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Castles and Chateaux of Old Navarre and the Basque Provinces
Castles and Chateaux of Old Navarre
and the Basque Provinces
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A GENERAL SURVEY
THIS book is no record of exploitation or discovery; it is simply a review of many things seen and heard anent that marvellous and comparatively little known region vaguely described as "the Pyrenees," of which the old French provinces (and before them the independent kingdoms, countships and dukedoms) of Béarn, Navarre, Foix and Roussillon are the chief and most familiar.
The region has been known as a touring ground for long years, and mountain climbers who have tired of the monotony of the Alps have found much here to quicken their jaded appetites. Besides this, there is a wealth of historic fact and a quaintness of men and manners throughout all this wonderful country of infinite variety, which has been little worked, as yet, by any but the guide-book makers, who deal with only the dryest of details and with little approach to completeness.
The monuments of the region, the historic and ecclesiastical shrines, are numerous enough to warrant a very extended review, but they have only been hinted at once and again by travellers who have usually made the round of the resorts like Biarritz, Pau, Luchon and Lourdes their chief reason for coming here at all.
Delightful as are these places, and a half a dozen others whose names are less familiar, the little known townlets with their historic sites — such as Mazères, with its Château de Henri Quatre, Navarreux, Mauléon, Morlaas, Nay, and Bruges (peopled originally by Flamands) — make up an itinerary quite as important as one composed of the names of places writ large in the guide-books and in black type on the railway-maps.
The region of the Pyrenees is most accessible, granted it is off the regular beaten travel track. The tide of Mediterranean travel is breaking hard upon its shores to-day; but few who are washed ashore by it go inland from Barcelona and Perpignan, and so on to the old-time little kingdoms of the Pyrenees. Fewer still among those who go to southern France, via Marseilles, ever think of turning westward instead of eastward — the attraction of Monte Carlo and its satellite resorts is too great. The same is true of those about to do "the Spanish tour," which usually means Holy Week at Seville, a day in the Prado and another at the Alhambra and Grenada, Toledo of course, and back again north to Paris, or to take ship at Gibraltar. En route they may have stopped at Biarritz, in Franc e, or San Sebastian, in Spain, because it is the vogue just at present, but that is all.
It was thus that we had known "the Pyrenees." We knew Pau and its ancestral château of Henri Quatre; had had a look at Biarritz; had been to Lourdes, Luchon and Tarbes and even to Cauterets and Bigorre, and to Foix, Carcassonne and Toulouse, but those were reminiscences of days of railway travel. Since that time the automobile has come to make travel in out-of-the-way places easy, and instead of having to bargain for a sorry hack to take us through the Gorges de Pierre Lys, or from Perpignan to Prats-de-Mollo we found an even greater pleasure in finding our own way and setting our own pace.
This is the way to best know a country not one's own, and whether we were contemplating the spot where Charlemagne and his followers met defeat at the hands of the Mountaineers, or stood where the Romans erected their great trophée, high above Bellegarde, we were sure that we were always on the trail we would follow, and were not being driven hither and thither by a cocher who classed all strangers as "mere tourists," and pointed out a cavern with gigantic stalagmites or a profile rock as being the "chief sights" of his neighbourhood, when near by may have been a famous battle-ground or the château where was born the gallant Gaston Phœbus. Really, tourists, using the word in its overworked sense, are themselves responsible for much that is banal in the way of sights; they won't follow out their own predilections, but walk blindly in the trail of others whose tastes may not be their own.
Travel by road, by diligence or omnibus, is more frequent all through the French departments bordering on the Pyrenees than in any other part of France, save perhaps in Dauphiné and Savoie, and the linking up of various loose ends of railway by such a means is one of the delights of travel in these parts — if you don't happen to have an automobile handy.
Beyond a mere appreciation of mediæval architectural delights of châteaux, manoirs, and gentilhommières of the region, this book includes some comments on the manner of living in those far-away times when chivalry flourished on this classically romantic ground. It treats, too, somewhat of men and manners of to-day, for here in this southwest corner of France much of modern life is but a reminiscence of that which has gone before.
