On our first full day in Béarn, we decided to spend the afternoon in the nearby city of Oloron-Sainte-Marie, the capital of the Haut Béarn region. The town is situated around the point where the Gave d’Aspe and the Gave d’Ossau meet, and has been a major trading hub in the region since the 11th century.
Our first port of call in the small city was the Quartier Notre Dame, and on our way to the quarter, we passed a plaque commemorating 19 young resistance fighters who were captured and sent to concentration camps in May 1943 where they died from hunger. It was a sobering and poignant reminder of the terrible impact the Second World War had on families in the region.
Continuing our walk, we came to the Église-Notre-Dame (above, left) and when we stepped inside, we found the place deserted. Wandering around the church, which was painted a pale cream and light grey, I was struck by how pretty the sanctuary was. Its walls and ceiling were delicately painted in shades of red, purple, green and gold (above, right), and its pink and purple stained glass windows were also delightfully pretty. It was a beautiful, peaceful space, if a little shabby and neglected in parts as some of the paintwork desperately needed touching up.
From the church, we made our way towards the Hotel de Ville and followed the signs to the Quartier Confluence. The path took us over the two rivers, the Aspe and the Ossau (above), and walking over the bridges that spanned them, we got a real sense of the potential combined power of these two rivers as we watched gallons of water pouring down the rivers and over the weirs.
We continued along the path until we reached the town centre again, which was pretty much deserted. We decided to stop for coffee in the only café we could find open where we were rudely and brusquely told we couldn’t only order drinks and had to order food, despite the fact that other people were sitting outside with nothing more than coffees.
With nothing else to see and all the other cafés and shops closed, we headed back to the car. On the way out of town a car beeped its horn at us angrily when we stopped at a red traffic light and then overtook us at speed, with the passenger sticking two fingers up at us as they drove past.
The incident rather summed up my feelings about Oloron-Sainte-Marie – I didn’t like it. There wasn’t much to see in the city, it was oddly deserted and the few people we came across weren’t particularly pleasant. Needless to say, during our week in Béarn, we only revisited the city to go to the supermarket and otherwise avoided it like the plague. Easily the most disappointing place we visited in Béarn – everywhere else, luckily, was lovely!