The southern Landes is dominated by sand and the river Adour. The sand comes from two places: the coastal sand naturally from the sea, and inland from the ice age glaciers that gouged the Pyrénées. Sand shifts, and in modern history the Adour has shifted its course several times. At one time its estuary was at Capbreton then in 907 AD it shifted its course to reach the sea via Vieux-Bocau, and again in 1164 this time to Bayonne. In the 14th century a great storm blocked its path there and it returned to Vieux-Bocau.
The fortunes of the various ports changed with the river, to the irritation of those it deserted, and finally in 1569 Charles IX decided that its course should be fixed, and that it should flow to Bayonne, where the port was rapidly filling up with sand.
At this time the Landes was a desolate area, of shifting sand dunes and huge marshes where water drained away very slowly and shepherds walked around on stilts to keep their feet dry - a custom remembered today in various folk dances. The first steps to taming this area were taken by an engineer, Nicolas Brémontier at the end of the 18th century, when he stabilised both the coastal and inland dunes by erecting fences and then sowing marram grass, gorse and broom.
The next breakthrough was made by another engineer, Chambrelent, who succeeded in draining the marshes by breaking through the layer of impervious sandstone, thus enabling a massive programme of afforestation, mainly pine but also cork oak and ilex, creating one of the largest forests in Europe.
Today the department of the Landes consists of the long stretches of beaches, the largely flat pine forest, and inland the Chalosse, a hilly region bounded to the north by the sweeping curves of the now stable Adour and the pine forests and to the south by the Gave de Pau - a frontier that separated it historically and culturally from the Pays Basque and Bearn. Settled from Roman times, with a town and baths at Dax, Chalosse was part of Roman Aquitaine, a county of Gascony and then of Guyenne. Through the middle ages, Chalosse was controlled through Bayonne which was the southern-most French settlement on the Atlantic coast before the Basque countries (Soule and Navarre).
|One of France's most important spa towns, dating from Roman times|
|Important sea-side resort and old port|
|Small town on the N10 in the depths of the Landes forest|
|Landes holiday centre once beloved of the French arty set|
|Holiday centre in the Landes, on the famous cote d'argent, the huge stretch of beach that runs from Bayonne to Arcachon.|
|Typical neat Landes coastal resort|
|Small town at the junction of the Gaves de Pau and d'Oloron|
|Small but dynamic town with a welcoming atmosphere.|
|Largest town in the Marensin on a large and beautiful lake|
© 123Voyage, 1997 - 2014
Site v 2.1