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A pretty Bearn town

The pretty old town of Oloron-Sainte-Marie, which lies in the far south-west of France, is a delightful place where traditions still have a meaning. Set in glorious countryside, close to the border with Spain, near the Pyrenean Mountains and not too far from the wild Atlantic coast, the town is famed for two products, both of which are traditionally French.

A town of berets and chocolate

Chocolate, of the finest, handmade variety, is produced here to the very highest standards, and the town is also the centre of manufacture of the beret, the little hat seen on the head of every Frenchman in old films! And with the Basque Country lying just to the west and south of Oloron-Sainte-Marie, there is a distinctly Basque flavour to the town. The townsfolk have a great pride in their heritage and culture.

Important geographical location

The town of Oloron-Sainte-Marie lies in an important geographical position, on the confluence of two rivers. Originally, there were two separate and warring towns, Oloron and Sainte-Marie. Oloron was a fortified hill town, formerly known as the ancient basque capital, Iluro, which was burnt down by the Romans. Iluro was re-built and re-named Oloron by the Viscomtes of Béarn. It occupied the high territory. Then there was Sainte-Marie in the plains below, which was built around its Cathedral. At first, the two towns were bitter rivals, but they were finally united in 1858 by a binding decree. Today the town still retains a certain commercial importance.

Lively and attractive town

Oloron-Sainte-Marie is a lively and attractive town today, with good shopping facilities and a selection of hotels and restaurants. Most amenities are on hand, but if you need to visit a larger city then Pau is not too far away.

Interesting churches

The town of Oloron-Sainte-Marie has two fascinating churches to visit. There is the Romanesque Ste Croix, and the ancient Cathedrale Ste Marie, which has an outstandingly beautiful portal made from Pyrenean marble. The cathedral also has a section which is segregated off from the rest, and this is thought to have been the part of the church where the mysterious Cagots worshipped. These people, about whom little is really known, were persecuted and derided.

Sporting opportunities near Oloron-Sainte-Marie

The town and its environs host numerous interesting sporting opportunities. Of these, hot-air ballooning may be of particular interest to the brave of heart, but there are many less adventurous activities to choose from. All the usual sports are available, such as tennis, swimming, walking and cycling. The town has a famous salmon ladder, and is the home of the world salmon fishing championships, so keen fishermen will find a unique fishing experience here. There is also horse-riding available on the native breed of Puttock ponies, a hardy and diminutive breed which are excellent for trekking in the wild Basque countryside. These ponies were once exported to Britain for use as pit ponies, but these days they tend to remain at home in the hills around Oloron-Sainte-Marie.

How to get there

To reach Oloron-Sainte-Marie by air you can take a Ryanair flight to Pau or Biarritz from Stansted. There is a TGV train to Biarritz, and if you are travelling by road you need to take the A64 for Pau. Lovers of the ferry can take the long crossing to Bilbao/Santander, which is an interesting trip in itself. Be warned, though, it can get a little rough in the Bay of Biscay!

Property prices and availability in and around Oloron-Sainte-Marie

Property in the town can still represent good value for money, especially when compared with Biarritz. The area is unspoiled and beautiful, and those seeking a rural idyll may very well find it here.

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Oloron-Sainte-Marie AT A GLANCE

WHERE IS Oloron-Sainte-Marie?

Oloron-Sainte-Marie is located in south-west France, just to the south-east of the centre of the department of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques.

Oloron-Sainte-Marie Property Map


Aquitaine Guide

Aquitaine Property Map


Pyrénées-Atlantiques Guide

  Pyrénées-Atlantiques Map

Population: 12,611

Access: By air: Fly into Pau or Biarritz airports. By rail: The TGV fast train runs into Biarritz. By road: The A64 autoroute will take you to Pau.

Economy: The town is the centre of the beret manufacturing industry. There is also an important high quality chocolate manufacturing factory in the town.

Interesting fact: Oloron-Sainte-Marie is the place to go if you want to buy a classic French beret. Traditionally worn by every self-respecting Frenchman, particularly in the Pays Basque, these days you are likely to see them only on the elderly.

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