Many of the great spas of to-day, such as the Bagnères de Bigorre, Salies de Béarn, Cauterets, Eaux-Bonnes, or Amélie les Bains, have a historic past, as well as a present vogue. They were known in some cases to the Romans, and were often frequented by the royalties of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and therein is another link which binds the present with the past.
One feature of the region resulting from the alliance of the life of the princes, counts and seigneurs of the romantic past, with that of the monks and prelates of those times is the religious architecture.
Since the overlord or seigneur of a small district was often an amply endowed archbishop or bishop, or the lands round about belonged by ancient right to some community of monkish brethren, it is but natural that mention of some of their more notable works and institutions should have found a place herein. Where such inclusion is made, it is always with the consideration of the part played in the stirring affairs of mediæval times by some fat monk or courtly prelate, who was, if not a compeer, at least a companion of the lay lords and seigneurs.
Not all the fascinating figures of history have been princes and counts; sometimes they were cardinal-archbishops, and when they were wealthy and powerful seigneurs as well they became at once principal characters on the stage. Often they have been as romantic and chivalrous (and as intriguing and as greedy) as the most dashing hero who ever wore cloak and doublet.
Still another species of historical characters and monuments is found plentifully besprinkled through the pages of the chronicles of the Pyrenean kingdoms and provinces, and that is the class which includes warriors and their fortresses.
A castle may well be legitimately considered as a fortress, and a château as a country house; the two are quite distinct one from the other, though often their functions have been combined.
Throughout the Pyrenees are many little walled towns, fortifications, watch-towers and what not, architecturally as splendid, and as great, as the most glorious domestic establishment of Renaissance days. The cité of Carcassonne, more especially, is one of these. Carcassonne's château is as naught considered without the ramparts of the mediæval cité, but together, what a splendid historical souvenir they form! The most splendid, indeed, that still exists in Europe, or perhaps that ever did exist.
Prats-de-Mollo and its walls, its tower, and the defending Fort Bellegarde; Saint Bertrand de Comminges and its walls; or even the quaintly picturesque defences of Vauban at Bayonne, where one enters the city to-day through various gateway breaches in the walls, are all as reminiscent of the vivid life of the history-making past, as is Henri Quatre's tortoise-shell cradle at Pau, or Gaston de Foix' ancestral château at Mazères.
Mostly it is the old order of things with which one comes into contact here, but the blend of the new and old is sometimes astonishing. Luchon and Pau and Tarbes and Lourdes, and many other places for that matter, have over-progressed. This has been remarked before now; the writer is not alone in his opinion.
The equal of the charm of the Pyrenean country, its historic sites, its quaint peoples, and its scenic splendours does not exist in all France. It is a blend of French and Spanish manners and blood, lending a colour-scheme to life that is most enjoyable to the seeker after new delights.
Before the Revolution, France was divided into fifty-two provinces, made up wholly from the petty states of feudal times. Of the southern provinces, seven in all, this book deals in part with Gascogne (capital Auch), the Comté de Foix (capital Foix), Roussillon (capital Perpignan), Haute-Languedoc (capital Toulouse), and Bas-Languedoc (capital Montpellier). Of the southwest provinces, a part of Guyenne (capital Bordeaux) is included, also Navarre (capital Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port) and Béarn (capital Pau).
Besides these general divisions, there were many minor petits pays compressed within the greater, such as Armagnac, Comminges, the Condanois, the Pays-Entre-Deux-Mers, the Landes, etc. These, too, naturally come within the scope of this book.
Finally, in the new order of things, the ancient provinces lost their nomenclature after the Revolution, and the Département of the Landes (and three others) was carved out of Guyenne; the Département of the Basses-Pyrénées absorbed Navarre, Béarn and the Basque provinces; Bigorre became the Hautes-Pyrénées; Foix became Ariège; Roussillon became the Pyréneés-Orientales, and Haute-Languedoc and Bas-Languedoc gave Hérault, Gard, Haute-Garonne and the Aude. For the most part all come within the scope of these pages, and together these modern départements form an unbreakable historical and topographical frontier link from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.
