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The Bearn in South West France

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Histoire du Bearn dans les Pyrenees Atlantiques
The Bearn area in the Pyrenees Atlantiques department of the Aquitaine region in south west france Departement:
Pyrenees Atlantiques (64)
The Bearn area in the Pyrenees Atlantiques department of the Aquitaine region in south west france

First mentioned as a Viscounty in the 9th Century, it is thought that Bearn owes its origins to the Roman town of beneharnum, now Lescar just North of Pau.

In the 13th Century Bearn passed into the hands of the County of Foix, separated by Bigorre. Count Gaston Febus started the conquest of Bigorre under the English occupation of Gascony and completed the fortification of many of the towns in the Bearn during the 14th Century - the remains of his building program can be seen today at Orthez, Pau and Sauveterre-de-Bearn.

The Bearn was later controlled successively by two important noble families, the Albrets and the Bourbons, Kings of Navarre. The Bearn was attached to the Kingdom of France in 1620 after the death of Bourbon Henri IV who was the Count of Bearn and the King of France.

During the Napoleonic wars, Wellington's army passed through the Bearn, 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 Bearn when they retired.

The geography of the Bearn 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.