In France’s most southern region of Comminges, against the foothill of Pyrenees Mountains and the Adour lays a city known as Bagnères-de-Bigorre. Known as a spa town, it has a lot of history based around its water, hydrotherapy and for the region it’s based in being full of hills. In 2016, Bagnères-de-Bigorre and Malvern became twin towns, as both share many of the same values. In the Antiquity period it was known as “Vicus Aquensis” (or “watery neighbourhood”) and “Aquae Convenarum” (or “Waters of the Comminges”) in The Middle Ages.
This city is known for its naturally sourced water that is used for hydrotherapy, which is usually used to treat rheumatism, indigestion, nervous afflictions and more. Meanwhile, Malvern’s hydrotherapy was used for eye diseases, ulcers, skin complaints and digestive issues. The Aquensis thermal spa (which is also home to a casino) can have varying water temperatures from low 30°C to the high 50s! Due to its location also being close to the Pyrenees Mountains, a ski resort at La Mongie is nearby, only being about a half an hour drive from the city.
During the Antiquity period, Bigorre was conquered by The Romans and Julius Caesar; they then went on to settle in the area and visited the natural springs often. Eventually it was plundered by the Visigoths as part of the Barbarian invasions, before they lost it after the Battle of Vouillé in 507AD to The Franks.
There are no documents or remains for the area until 1171 when Centule III (The Count of Bigorre) granted “Aquae Convenarum” a charter, which then saw homesteads gradually grow with a large focus on agriculture.
During the Renaissance period, the town became more commercial as the springs grew in popularity thanks to Jeanne d’Albert (The Queen of Navarre and Countess of Bigorre) who advised others to follow her footsteps and to visit the springs. The town was then left in ruin after The War of Religion (1562-1598). By 1660, strong earthquakes hit Bigorre which caused damage to houses and led to the springs drying up; this was only temporary, over the next 100 years hydrotherapy gained popularity which led to 25 private businesses for hydrotherapy by 1787.
In the 19th century, the private spas were becoming run-down. This led to the construction of “The Thermes”; completed in 1828 this grand thermal spa is still open today. And, by the 1870s the tourists would double the population of Bigorre during the months from May to October.
Things to do:
Visit one of the spas around the city; relax as you receive all the benefits of bathing in the water that has been able to give this city its legacy. Visit the Aquensis thermal spa to enjoy swimming pools, fitness classes, relaxation pools, tea rooms, personalised treatments and even a casino!
The Musée Du Marbre (Marble Museum) hosts a collection of more than 320 pieces of marble from various collectors. Located in the thermal baths of salvation it gives a renovated gallery of marble cabins and baths.
As the largest ski area in The Pyrenees, Le Grand Tourmalet is a grouping of the two villages Barèges and La Mongie. With around 100km of slopes available it offers a variety of slopes for beginners and thrill-seekers alike. Also available is the Pic du midi de Bigorre, which is an observatory with a fantastic panorama view.
Similarly to Malvern, there are a variety of walks in the area and just like walking up from Great Malvern, in Bagnères-de-Bigorre there is a small hike from the city centre, the La Vierge du Bédat monument sits at the top of the trail (similar to the Worcestershire Beacon), it is advised to wear sensible footwear. A small drive south from the Bigorre are the Lac de Peyrelade and Lac Bleu de Lesponne, both of these lakes are a further, more intense walk; with both hikes being around 2 hours. But, the long walk is worth it for a fantastic day out and fantastic views.
Les Halles de Bagnères is a weekly market held in Bigorre, which showcases the local community with butchers, fishmongers, bakers, gardeners, cafes, and more for you to explore. Stalls are open throughout the week, but Saturday is the most popular time to visit.