|The Independent Traveler's Newsletter PAGE FOUR|
|FRANCE'S NANTUCKET ~ L'Ile d'Yeu continued . . .|
early as ca. 1,000 A.D. a wooden fortress is thought to have been erected
at a rather improbable site, a rocky islet just off the surf-beaten southern
coast of l'Ile d'Yeu. It was rebuilt of stone ~ with walls four
meters thick ~ in the 14th century during the Franco-English Hundred
Years' War. Virtually impregnable and facing a granite-cliffed shore
where a landing from the sea would have been impossible, lurking behind
its drawbridge and surrounded by water at each high tide, it served not
only as a defensive outpost but also as a refuge for the Islais population
in case of invasion. Partly dismantled in 1699 by King Louis XIV for fear
of English capture, the Old Castle's vestiges still loom dauntingly above
today's groups of visitors. A plan is now afoot to restore some of its
Like Nantucket, l'Ile d'Yeu was for several centuries a hub for long distance maritime traffic both for fishing (tuna rather than whales, however) and freight. Marie-Cécile is far from alone on the island in having had a great-grandfather who captained a deep-sea merchantman. In the days before refrigeration, sailors’ hankering for fruit had to be satisfied with dried variants. And still today, an Islais favorite is a kind of prune tart, although plums don't grow on the island.
A Recent ~ and Dark ~ Facet of L'Ile d’Yeu’s History . . .
. . . concerns Marshal Philippe Pétain. Revered as the Victor of Verdun, perhaps the bloodiest battle of World War I, he stood out as chief collaborator with the Nazi occupation forces during WWII, converting the traditional 'Liberty, Equality, Fraternity' national slogan into 'Work, Family, Fatherland'. His Vichy-based regime not only condoned but also actively aided and abetted the Nazis in arresting, deporting and thus murdering thousands of Jews and other 'undesirables'. Given his age (90), Pétain's 1945 high-treason death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, which he began to serve at the 1800s Citadelle fort on l'Ile d'Yeu. Despite humane treatment (his wife visited daily) and because of failing health, he was transferred to a kind of boarding house on the island until he died in 1951 and was buried in a cemetery near the Citadelle.
The Pétain/Ile d'Yeu saga doesn't end there, however. There are still today people in France who look on 'The Old Marshal' as a kind of savior, who spared their country a worse fate at the hands of the Nazis by collaborating with them. A 1973 caper saw his remains spirited away from the Ile d'Yeu grave, presumably by his partisans to be reburied at Verdun. Whether the official version ~ that the remains were re-captured and are today again in his grave on the island ~ is true or not, I do not know. But, if you visit the Citadelle you will see a sign that warns that visiting Pétain's apartment there is strictly forbidden 'for reasons of security'. Fear of other incidents? Probably. As late as June 2008 a garbage pail was emptied on Pétain's tombstone ~ the third such incident in recent years.
'Oya' means? Take Your pick!
A less grisly enigma is quite simply the origin of l'Ile d'Yeu's name, of which I've heard several possible explanations. It was early documented in Latin as Insula Oya, i.e. 'Oya Island'. But what, then, did 'Oya' mean? For some it was a corruption of ovis, Latin for 'sheep' of which many abound on today's island. Another version is simply oyat, French (since the 15th century) for a kind of sea reed planted to stabilize the sand dunes. (But, did the plant give its name to the island or vice versa?) A recent further suggestion is oy meaning 'island' in Scandinavian languages and possibly imported by 9th century Viking marauders ~ reasonable enough if you consider the origin of 'Guernsey' and 'Jersey', English Channel Islands regularly 'visited' by you-know-whom. Go ahead, take your pick.
Let's end on a much clearer impression: the people of l'Ile d'Yeu care intelligently about their island. One example is the Ile d'Yeu Compagnie des Guides. This Guide Company predictably offers walking and bike tours, diving lessons and sea outings to sail or fish. But it also organizes much less 'touristy' programs to acquaint visitors with the island's economy, bird life, flora, local traditions and habitat. Another eco-friendly clue is the slogan appearing on documents published for visitors: 'La beauté de l'Ile ne tient qu'à votre respect' ~ 'The Island's beauty depends first and foremost on your respecting it'.
more information on visiting l'Ile d'Yeu and surrounding areas check
Arthur's 18 guided half-day stroll itineraries to discover Paris
Through The Ages
descriptions, please mouse over photos.
Money-Saving Travel Tips . . .
Many of you may be debating whether a trip to France is currently a good idea with the economic woes that have befallen the world in the last several weeks. If you are still eager to go, here are a few money-saving tips for you to consider. And, remember that the euro has declined in value (at least to the US dollar) recently, making France a less expensive destination than this time a year ago.
