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places and playtime in les landes


Map of France showing Department 40, Les Landes

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new! Cathedrale Saint-Gatien at Tours  Cathedrale Saint-Gatien at Tours

Romanesque churches and cathedrals in south-west France updated: Romanesque churches and cathedrals in south-west France

 the perpendicular or English style of cathedral  Manchester cathedral

the fire at the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris
the fire at the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris
cathedral giants - Amiens and Beauvais

Stone tracery in church and cathedral construction illustrated
stone in church and cathedral construction

stained glass and cathedrals in Normandy illustrated graph

fortified churches, mostly in Les Landes

cathedral labyrinths and mazes in France
using metal in gothic cathedral construction

Germans in France
cathedral destruction during the French revolution, subsidiary page to Germans in France

Click for an introduction to cathedrals and stained glass in France.

on first arriving in France - driving
France is not England
paying at the péage (toll station)

Click for motorways and motorway aires in France.

Transbordeur bridges in France and the world 2: focus on Portugalete, Chicago, Rochefort-Martrou
Gustave Eiffel’s first work: the Eiffel passerelle, Bordeaux
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France’s western isles: Ile de Ré
France’s western iles: Ile d’Oleron

Ile de France, Paris: in the context of Abelard and of French cathedrals
short biography of Pierre (Peter) Abelard

Marianne - a French national symbol, with French definitive stamps

la Belle Epoque
Grand Palais, Paris

Click to go to pages about Art Deco at abelard.org

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Pic du Midi - observing stars clearly, A64
Carcassonne, A61: world heritage fortified city

Space City, Toulouse

the French umbrella & Aurillac

50 years old: Citroën DS
the Citroën 2CV: a French motoring icon

the forest as seen by Francois Mauriac, and today
Les Landes, places and playtime
roundabout art of Les Landes

Hermès scarves

Hèrmes logo

bastide towns
mardi gras! carnival in Basque country
country life in France: the poultry fair

what a hair cut! m & french pop/rock

Tour de France 2021

Le Tour de France: cycling tactics illustrated

Tour de France 2021

New translation, the Magna Carta

other documents on Les Landes

in les landes

The département of Les Landes in south-western France is a surreal, other-worldly place. Formerly nicknamed the French Sahara, Les Landes has been settled by friendly French people who take the fun part of living very seriously. Much of this ‘other world’ centres on the ever-present forest.

Les Landes is a place of change. Once unsalubrious marshes and dunes, it was then covered by pine forest, much exploited for the resins as well as the timber.

For a long time, well into the second half of the twentieth century, much of Les Landes, including the world of the forest, was poor.

Now, today’s Les Landes has come into the modern world, developing a vibrant, mixed economy - from timber and timber products to its role as a major holiday destination, with empty countryside and extensive beaches, surf and seaside towns.


  • chalosse

    The Revolutionary policy of divide and rule was to ensure that no region could rely on united local support. Thus Chalosse, now in the southern part of Les Landes, was tacked onto the moorland regions further north to make the conglomerate department that is today’s Les Landes. In contrast to the expanses of flat, marshy moorland and industrial forest of the Grande Lande, Chalosse has fertile farmers’ soil.

    Here graze the renowned white, Chalossais cattle. The beef animals are raised for more than three years, being fed on natural feeds of hay and maize to give flavoursome, good quality meat. From the cow’s milk is made the slighty soft and creamy, white Chalossais cheese with its gentle, acid edge. Other farming products come from the large quantities of poultry and ducks, raised for quality. The ducks are mostly fattened, preparation for the local delicacies of foie gras and paté made from the foie gras. Chalosse also produces Landais-type wines.

    The characteristic landscape of Chalosse comprises undulating hills, meadows one after another, fields primarily of maize, and woods with but few pines. Villages are relatively close to each other, and the agricultural land is broken into many relatively small fields, unlike the endless Gascogne forests. The result is a pleasant and colourful countryside. The villages, usually dominated by the church often of medieval origin, were mostly built on the high points. This can be seen clearly at Montfort-in-Chalosse, Mugron, Hagetmau, or Saint-Sever.

