Today we will visit the River Adour, a beautiful river in the south west of France. It flows 308 km from its source in the dramatic mountains of the Pyrénées, to the Bay of Biscay on the Atlantic coast. Its journey takes it through four departments, the Hautes-Pyrénées, Gers, Landes, and the Pyrénées-Atlantiques. The upper parts of the river are within easy reach of Lourdes Airport, and the lower reaches are two hours from Bordeaux.
The first 11 km of the river is known as the Adour de Payolle. Its source is in the commune of Aspin-Aure in the Hautes-Pyrénées. Aspin-Aure itself is a tiny hamlet with a population of 40. The river turns into the grand Adour in the hamlet of Trassouet. If you are a sun-seeker, I imagine that you will find the isolation and mountain weather here a little harsh, but if you love snow and skiing, you will be in your element. There are plenty of ski resorts within easy striking distance.
Another 5 km down the river, having passed only small hamlets, we reach a larger settlement, the village of Campan, with its delightful cobbled streets. The commune has a population of 1,304. The village is quite well served, with an epicerie (grocer), boulangerie, cafés, and some speciality shops. The main industries here are forestry, green marble quarrying, wool production, dairy farming, and tourism. The village is famous for 'les Mounaques', large naive wooden dolls, which decorate the village like scarecrows. You can have fun hunting for them on Google Streetview!
We continue down the river to little village of Asté. The commune has a population of 581. This charming village has a little cafe cum greengrocer, a museum, and a toy shop, (perhaps closed now, or is it just seasonal?) Asté even has its own fabulous fromagerie! Nearby are the wonderful caves at the Grottes de Médous.
Next, the river passes through the centre of Bagnères-de-Bigorre, a busy town with a population of 7,034. Parts of the river here are used for white water kayaking. The town's name, which literally means Baths of Bigorre, reflects the presence of a spa. The 'Grands Thermes' Spa was completed in 1828 and resulted in a substantial tourist trade, which remains strong to this day.
The last mountain village of character is Montgaillard, on the lower slopes of the Pyrénées. This is rather a pretty place, with a population of 838. It boasts a church standing proudly on a hill with excellent panoramic views. It does have a road running through it, but it has plenty to recommend it. Some of the attractive farmhouses have land backing onto the river, there are many well cared-for village houses, a few shops, a cafe, and even a doctor, although sadly, the nearest supermarket is an eight minute drive away in Pouzac.
The river descends from the mountains now, and runs close to some rather unprepossessing villages towards Tarbes, a large town, with a population of 42,925. I am not much taken with Tarbes, It is a tidy, but not especially inspiring place, with solid architechture, and strong industrial roots. From Tarbes, the river remains on a gentle descent through agricultural plains for the remainder of its journey. The villages along this stretch, such as Aurensan and Tostat, are rather plain, and the terrain is flat, with no special character to tempt tourists or house hunters. I am not particularly drawn to this area, as you can tell, although I do like the pebble studded walls you can find on some of the properties around here.
The river gently snakes ever downwards through a wooded valley, passing a fishing lake at Vic-en-Bigorre, and eventually finding its way into the sprawling village of Lafitole. I was intrigued to see a Western riding centre here, as I used to do a bit of Western riding back in the day (I wasn't very good at it, but I enjoyed it nevertheless).
Not long after Lafitole the river winds around the town of Maubourguet, which has a population of 2,254. This is a large village, in a very flat and rather featureless landscape. It is a local hub, with some bigger roads running through the town, but there are plenty of quieter corners to explore, and it well equipped with shops, restaurants, cafes, and all the facilities you might need for daily life. A particular attraction is the large regular market. Of far less appeal to me is the local sport of 'course landaise', a form of bullfighting. (This is an official sport in France, unfortunately).
The River Adour now enters the department of Gers and arrives at the village of Riscle, where there is a splendid suspension bridge. The commune is paired with Cannet, and together they have 1,761 inhabitants. Again several bigger roads converge here so, for me, the village lacks character, but there are certainly plenty of facilities here.
The river then enters Landes and passes Aire-sur-l'Adour. This is a large town of 6,197 inhabitants, with every facility you could wish for. It is divided by the river into two sections. The old town is on the south side of the river, and the more modern quarters are to the north. The old town is lovely - it's the first really characterful town we've seen on the Adour, and the main D834 road keeps the cars and lorries well away from the historic centre. If only we weren't in bullfighting territory again!
Now we reach Saint Sever, another good sized town with 4,927 inhabitants and an attractive historic town centre. There are plenty of facilities here to suit all tastes, as well as a regional museum of art and history. There are some unexpected treats tucked away in the back streets. I especially love the soft grey brick paviour streets, the amazing carvings at the Abbey, and the mural painted walls of the antique shop on the corner of Rue Grandin de l'Épervier and Rue du Castallet.
Once again the river separates the town from a less appealing and more industrial neighbouring area, and the main roads take the worst of the traffic well away from the town centre. However, the surrounding countryside is as flat as a pancake and has little to offer people like me and my husband, who love a good ramble out in the sticks.
From Saint Sever, the River Adour used to be fully navigable all the way to the sea, but the upper reaches of this section have not been maintained as navigations since 1979. Over the summer months, the section from Saint Sever to Dax can run quite dry, and the shallow draught can make navigation impossible.
After Dax, we reach the lower, navigable reaches, where the river is broader. Most of the towns and villages are set well away from the river on slight rises in the landscape. Mugron is a good example. Other towns, like Pontonx-sur-l'Adour, are spread along a busy road.
Our next port of call is Dax, a large spa town of 21,044 souls. I'm afraid that I find Dax rather dreary and jaded. A lot of the old buildings have been destroyed and replaced with modern blocks, even around most sides of the famous 'Fontaine Chaude'. It's all a bit disappointing. Even the river has nothing picturesque about it.
From Vimport the River Adour is tidal. We continue west, past Saubusse, and we wind our way onwards to the Bec du Gave where the Adour merges with the River Gaves réunis. From here the Adour forms the boundary between the Landes department and the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department. We pass Tarnos, where the border with Landes heads off towards the north.
The River Adour concludes its journey within the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department, and enters the city of Bayonne. Bayonne is far too large for my tastes, and much of it is characterless, but Bayonne Cathedral is rather impressive, and the old town around it, the river bank of the Nive with its many bars and restaurants, the beautiful Botanic Gardens, and the nearby Musée Basque, devoted to the region’s arts, crafts and traditions, are all worth a visit.
It is not far from Bayonne to the mouth of the river. It ends at the Plage de La Barre just north of Biarritz.
I hope you enjoyed this amble along the River Adour. More waterway journeys to come soon!