First mentioned as a Viscounty in the 9th Century, it is thought that Béarn owes its
origins to the Roman town of beneharnum, now Lescar just North of Pau.
In the 13th Century Béarn passed into the hands of the County of Foix, separated by
Bigorre. Count Gaston Fébus started the conquest of Bigorre under the English occupation of Gascony and completed
the fortification of many of the towns in the Béarn during the 14th Century - the remains of his building program
can be seen today at Orthez, Pau and Sauveterre-de-Béarn.
The Béarn was later controlled successively by two important noble families, the
Albrets and the Bourbons, Kings of Navarre. The Béarn was attached to the Kingdom of France in 1620 after the death
of Bourbon Henri IV who was the Count of Béarn and the King of France.
During the Napoleonic wars, Wellington's army passed through the Béarn, winning an
important battle at Orthez and setting up a garrison at Pau (the final Battle "Le dernier Redout" (Last stand) was
at Arcangues, 5 kms South West of Biarritz in the Pays Basque). The British were very well received in the area and
many soldiers from Wellington's campaign set up home in the Béarn when they retired.
The geography of the Béarn is dominated by the valleys of the two large mountain
river sources (called 'Gaves' locally): the Gave d'Oloron and the Gave de Pau - two of Europe's finest Salmon and
Trout fishing rivers (see Map). The rest of the terrain is rolling hills and
valleys, at around 350m - 450m above sea-level. Magnificent views from the hills of the surrounding countryside and
of the Pyrenees Mountains, and of course, the closer you get to the mountains, the foot-hills get higher and the
valleys deeper - up to a point where spectacular gorges appear.