    In the Chalosse region, there are many traditional festivals that take place from April at October. the page, The poultry fair, gives a flavour of one of these local events.

the adour

Through Chalosse flows the River Adour, that once poured into the Atlantic Ocean at Vieux Boucau. After two attempts, the Adour was successfully diverted to flow to Bayonne, thus making that coastal town, in the neighbouring department of Pyrenees Atlantique, the local major port. The spa town of Dax (d’aquas) sits on both sides of the Adour river, which also flows near other Chalossais towns: Montfort-en-Chalosse, Pomarez, Saint-Sever, Hagetmau.

  • bas-armagnac

    Grapes are grown for wine in many parts of Les Landes. At Messanges, for instance, are grown grapes to make the local Tursan wine, first introduced to the region by Eleanor of Aquitaine.

    In the Bas-Armagnac region of Les Landes, other wines are distilled to make the more delicate cousin of cognac brandy, called armagnac or l’eau de vie [water of life]. Visit the region and find the Armagnac Ecomuseum [website, in French] at Garreau near Labastide d’Armagnac. Set in a vineyard, there you can see the stages of wine-making and distilling, and afterwards taste and buy the finished product. (Note, the Museum staff may not be able to speak English.). Vines are able to flourish locally thanks to local sands and marine deposits made in the Aquitaine basin during the mid-Miocene epoch (about 11 to 16 million years ago), and contribute to the quality of Bas-Armagnac wines.

    The Place Royale and church that is part of the bastide fortifications at La Bastide d'Armagnac
    The Place Royale and church that is part of the bastide fortifications at La Bastide d'Armagnac

    Part of the main square at La Bastide.About 3 kilometres from the Armagnac Museum is one of the best preserved bastide towns in France, La Bastide d’Armagnac. This town was French, then English and then French again. The Tourist Office staff is helpful and English-speaking.

    They will be able to direct you to the chapel for cyclists, Notre-Dame des Cyclistes. This chapel was previously called Notre-Dame de Géou until rededicated by pope John XXIII in 1959. Then, this chapel was converted into a cycling museum in hommage to French racing and touring cyclists. Numerous Tour An ancient cycle and cycle shirts, together with a photo of the Cycle Chapel founder. champions have deposited their shirts there:
    Darrigade, Anquetil, Bobet, Simpson, Hinault, Poulidor, Merckx, Ocana - even Lance Armstrong’s signed yellow jersey hangs in the chapel. The chapel has stained glass made by an ex-Tour de France cyclist, as well as dozens and dozens of cycling shirts and a small collection of antique cycles, together with a small souvenir stall.

about armagnac

bottles of Armagnac

Until the French Revolution, the region of Armagnac was a province of France. Now, the greater part of Armagnac is in Gers, with other parts in Lot-et-Garonne and Les Landes.

It is said that armagnac is the oldest brandy of France, born out of the confluence of three cultures: the vine introduced by the Romans, the still invented by the Arabs, and the barrel bottles of Armagnacwhich was first made by the Celts.

The appellation designation (Appelation d’Origine Contrôlée or A.O.C.) was allocated in 1905 for armagnac wine. The appellation extends over parts of the three departments. In Les Landes, the appellation is held in Bas-Armagnac. In Lot-et-Garonne, the appellation is goes to the Ténarèze region, centered on Condom; while in Gers, it’s held by the Haut-Armagnac (High Armagnac) area. Fifty percent of armagnac production is from Bas-Armagnac, forty-five percent from Ténarèze, with only five percent coming from Haut-Armagnac.

Armagnac is made from a selection of ten grape species. The most popular species is Folle Blanche, with Ugni Blanc, Baco 22a, and Colombard also being widely used. Typically, an armagnac chateau will distill 150 hectolitres of armagnac from 800 hectolitres of wine in a year. As the armagnac ages, it develops its unique flavours of prune, vanilla and even quince. Generally, armagnac is aged for at least 10 years in oak barrels, and this aging time can be as long as 40 years.

Armagnac from Bas-Armagnac [Les Landes] is usually regarded as the best quality, because the sandy soil is excellent for the Folle Blanche grape from which it is made. Ténarèze produces a more robust armagnac, grown on a clay soil and drunk in gentlemen’s clubs; while the armagnac from the Haut-Armagnac region is generally weaker, made from the Ugni Blanc grape growing on a chalky soil.

