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Sauveterre-de-Bearn travel guide

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Visit Sauveterre-de-Bearn (Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France)

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Sauveterre-de-Bearn is a small town in the part of the western Pyrenees called the Béarn des gaves and about 45 kilometres east of Biarritz

In the early middle ages Sauveterre was on one of the important trade routes to Spain and the bridge over the "Gave d’Oloron" was a key crossing point, a source of the town’s riches and an integral part of Sauveterre-de-Béarn’s defences.

Explore Sauveterre-de-Béarn

France This Way comment: Sauveterre-de-Béarn is a small town but has several lovely highlights so a visit is recommended when you explore the Béarn region.

The main parking areas for the town as well as the Sauveterre-de-Béarn tourist office are all in the north of the town near Rue Saint-André so that is where you are likely to start your visit. The renaissance style town hall is also here, and was built in the 16th century.

Behind the town hall you can see far-reaching views to the Pyrenees, and stroll along the esplanade to the terrace in front of the church.

The view from this terrace and the church behind you are certainly the main reason to visit Sauveterre-de-Bearn: the view looks over a bend in the river as well as the Bridge of Legend and it really is absolutely idyllic.

The church of Saint-André was built in the 12th century and has retained many of its original features such as columns either side of the doorway, several statues and decorative capital stones. The chevet is in the roman style of architecture, which is very beautiful, and the church is fortified. See Church of Saint-André for details.

Also next to this terrace there is a 13th century tower called Monreal’s tower and named after the Monreal family who saved it from demolition in the 19th century. It was a defensive structure (for a small town there were a lot of defences perhaps accounting for its name ‘Sauveterre’ or ‘safe ground’) and is almost 33 metres tall.

Inside Monreal tower there is a museum that explains medieval live in Sauveterre-de-Béarn as well as a scale model of the town.

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Next to the tower there is a flight of stairs that go down to the river, the Gave d'Oloron, and you can then follow the footpath alon the banks of the river until you reach the Pont de la Légende, the bridge that dominated the view from the terrace.

The bridge was built in the 13th and 14th centuries, but was partly destroyed by a large current of water in the 18th century, which also washed away the drawbridge that provided protection for the inhabitants of Sauveterre-de-Béarn. There are beautiful views along the river and of the church on the hill above from the end of the bridge.

The bridge is called the Bridge of Legend because of an interesting legend dating from 1170 that tells how Viscountess Sancie gave birth to a still-born child while her husband, Gaston V, was away. Rumours of witchcraft were rife at the time and she was accused of killing her new-born infant.

Her brother, the King of Navarre, ordered that she be tried by water, thus letting God decide her fate. She was taken onto the bridge and thrown into the turbulent waters below, with her hands and feet tied. She re-appeared from the torrent below, unconscious but alive and therefore judged innocent.

Nearby is the Porte de Lester, Lester’s gate, which gave access to the town from the bridge. It was once fortified with a heavy wooden door. Pass through this gate onto the ‘rue Pleguignou and walk up to the medieval town which stands at the top of the cliff above the bridge.

You can also see the walls of the old 11th century Arsenal and the Datters gate which originally had a drawbridge thus adding to the town’s defences. To the right you can see (but not visit) the ruins of the Viscount’s castle built by Gaston VII.

Attractions nearby

Two other towns of interest nearby that also developed around river crossings and pilgrims are Orthez, best known for its ancient bridge, and Salies-de-Bearn, renowned for the therapeutic properties of its natural salty waters. See also our Béarn guide.

The town of Saint-Palais, to the south of Sauveterre-de-Béarn, is the historc capital of the Navarre region.

You can find more travel ideas in the Pyrenees-Atlantiques guide and the Aquitaine guide.

See also: 

Photos of Sauveterre-de-Bearn

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Map of Sauveterre-de-Bearn and places nearby

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Visit near Sauveterre-de-Bearn with France This Way reviews

Sauveterre church of Saint-André

Sauveterre church of Saint-André

The church of Saint-André in Sauveterre is an interesting and charming roman style church built in the 12th century

Sauveterre church of Saint-André guide
Laas

Laas

Laas is a pretty village with a castle and roman style church in the gave d'Oloron valley

Laas guide
Salies-de-Bearn

Salies-de-Bearn

The small town of Salies-de-Bearn is a pleasure to explore, and a nice place to visit when you are passing through the region

Salies-de-Bearn guide
Saint-Palais

Saint-Palais

Saint-Palais is a small town on the Bidouze river in the historic Navarre region of south-west France

Saint-Palais guide
Orthez

Orthez

The 13th century stone bridge across the river is the highlight of your visit to Orthez

Orthez guide
Navarrenx

Navarrenx

Navarrenx is a traditional fortified French bastide town in the western pyrenees

Navarrenx guide

... or see ALL recommended places to visit in Pyrenees-Atlantiques

Address: Sauveterre-de-Béarn, Oloron-Sainte-Marie, Aquitaine, 64390, France || GPS coordinates: latitude 43.4, longitude -0.933333

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The French version of this page is at Sauveterre-de-Bearn (Francais)

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