France: South West France

Gascony and the Basque Country

Wines from north of the Pyrenees
By Paul Strang

This Guide was last updated on 28 July 2011
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Main towns and villages


Birthplace of King Henri IV, who is said to have been baptised with the wine of Jurançon on his lips, Pau has been much loved by the English, ever since some of the Duke of Wellington’s army, on their way home from the Peninsular war, decided to settle there. They introduced Anglo-Saxon ideas of plumbing and drainage, and inspired the creation of the Boulevard des Pyrénées, with its splendid views (if there is no fog) of the snow-capped mountains to the south. The best centre for exploring the Jurançon vineyards, with good hotels and restaurants, but appalling traffic jams.


‘Ibaï Ona’ is the Basque derivation of the town’s name, meaning ‘Eau bonne’ or good water originally referring to the river Nive. The course of the river Adour was diverted through the town in the 16th century, and today the Nive joins it in the town centre. It was here that the cocoa bean was first imported into France in the 16th century and today the Basque country is famous for its chocolate. Bayonne is also home to the famous ham, produced from locally-reared pigs and cured in the regional Béarnais salt.


A few kilometres west of the town of Condom, this is a remarkably preserved 13th century village. Cross the moat and go in through the fortified gate, the centrepiece of the almost complete ramparts. These include a three-storey tower and a fortified Romanesque church. Outside the village there is a museum of medieval war-machines.


Another fortified village half way between the vineyards of Madiran on the extremely pretty but winding road to the city of Auch. Ignoring the bypass wander down the main street admiring the many typical Gascon arcaded houses and of course the tall donjon which can see and be seen for miles around, a reminder that Gascons were warriors as well as gourmets.

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