Parc Naturel Régional des Landes de Gascogne

Located between the Gironde and the Landes, this vast
conservation area lies in what was once known
as the Grande Lande. Here sheep grazed under the
watchful eyes of shepherds, who used stilts to cross
the flat, muddy terrain. Most people lived in one of the
many small villages, but houses were also built in open
countryside, set in airiaux – unfenced grassy areas
surrounded by deciduous trees. When Napoleon III
decided to redevelop the area in the late 19th century,
the marshes and pastures gradually disappeared under
plantations of pines. Besides these forested areas, the
park also contains a number of waterways and small
lakes, including the unspoilt banks of the river Leyre,
from which visitors can see picturesque villages, ancient
farmhouses and splendid Romanesque churches.

This paradise for nature-lovers lies
between the Atlantic seaboard to the
west, the vineyards of the Gironde to
the north and the foothills of the
Pyrenees to the south. It was created
in 1970 to preserve not only the
traditional architecture and culture
of the Landes, but also its wildlife,
protecting an environment on which
around 40,000 people depend for their
livelihood. A total of 41 villages, 20 of
which are in the Gironde and 21 in the
Landes, have benefited. This extensive plateau,
which covers over 315,000ha (778,000 acres), is
covered with forests of deciduous trees and
evergreen pines, interspersed with large fields
of maize. The farmland is irrigated by the river
Leyre, which flows all the way through this
conservation area. Because the three routes to
Santiago de Compostela run through the park,
many pilgrims are among the visitors here.

Église Saint-Martin, Moustey
Moustey has two churches, the Église Saint-
Martin, with fine carving on its doorway,
and the Église Notre-Dame, a stopping-off point on
the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route.

Quartier de Marquèze
At Marquèze, which forms part of the Écomusée
de la Grande Lande, there is a reconstruction of a
traditional village. Visitors can walk through a group
of typical late 19th-century Landes houses.

Atelier des Produits Résineux de Luxey
The resin workshop at Luxey is a remnant of
an industry that once played a leading role
in the Landes’ economy. Here also is the
Musée de l’Estupr-huc (Firefighting Museum),
with exhibits on dealing with forest fires.

 

Vallées des Leyre
Road map B3. n Maison du Parc,
33 Route de Bayonne, 33830 Belin-
Beliet (05) 57 71 99 99.
Tel (05) 56 88 12 72. # Mon–Fri.
¢ public hols. www.parclandes-
de-gascogne.fr
The river Leyre, formed by
the Grande Leyre and Petite
Leyre, flows into the Arcachon
Basin. As it is the source of 80
per cent of the Basin’s water,
the river plays a key role in
the ecological
balance of that
watery expanse.
No roads run
along its course,
so the Leyre can
only be explored
by canoe or on
foot. The forest,
through which it flows for
100km (60 miles), is
surrounded by valleys and
marshland with a wealth of
wildlife. Ancient churches and
villages dot the landscape.

 

Solférino
Road map B3. In the southwest of
the park.
The village of Solférino was
founded by Napoleon III in
1863. He wanted to create an
ideal model of rural life. To
populate the region and
promote agriculture, the
Emperor purchased 7,000ha
(17,000 acres) of flatland on
which he built 10 farmhouses,
28 family houses, and 10
craftsmen’s
houses, as well
as a church and
a school.
E Musée des
Forges
Road map C3.
Brocas.
Tel (05) 58 51 48 46 or 58 51 44 56.
# mid-Jun–mid-Sep: Tue–Sun. & 8
In the 19th century, Brocas
was an important ironworking
centre. The museum, in a
disused flour mill, shows the tools and techniques that
were used in this important
industry, and also displays
cast-iron objects such as
firebacks. Next to the blastfurnace
are workshops, a barn
and ironworkers’ houses.

Quartier de Marquèze
Road map B3. Marquèze, in the
northeast of Sabres. n (05) 58
08 31 31. # Apr–Oct: daily. &
The Écomusée de la Grande
Lande is an open-air museum
with three separate locations:
Luxey, which is devoted to
resin-tapping; Moustey, which
focuses on local religious
traditions; and Marquèze,
which illustrates daily life in
past times, in one area of the
Grande Lande. To help create
the sense of going back in
time, visitors may travel to the
town by vintage steam train.
The Ecomusée de Marquèze,
which opened in 1969,
explores traditional rural Grande Lande, using the
reconstruction of a small,
local farming community from
the late 19th-century. Each
family would have lived in a
house set in an airial, a clearing
surrounded by deciduous
trees; such areas were once
the only patches of greenery
in the bare flatlands all around.
A wide range of different types
of building is represented,
including a manor house,
several tied cottages and sheep
barns. Specialist occupations
as shepherding, flour-milling
and resin-collecting (see Luxey),
as well as many other aspects
of rural life, are demonstrated
in a lively and informative way.
The Pavillion de Marquèze
features collections on renewable
energy development.

Luxey
Road map C3. In the northeast of
Sabres. n (05) 58 08 31 31.
From the 1850s to the
1950s, the resin industry
contributed greatly to
the economic prosperity
of the Landes. The
resin-processing workshop
run by Jacques
and Louis Vidal at
Luxey still has its
old buildings,
dating from 1859,
along with the
equipment that was
used. Incisions were
made in the trunks of the
pine trees and, as the sap ran
out, it was collected in vessels
and transferred to barrels that
were taken to the stills. Here
the resin and turpentine were
separated for use in the
chemical industry.

The terrible fires that ravaged
the forests of the Landes in
1947 and 1949 severely
affected the resin industry.
In Luxey, the Musée de
l’Estupe-huc (meaning “put
out the fire” in Gascon)
documents the dangerous and
difficult task of fighting forest
fires in the Landes.

Moustey
Road map B3.
Moustey has
two churches,
which stand
opposite one
another. The
late 15th-century
parish church
of St Martin, to
the north, is in the late Gothic
style. The Église Notre-
Dame, which was connected
to a hostel, served pilgrims. It
has an interesting 16th-century
keystone. The village also has
two rivers, which are good for
kayaking in summer.

Romanesque churches
Built during the Roman
epoque, the churches of this
area were important meeting
places for the St Jacques de
Compostela pilgrims. Certain
sanctuaries were built by the
pilgrims themselves, who
were almost the only people
to cross the marshy flatlands
of Les Landes at this period.
At Belhade, the Eglise St-
Vincent de Xaintes de
Belhade has an apse, nave
and belfry that date from the
11th–12th centuries. The
Eglise St-Pierre de Mons, near
Belin-Beliet was particularly
important on the pilgrim
route since legend says that
followers of Charlemagne
who died at Roncevaux were
buried here. Inside there are
beautiful wood carvings and
sculptured capitals. Eglise St-
Michel du Vieux Lugo at
Lugos is a 12th-century church
located in the heart of the
forest. A unique apse and
nave house painted
15th-century murals. The
churches may be closed to
the public out of season.

ARNAUDIN’S PRICELESS LEGACY
Félix Arnaudin (1844–1921), who lived at
Labouheyre (in the southwest of the park),
travelled the length and breadth of the
Landes, both by bicycle and on foot, with
his cumbersome photographic equipment. He
recorded a world that was slowly
disappearing, photographing shepherds,
storytellers and other scenes of country life,
as well as the landscape and its architecture.
This picture of the late 19th-century Grande
Lande, where people lived by planting crops,
raising animals and growing timber, on flat
expanses that seemed to stretch to infinity, is
part of a treasured historical record.