Renting a car:
FEATURING: the Béarn & the Pays Basque
The Béarn is perhaps little known to the outside world except for the fact that Béarnaise sauce was named after the region. As the Béarn was the birthplace of Henri IV, mention of him will be frequently noticed during any visit. Henri is given credit for finally uniting the southwest with the French crown ~ in 1589 to be exact ~ many years after the territories were taken from the English with France's victory in the Hundred Years War.
Béarn has many interesting large towns, among them Orthez,
and its capital, Pau.
Pau is the most popular western Pyrénées city, boasting grand
Belle Epoque architecture, a university and great weather. Pau is famous
in fact for its weather, often being cited on weather reports for its mild
winter climate, making it the holiday destination of northern Europeans
for more than a century. On a typically clear day in Pau, the tallest
of the Pyrénées range can be seen. A museum in the
château today displays the historical significance of the Béarn
as well as housing some amazing Flemish tapestries. The Musée
des Beaux Arts possesses paintings by Dégas and El Greco among others.
Pau was the original seat of the Parliament of Navarre and is on the banks
of the Gave de Pau – 'gave' (pronounced 'gahv') being the Basque word for
'mountain river'. It has a large public garden, Parc National,
and the interesting Château de Pau which blends its medieval beginnings
with later Renaissance additions.
Typical well-tended Basque house and gardens
Henri IV was born in Pau in the Château de Pau in 1553 after his mother Jeanne d'Albret traveled south from Picardie just so he could be born there. His grandmother, Marguerite d'Angoulême, the sister of France's king, was responsible for the city becoming a center of culture and the arts. Henri IV may be familiar to you as the would-be king who had to become a Catholic to ascend to the throne and who said, "Paris is worth a Mass", as he renounced his Protestant roots. He did, however, legalize Protestant worship in many parts of France with his Edict of Nantes. He went on to become one of France's best-loved kings, behaving more like one of the people than royalty. He, unfortunately, was assassinated in 1610.
Orthez's old quarter bears the house of Jeanne d'Albret, Henri's mother. She had strong ties to the Protestants of the day which caused the Béarn to fall victim to the Wars of Religion in the 16th century. Orthez itself has fine architecture and a 13th century bridge worth seeing. Oloron-Ste-Marie at the junction of two rivers joining to form Gave d'Oloron, lays claim to producing the beret, a Basque 'invention'. Distinctively Basque, you will find more men of a certain age wearing berets in this region of France than anywhere else. Near the Spanish border, Oloron's church, Eglise Sainte-Croix, bears Moorish influences and its other church, the Romanesque Eglise Sainte-Marie, is famed for its marble doorway. On the gourmet front, locally produced cow, goat and sheep's cheeses are in abundance and well worth a try. This is, by the way, great picnicking country!
It is well worth mentioning at this point that there is a wide variety of attractions in this part of France. There are the Atlantic beaches stretching from France's southernmost town, Hendaye Plage, along the Côte Basque of the Golfe de Gascogne to such towns and cities as St-Jean-de-Luz, Guéthary, Bidart and Biarritz. There are health spas in the mountains, burgeoning ski resorts, prehistoric caves, grottoes and rugged hiking trails.
is an active market town on the banks of the Gave d'Oloron. A photographic
opportunity at every turn, Sauveterre is built into the 13th century ramparts,
and bits of the keep still stand. Visit the church of St-André
and the Château de Nays, built in the 16th century. The riverside,
bordered in forests, is quite lovely.
Salies-de-Béarn, along the D933 between Orthez and Sauveterre, is our personal favorite. A medieval market town (Market Day is Thursday) considered the 'Venice of the Béarn' and a member of les Villes et Villages Fleuris, it offers visitors and residents alike almost everything one could want. There is plenty of shopping, restaurants, churches, charming homes to admire and that lovely tiny River Saleys, which flows through the center of town, under a bridge opposite the ancient Romanesque church.
The highlight of the town may just be the tiny but very interesting Salt Museum that we discovered as we wandered the lovely winding cobbled streets of Salies. Salies' name is derived from 'sal', the Béarnaise word for salt, and it sits on a huge underground salt lake whose salt 'spring' has been the source of its prosperity. Since the Bronze Age, the salt found in this region has been used in the thermal waters as well as in the local cuisine.
road to la Côte Basque et des Pyrénées, the
spas at Salies-de-Béarn make it the destination, both present
and past, for those seeking a 'cure' for rheumatism and other ailments.
Visitors to the thermal baths will find swimming pools (both indoor and
outdoor), Turkish baths (hammam), saunas, mud-treatments, massages, and
a gym for fitness classes. The spas have been around since the mid-nineteenth
century; today, people come for both health and cosmetic reasons.
Charming residential area in Salies