  • the seaside and lakes

    Landes Silver Coast at sunsetLes Landes is graced with La Côte d’Argent - the Silver Coast, 100 miles of white, sandy beach looking west onto the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. The Silver Coast was so named from 1905, when Maurice Martin, a Bordeaux journalist, wrote of the Landais coast:
    “On the two hundred and twenty-eight kilometres of beach, the eternal wave, sometimes calm, sometimes angry, comes to deposit its silvered fringe at the foot of immaculate dunes.”

  • The coast is being gradually colonised southwards from Bordeaux to Arcachon and on to towns like Mimizan, and northwards from Bayonne (the major port and town in coastal Pyrenees Atlantique), and even westwards from the larger towns inland, like Dax and Mont-de-Marsan (the department’s capital).

    at Landes occean beachOne of the first seaside resort towns to appear was Hossegor. This increasingly cosmopolitan town is now the Landais capital of surfing, and headquarters of surf clothing manufacturers and international surfng competitions. Hossegor is both on the coast and on a salt-water lake. The local environment, being sheltered, has a balmy climate that suits the masses of sweet-scented mimosa trees that bloom in February and March.

    During the twentieth century, other seaside towns have developed to become similar to the British holiday camp phenomenon of, for instance Butlin’s, during the summer season.There are tens of thousands of visitors, both French and foreign, who come for a seaside vacation, complete with entertainments, including bands and dances in the town square, organised by the town council, local commerce and various associations. Mimizan, Contis, Lit-et-Mixe, Veille-St. Girons, Léon, Moliets, Messanges, Vieux Boucau, Soustons Plage, le Penon, Hossegor and Capbreton are amongst the seaside resorts that offer sand and sea to go with the summer sun. The 38 zones of supervised swimming (see just below) are cleaned at least every three days.

    safety warning for sea swimming

    • Note that the Atlantic Ocean is not docile like the sea in the English Channel, and its wild strength is made fiercer by the many rip-tides (baines) to which the Silver Coast is prone.
      Always swim where there are lifeguards (maître-nageurs sauveteurs - MNS) ,
      keeping within the pennants marking the safe swimming area, and obey the warning flags and notices.
      Most years there are several incautious swimmers swept to their deaths along this coast. The surfers that you see outside these areas are fit and have studied the currents and the tides, do not try to swim just because you see a surfer further out to sea. That does not make that area of sea closer to the beach safe for swimmers. In 2006, 14 people were drowned along the Landes coast, all of them in areas outside the marked safe areas or at times outside those of supervision by lifeguards.

    • A further recent danger has arisen in the last couple of years, since large winter winds and waves have greatly shifted and rebuilt the dunes and sandy beach areas. Do not dig deep or large holes near the base of the dunes. The sand is not reliably secure and is likely to collapse into the hole, burying anyone in it. One young man died like this in 2006. The rule of thumb is, do not dig a hole deeper than your waist level.

    • An occasional seawater annoyance is jellyfish. Usually, there are none, but once in a while there is an ‘invasion’. Although the MNS do provide good first aid for those that have been stung, our advice, if you see a lump of jelly/jello or a blue-black bag on the beach, is to keep out of the water. The French for jellyfish is la meduse, so the word meduse on a newspaper headline or poster is another warning.

    • Beach supervision, summer season, 2017
      A local newspaper has compiled a list of beaches in Les Landes and the dates and times when they supervised by maître-nageurs sauveteurs. [Article in French.]

    As part of the draining of the marshes of the moors, lakes were made, often called Étangs. Some of these, such as the one at Vieux Boucau, are recreational lakes with swimming, wind-surfing, fishing and paddle boats; while others are nature reserves with herons, tortoises and tranquility. (These we will not name, to ensure that they are not swamped with visitors, look at maps and seek them out yourselves!)

partying and holidays - les fêtes et les vacances

Like all French people, the Landais make the most of their holidays, whether national holidays or vacations from work and school. The Landais are particularly keen on communal events, with even the smallest village having its summer Fête, and often further events are organised - festivals, fairs, feasts, competitions of all sorts. Included with the fêtes will be music, often provided by a local banda or harmonie - brass bands. The summer season, from late June through to early September, from near the end of the school year until the Rentrée, is one long party!

The waiter's race at a seaside resort summer fêtes
The waiter’s race at the summer fêtes
of a seaside resort with many cafés

Beret throwing, with fête-uniformed locals
Beret-throwing, with fête-uniformed locals


All fetes and fairs include feasting. Communal repasts are much enjoyed in Les Landes, whether it is the Paschal Omelette [Omelette de Pâques] that is usually cooked on Easter Monday, a bogéda, a sardinade, or a stall cooking burgers and chips [les frites]. These last are sometimes combined in a baguette to become the gourmand’s gastronomic monstrosity that is called an Américan!

