mairie d'Arcangues
Jean Philippe Jubera

Arcangues: the ideal Basque village

Arrangoitze

Arcangues is a neighbouring village of two seaside towns, Biarritz and Anglet. It has a population of 3,107 and covers a surface area of about 1,700 hectares. An impression of harmony and calm emanates from these undulating green landscapes, just the right balance between nature and rural life.

Where time has no hold

Arcangues was founded in 1150. Its name in the Basque language is Arrangoitze, which means “the top of the valley” and its motto is “hemen bakea” that can be translated by “Here, there is peace”. And that says it all. It’s exactly what people feel when they discover the village and they still have that same impression when they return… because they inevitably return !

This pretty village can be described as the “ideal Basque village”. It is laid out around the church, fronton wall and town hall, as is often the case in the Basque Country. Arcangues is encircled by an 80-hectare golf course LINK. Beyond, can be found the village dwellings, as there is only one inhabitant in the village centre : the village priest !

At first, it’s the fronton square and Auberge d’Achtal terrace with its huge monolith stone tables set under the hundred-year-old plane trees that attract passing travellers… that is before their attention is captured by the architectural and historical details which abound in the village.

 

The architecture

The Arcangues Blue

The whole village centre, designed and staged by the Marquis Pierre d’Arcangues, was completely rebuilt using ancient materials. Each and every little wall, nook and cranny has been fashioned with the greatest care and attention using stones and sculptures that are several centuries old.

This singular village also stands apart thanks to its colour. In the Middle Ages, the lords of Arcangues adopted a particular blue, known as “Arcangues Blue”, that is still used to paint the half-timbering and shutters of houses in the village. In the 20th century, the Marquis was granted the distinct privilege of retaining the right to this particular colour and so the Arcangues villagers can set their homes apart from the red and green traditionally used in the Basque Country to decorate the exterior woodwork of houses.

THE CHATEAU

The first château belonging to Lords of Arcangues was built in the 12th century and was the oldest château in the Basque Country; it was destroyed by fire in 1636. The second château was constructed in the second half of the 17th century, before being demolished and then reconstructed in 1900.

The Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoléon in the Battle of Waterloo, set up his general headquarters here in 1803 during the Battle of the Nive. Some elements of the very British architecture still remain from this epoch: a vast, English-style hall, large fireplaces and superb crafted wood galleries.

During the Années Folles (aka the Roaring Twenties), Pierre d’Arcangues, chairman of the Biarritz Committee for Tourism and Festivals, organised parties, balls, gala evenings and other prestigious events with celebrity guests like Maurice Ravel, Sacha Guitry, François Mauriac....

The château was occupied by the Germans during the Second World War. When Arcangues was liberated by the American forces at the end of August 1944, a huge party was organised in the village square that was not only attended by the American generals but also by Winston Churchill himself.

The château has been listed as a Historical Monument since 1992 and can be visited between the end of November and beginning of January.

THE CHURCH

Saint Jean Baptiste Church is typical of the Basque Country and its carved wood galleries, which date from the beginning of the 18th century, are among the most beautiful in the region. The bell tower, listed as a Historical Monument since 1925, stands majestically over the village. One of the distinctive features of this church is its seigneurial chapel reserved for the Lords of Arcangues, the village’s founders.

The cemetery, which is laid out as a terraced, landscaped garden, has a beautiful panoramic view over the Pyrenees and the Atlantic Ocean. “The tombs are grouped around the church, like sheep around the shepherd”. It has a beautiful collection of discoidal funerary steles recovered by Pierre d’Arcangues from the 3 provinces of the Northern Basque Country; the oldest ones date back to the 16th century.

  

The men who left their mark on the village

The history of Arcangues is inextricably linked with the Lords of Arcangues, an ancient family from Navarre behind the origins of the village. Since its creation to present day, generations of marquises – builders, literary scholars, poets and managers – have strived for the embellishment and renown of this place. Very attached to their roots, to this day they still contribute to promoting their village and the Basque Country around the world and in very diverse fields.

Astronaut Leopold Eyharts, who grew up in the village, has flown the colours of Arcangues very high indeed. As a member of the Franco-Russian mission, Pégase, he spent a total of 228 days in space aboard the Soyuz space station from July 1997 to February 1998. He circled the earth 2,648 times with the pennant symbolising the village of Arcangues on board the space vessel.

Luis-Mariano’s family took refuge in France during the Spanish Civil War. All his life, he kept his charming accent that made generations of enamoured young ladies swoon. During the 1950s, Luis Mariano was THE headlining star of operettas, which were very much in vogue at that time. He certainly left his mark on the village where he bought a farm and ended his days as a “Gentleman Farmer”. His tomb is regularly covered with flowers left by his fans and the “children of his fans”. Even decades later, it is not unusual to hear youngsters sing the timeless hit “Mexicoooo” at the end of festive evenings – and it’s equally not unusual that they sing it very much out of tune!

 

 

Highlights

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