This bird's-eye view of the Pyrenean provinces, then, is a sort of picturesque, informal report of things seen and facts garnered through more or less familiarity with the region, its history, its institutions and its people. Châteaux and other historical monuments, agriculture and landscape, market-places and peasant life, all find a place here, inasmuch as all relate to one another, and all blend into that very nearly perfect whole which makes France so delightful to the traveller.
Everywhere in this delightful region, whether on the mountain side or in the plains, the very atmosphere is charged with an extreme of life and colour, and both the physiognomy of landscape and the physiognomy of humanity is unfailing in its appeal to one's interest.
Here there are no guide-book phrases in the speech of the people, no struggling lines of "conducted" tourists with a polyglot conductor, and no futile labelling of doubtful historic monuments; there are enough of undoubted authenticity without this.
Thoroughly tired and wearied of the progress and super-civilization of the cities and towns of the well-worn roads, it becomes a real pleasure to seek out the by-paths of the old French provinces, and their historic and romantic associations, in their very crudities and fragments every whit as interesting as the better known stamping-grounds of the conventional tourist.
The folk of the Pyrenees, in their faces and figures, in their speech and customs, are as varied as their histories. They are a bright, gay, careless folk, with ever a care and a kind word for the stranger, whether they are Catalan, Basque or Béarnais.
Since the economic aspects of a country have somewhat to do with its history it is important to recognize that throughout the Pyrenees the grazing and wine-growing industries predominate among agricultural pursuits.
There is a very considerable raising of sheep and of horses and mules, and somewhat of beef, and there is some growing of grain, but in the main — outside of the sheep-grazing of the higher valleys — it is the wine-growing industry that gives the distinctive note , of activity and prosperity to the lower slopes and plains.
For the above mentioned reason it is perhaps well to recount here just what the wine industry and the wine-drinking of France amounts to.
One may have a preference for Burgundy or Bordeaux, Champagne or Saumur, or even plain, plebeian beer, but it is a pity that the great mass of wine-drinkers, outside of Continental Europe, do not make their distinctions with more knowledge of wines when they say this or that is the best one, instead of making their estimate by the prices on the wine-card. Anglo-Saxons (English and Americans) are for the most part not connoisseurs in wine, because they don't know the fundamental facts about wine-growing.
For red wines the Bordeaux — less full-bodied and heavy — are very near rivals of the best Burgundies, and have more bouquet and more flavour. The Medocs are the best among Bordeaux wines. Château-Lafitte and Château-Latour are very rare in commerce and very high in price when found. They come from the commune of Pauillac. Château Margaux, St. Estèphe and St. Julien follow in the order named and are the leaders among the red wines of Bordeaux — when you get the real thing, which you don't at bargain store prices.
The white wines of Bordeaux, the Graves, come from a rocky soil; the Sauternes, with the vintage of Château d'Yquem, lead the list, with Barsac, Entre-Deux-Mers and St. Emilion following. There are innumerable second-class Bordeaux wines, but they need not be enumerated, for if one wants a name merely there are plenty of wine merchants who will sell him any of the foregoing beautifully bottled and labelled as the "real thing."
Down towards the Pyrenees the wines change notably in colour, price and quality, and they are good wines too. Those of Bergerac and Quercy are rich, red wines sold mostly in the markets of Cahors; and the wines of Toulouse, grown on the sunny hill-slopes between Toulouse and the frontier, are thick, alcoholic wines frequently blended with real Bordeaux — to give body, not flavour.
The wines of Armagnac are mostly turned into eau de vie, and just as good eau de vie as that of Cognac, though without its flavour, and without its advertising, which is the chief reason why the two or three principal brands of cognac are called for at the wine-dealers.
At Chalosse, in the Landes, between Bayonne and Bordeaux, are also grown wines made mostly into eau de vie.