During the summer, eating is done outdoors in the warmth of the evening with the smoke from the barbeque grills spiraling skywards, while a disco or plays recent and past French pop and disco anthems, as well as old favourites, in the background.

The local cafés also provide outdoor eating; there, the diners are often entertained by local bands and singers.

a communal barbeque

fêtes costume

As you may have noticed in the beret-throwing illustration above right, fêtes are often marked by the organisers and many of the participants dressing in a widespread local uniform. White tops and bottoms (whether shirt, blouse, t-shirt, trousers,skirt or dress) are completed by contrasting neck-scarf, waist sash and even a beret, all in red or possibly another strong colour, such as blue, green or yellow (the colour may be that of the local rugby or soccer team strip). This dressing for the occasion is particularly marked for the, often week-long, events involving bulls and cows. The nearby grand surfaces (large supermarkets) will sell all the necessary components of the uniform from three or so weeks before the local festival or fêtes. A complete outfit can cost about 15 to 20 euro [2007].

torros, corridas and cow-jumping

The arène, arena, at Dax.Almost every medium and large town in the southern parts of Les Landes has an arène, an arena used primarily for entertainments and sports with cows or bulls, though also used to hold other events such as folk dance and music displays. [Map and list of 179 arènes.]

Tauromachie - bull-fighting - is a well-established enthusiasm in southern France, as well as in Spain, although this is often not to the taste of the more urbain Anglo-Saxon. Tauromachie includes the “It’s a knockout”-type games that include heifers as part of the moving obstacles and challenges.

statue of an ecarteur avoiding a Landaise cow, at DaxBut in Les Landes, although there are some week-long corridas [bullfights] of red-blooded (and bloody) bull-fighting, there is also the much more civilised (to our minds) sport - the Course Landaise. Mind you, sometimes you can find a corrida portugaise [Portugeuse bullfight] where the animals are not killed, at least not in public view.

In the Course Landaise, both the animals and the human participants, the toreros, are awarded points for their prowess in their particular roles. The goal is for the écarteurs [swervers] and the sauteurs [jumpers] to provoke a semi-wild small cow, the coursière, to charge and, at the last, moment to avoid being gored by either swerving away from the animal, or by jumping over it, often in spectacular fashion.

Jumping over a Landaise cow in Course Landaise. Note the sauteur's feet in a red beret.

A thin rope (corde) is tied to the animal’s head, enabling the cordier to both direct the animal’s rush to charge their provoker and to protect the sauteur, if necessary.

Points are awarded to the écarteurs and sauteurs, according to the riskiness of the manoeuvre, and the skill and elegance with which it was performed. The most points are received for the jump where the feet are enclosed in a beret [a red beret in the photo to the right] and the legs tied about the knees. [This linked page has links to short videos of all the main jumping and swerving manoeuvres.] The cow (or rather its breeder) is awarded points for ferocity.

 Course Landaise, from the beginning of the 20th century
Course Landaise, from the beginning of the 20th century.


a short history of the Course Landaise

The Course Landaise certainly has many similarities to the sport of jumping over bulls practised in ancient Crete. However, it looks probable that the men of Les Landes came to their sport from a different route.

The earliest written mention of the Course Landaise was in the 15th century. In those days, the animals were let run through the streets, the objective being to run with the cows or bulls and get close enough to touch one without being knocked over. From this behaviour, racing the animals, comes the name Course, la course meaning ‘the race’ in French. These street runs continue in Spanish towns, the one at Pamplone in North Spain being known for its ferocity, while bulls are still run, at least, at Bayonne in France.

Fresco found on the Island of Crete showing a man jumping over a bullDuring the 19th century, there were two events that changed the Course Landaise to become the sport of today. Firstly, came the regulation that the Courses only be held in enclosed, terraced arenas. From this limitation of space was born, first the swerve and then the jump, the two main artistic and athletic moves.

