of 35 meters, a width of 20 meters   and at the top of its spire, it reaches the 27 meters.  I t has 3 naves (the central nave has a height of 13 meters), an apse and two apsidal chapels,  a transept  with 2 beautiful roses.  Its Bell Tower, its cover with roof of 4 sides, and on each of its 4 sides, you can see  3 bays  encrusted,  the Central column  surmounted  by  a  pierced tympanum of  an oculi.  The porch and  sacristy are more recent and dates from the end of the 19C.  In the mandorla, there is a Christ in Majesty.  The entrance portal has only a single arching,  but notice the side framing  (7 columns from each side  surmounted by capitals decorated with vegetative motifs in general, some of them presenting figures. A really nice Church with great views of the valley and gave d’Oloron river below it.  Not much is written on it on the tourist sites but it should be and it is the main thing to see in Sauveterre de Béarn.

We were way into the country and to go back will be too long without eating so we decided to have lunch here at the Auberge du Cheval Blanc in the place Royale (tel +33 (0) 5 59 67  36 52 of Sauveterre de Béarn. It was a pleasant choice, friendly service, fast ,and funny exchanges with the servers. The food was done on site nothing special just home made,  entrée of salad of chévre chaud (hot goat cheese), beef and cheddar cheese lasagna in a terrecotta hollow dish very original and delicious, créme brulée for dessert, with water , bread , all for 12,80€ per person and a glass of rosé wine from the Jurançon area for 2,80€. good deal. They have a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/aubergechevalblanc64/

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Some webpages to help you plan your trip here and well worth it indeed are

The city of Sauveterre de Béarn on things to see: https://www.sauveterre-de-bearn.fr/tourisme-et-patrimoine/patrimoine/patrimoine-medieval/

The tourist office of the Béarn Pyrénées on Sauveterre de Béarn things to see: https://pratique.tourisme64.com/patrimoine-culturel/sauveterre-de-bearn.html

There you go my dear readers, a wonderful trip indeed, of course car is king in the mountains unless you have the force for a bike or walk the Way. Enjoy charming Sauveterre de Béarn!! And remember, happy travels, good health, and many cheers to all!!!

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