Béarn produces a light coloured wine, a specialty of the country, and an acquired taste like olives and Gorgonzola cheese. From Béarn, also, comes the famous cru de Jurançon, celebrated since the days of Henri Quatre, a simple, full-bodied, delicious-tasting, red wine.
Thirteen départements of modern France comprise largely the wine-growing region of the basin of the Garonne, included in the territory covered by this book. This region gives a wine crop of thirteen and a half millions of hectolitres a year. In thirty years the production has augmented by sixty per cent., and still dealers very often sell a fabricated imitation of the genuine thing. Wine drinking is increasing as well as alcoholism, regardless of what the doctors try to prove.
The wines of the Midi of France in general are famous, and have been for generations, to bons vivants. The soil, the climate and pretty much everything else is favourable to the vine, from the Spanish frontier in the Pyrenees to that of Italy in the Alpes-Maritimes. The wines of the Midi are of three sorts, each quite distinct from the others; the ordinary table wines, the cordials, and the wines for distilling, or for blending. Within the topographical confines of this book one distinguishes all three of these groups, those of Roussillon, those of Languedoc, and those of Armagnac.
The rocky soil of Roussillon, alone, for example (neighbouring Collioure, Banyuls and Rivesaltes), gives each of the three, and the heavy wines of the same region, for blending (most frequently with Bordeaux), are greatly in demand among expert wine-factors all over France. In the Département de l'Aude, the wines of Lézignan and Ginestas are attached to this last group. The traffic in these wines is concentrated at Carcassonne and Narbonne. At Limoux there is a specialty known as Blanquette de Limoux — a wine greatly esteemed, and almost as good an imitation of champagne as is that of Saumur.
In Languedoc, in the Département of Hérault, and Gard, twelve millions of hectolitres are produced yearly of a heavy-bodied red wine, also largely used for fortifying other wines and used, naturally, in the neighbourhood, pure or mixed with water. This thinning out with water is almost necessary; the drinker who formerly got outside of three bottles of port before crawling under the table, would go to pieces long before he had consumed the same quantity of local wine unmixed with water at a Montpellier or Béziers table d'hôte.
At Cette, at Frontignan, and at Lunel are fabricated many "foreign" wines, including the Malagas, the Madères and the Xeres of commerce. Above all the Muscat de Frontignan is revered among its competitors, and it's not a "foreign" wine either, but the juice of dried grapes or raisins, — grape juice if you like, — a sweet, mild dessert wine, very, very popular with the ladies.
There is a considerable crop of table raisins in the Midi, particularly at Montauban and in maritime Provence which, if not rivalling those of Malaga in looks, have certainly a more delicate flavour.
Along with the wines of the Midi may well be coupled the olives. For oil those of the Bouches-du-Rhône are the best. They bring the highest prices in the foreign market, but along the easterly slopes of the Pyrenees, in Roussillon, in the Aude, and in Hérault and Gard they run a close second. The olives of France are not the fat, plump, "queen" olives, sold usually in little glass jars, but a much smaller, greener, less meaty variety, but richer in oil and nutriment.
The olive trees grow in long ranks and files, amid the vines or even cereals, very much trimmed (in goblet shape, so that the ripening sun may reach the inner branches) and are of small size. Their pale green, shimmering foliage holds the year round, but demands a warm sunny climate. The olive trees of the Midi of France — as far west as the Comté de Foix in the Pyrenees, and as far north as Montelimar on the Rhône — are quite the most frequently noted characteristic of the landscape. The olive will not grow, however, above an altitude of four hundred metres.
The foregoing pages outline in brief the chief characteristics of the present day aspect of the old Pyrenean French provinces of which Béarn and Basse-Navarre, with the Comté de Foix were the heart and soul.
The topographical aspect of the Pyrenees, their history, and as full a description of their inhabitants as need be given will be found in a section dedicated thereto.
For the rest, the romantic stories of kings and counts, and of lords and ladies, and their feudal fortresses and Renaissance châteaux, with a mention of such structures of interest as naturally come within nearby vision will be found duly recorded further on.