Secondly, in 1853, Spanish cows and bulls were introduced. These turned out to be better suited to this sport than the local Landais animals. At the end of the 19th century, rubber buttons put on the end of the horns became obligatory, while the rope and the rope holder appeared soon after. To complete the picture of Course Landaise as it is known today, the toreros adopted the dress they still wear today: white trousers, a tie, a wide sash as used to be worn for Sunday best, and a coloured short jacket or bolero, with gold or silver sequins - similar to that worn as part of a bullfighter’s suit of lights.

end notes

  1. The name Chalosse, or Shalòssa, probably has its origin in the Gascon phrase sal hossa which would translate into land of salt beds, coming from sau - salt and hossa - pit (fosse in French).

  2. ecomuseum: [écomusée in French]
    The prefix eco- in France often is an abbreviation of economic, or economy. Thus ecomuseums are devoted to the history of particular aspects of the local economy. In Les Landes, as well as the Armagnac Ecomuseum, the Ecomuseum centred around Sabres features the industries and life based around growing pine tress.

  3. Sample of molasse rocks amongst pine needles.During the Mid-Miocene epoch, between 11 and 16 million years ago, the Atlantic Ocean washed into the Aquitanian Basin, at least as far as what is now Bas-Armagnac. The sea laid down continental deposits that are now grouped under the general term of “Fawn-coloured sands”. These include molasse, sandstones, shales, or even gravel, and were laid down as shore or foreland layers generally containing fossils of many terrestrial species [see to right].

    Bas-Armagnac soil is composed of clay-silicate layers, covered by ochre sands and a fine clay now used for making ceramics. From these deposits are produced elegant brandies with delicate bouquets, particularly with nuances of prune, called armagnacs.

  4. Bas-Armagnac is also known as Armagnac Noir. This means Black Armagnac, probably so called because of the dense woods that loom on the hilly terrain.
    Haut-Armagnac is also known as Armagnac-blanc - White Armagnac, because of its white chalky soils.

  5. hectolitre: 100 litres,
    or 22.0097 imperial gallons,
    or 26.42 US gallons.

  6. Gers: department 32
    Lot-et-Garonne: department 47
    Les Landes: department 40

  7. rentrée:
    The general return to work after the summer break, which includes the start of the new) school year. The rentrée is also when the Parliament starts again after its summer recess. This word extends out, from these end-of-summer events to mean autumn itself. At times, you have the impression that the year starts at this time, rather than in January, because so many institutions come back to xork (or study) at this time.

  8. bodéga:
    Spanish for a wine celler or grocery store;
    Occitan for a lute-like musical instrument.
    In this usage, a Spanish-style communal meal with dancing, wine and food cooked à la plancha (on a hotplate or griddle).

  9. sardinade:
    Freshly caught sardines grilled on a barbeque, eaten with fresh baguettes and white or rosé wine. Tabasco sauce may be sprinkled on the fish.
    Sardinade also refers to a communal sardine dinner, often organised as a communal barbeque.

  10. gourmand:
    Someone who knows about food; loving it, they eat in large quantities, and often with a sweet tooth.
    A person who has expert knowledge about food and drink, appreciating subtle differences in flavour, or quality. Nero Wolfe is a gourmet.
    sweets, candies

  11. Berets, now worn by military forces all over the world, but often reagrded as old-fashioned by younger French people, were first made by the shepherds in the Bearn region of Gascony, practical woollen headwear that protected from wind, rain, cold, was used as a mushroom basket. For the French of other times, a boy was given a beret when he went to school, a sign that he was growing up to be a man.

    Beret colours and sizes vary according to the region. For the Courses Landaises, berets are often red, complementing the common fêtes ‘uniform’ colours. Les Landes also has some very large diameter berets. Everyday berets are black, and in Les Landes often shaped and worn pulled forward to provide shade over the eyes, so looking like a British cloth cap.

    There is a museum of the Beret, the Musée du Béret at Nay in Pyrenees Atlantique. [Linked site in French only.]

    The beret is one of the most practical hats ever invented. It can be pulled forward over the eyes as a shade, in the fierce southern sun, it can be pulled down over the ears in chilly weather, and can be folded and stuffed into a pocket in case the evening becomes too cool.
on first arriving in France - driving Les Pyrénées, A64
motorway aires, introduction Pech Loubat, A61
Mas d’Agenais, A62 Les Bréguières, A8
Lozay, A10 Hastingues, A64
Catalan village, A61 Port-Lauragais, A61
aires on the A75 autoroute from clermont-ferrand to béziers Tavel, A9

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