TOP

Urtubie Castle – Saint-Jean de Luz

History of the house

An ancient Basque stronghold poised between sea and mountains, that housed King Louis XI in 1463

It really was the ancestors of the Count of Coral who built this Urtubie castle in 1341. With such a filiation, unbroken since the Middle Ages, you can imagine the wealth of stories the family can tell about the history of the site! Particularly when you know how strategic this region was and how many people coveted it. Time to immerse yourself in the atmosphere of past centuries by staying in one of the castle’s time honoured rooms, now equipped with the latest amenities. The aura of various important visitors still haunts the grounds and roads leading to the port.

Urtubie castle

© Château d’Urtubie

Crossing the Pyrenees

Edward III

King Edward III

Rising like an immense natural rampart between France and Spain, the Pyrenees present a challenge to cross, except by the sea shore and via a few rare mountain passes. Urrugne, a few kilometres from the Bidassoa river (which has formed the frontier with the Iberian peninsula for several centuries), occupies a key position on the route between Navarre (Spain) and the important towns in the South of France. It was at this point that the Lords of Urtubie, vassals of the Vicount of Labourd since the 11th century, built their first castle.
Permission to build a stronghold was granted to Martin de Tartas in 1341. At this time the region was an English fief following the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to the Plantagenet King Henry II (1152). It was therefore King Edward III who signed the letters patent.

Louis XI, Royal Adjudicator

Labourd and its main port, Bayonne, played an important role during the Hundred Years War (as a rear base for English troops). However, the province returned to the French crown in 1451.

Louis XI

King Louis XI (1423-83)

At this point, tension was running high on the other side of the Pyrenees. Navarre (whose king was of French origin) was at war with Aragon, keen to annex it. The French King Louis XI, who considerably strengthened royal authority during his reign, was called upon to act as mediator in this conflict. And he just happened to be residing at Urtubie castle (1463). Following this royal stay, Jean II of Montréal, Lord of Urtubie, was invited to Paris and acquired the title of chamberlain.

A Quarrel over the Succession

At the French court, Jean II of Montréal sent so few messages through to his wife, that the latter believed he was dead so she remarried with Rodrigo de Gamboa d’Alzate (Navarre), bearing him six children. Jean II, who had left meanwhile to go warmongering in Italy alongside King Charles VIII, had to wait for the death of this second husband before staking his claim to Urtubie. Unfortunately this went against the wishes of his ex-wife and the children born of this second marriage. The neglected spouse chose to set fire to the castle and flee to Navarre to shore up with her second set of in-laws. After a protracted legal wrangle, King Louis XII granted Jean II permission to rebuild his castle.

Urtubie castle Grand Salon

Grand salon © Château d’Urtubie

It was his son, Louis, the bailiff of Labourd (representing royal authority) and his grandson Jean II of Montréal who finally undertook to restore the ruins after 1506. To the old keep, battlements and original gateway is added the extant wing of the grand salon, and a tower which features a hanging spiral staircase.

Corsairs, honours and prosperity

By one of these quirks of fate of which history is so fond, in 1574 the property fell back into the hands of the Alzate family, through the marriage of Jean de Montréal’s daughter with Jean d’Alzate d’Urtubie (cousins through their common great-grandmother). Their grandson Salvat, well placed at court, managed to persuade Louis XIV to elevate the Urtubie lands to a Viscountcy.

Urrugne

Old houses in Urrugne

Saint-Jean-de-Luz, pillaged many times by the Spanish the previous century, became wealthy during this period thanks to its cod fishing and whaling activities (in Newfoundland). Its port served as a base for numerous corsairs in the pay of the king.

The chapel and the roofs of the castle date from the end of the 17th century and reflect a style much more in keeping with the new rank of its owners (the “imperial” style of the tower roofs is quite remarkable). The salons are decorated with precious Brussels tapestries (16th c.).

Urtubie_Castle_Gate

Castle gate © Château d’Urtubie

The Urturbie property underwent lavish refurbishment in the 18th century, when Pierre de Lalande, (husband of Ursule d’Alzate) designed the small salon, terrace, Louis XV staircase, castle entrance gates and orangery. The grounds also benefited from substantial redesign work at this time, combining walkways, parterres, groves, flowerbeds, orchards and ornamental trees.

The Napoleonic Wars

The region already violently ravaged by devastating storms, was unfortunately the crossing point for incessant military movements following the Revolution. To the wars with Spain (with pillaging and fighting in their wake), would soon be added the English fleet’s maritime blockade.

Jean-de-Dieu_Soult

Marérchal Jean-de-Dieu Soult

Two important personalities, profound rivals, stayed in Urtubie castle at an interval of only a few months. The first was Maréchal Soult, one of the leaders of Napoleon’s Great Army, frequently victorious in battle in Spain, while the second was none other than Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington (who became famous after the Battle of Waterloo), whose military manoeuvres forced the French to withdraw from Spain to Toulouse in 1814.

In the service of the Basses-Pyrénées

Urtubie castle terrace

© Château d’Urtubie

Following the fall of the Empire, Urtubie castle was handed over to another descendant of Salvat d’Alzate, François de Larralde-Diusteguy, who became the Mayor of Urrugne. His son Henri followed in his footsteps at the municipality (for 56 years!), becoming general advisor of the département des Basses-Pyrenées.
When the latter’s niece, Countess Paul de Coral, inherited the castle in 1911, some modernisation work was carried out on the ageing residence: Belle Epoque living was a world away from dining by candlelight.

Her son Bernard de Coral, became mayor in his turn, then a deputé and general advisor of Saint Jean-de-Luz. He had Urtubie added to the Historic Monuments list (1974).

A new lease of Life

Urtubie castle Room

© Château d’Urtubie

Since the end of the Ancien Régime, the grounds around the castle (and particularly its tenant farms) have been shared among different heirs at each change of generation. As is the case for most old properties, Urtubie can no longer count on income from its woods and agricultural land. The current owner, Count Laurent de Coral and his family, have therefore decided to open the castle to the public for several months a year for visits. Ten of its rooms have been designed to welcome guests in an authentic décor, and the site is now a renowned 3-star hotel. A perfect place to imbibe the history of the French Basque country and discover the treasures of the Pyrénées atlantiques.

Read more

Facilities

  • 10 historical bedrooms
  • Ensuite bathrooms with separate toilet
  • Air conditioning / double glazing / TV / Wifi
  • Breakfast in the Arms room (not included in the room rate)
  • Lunch and dinner in the farm of the castle (10 min. walking distance)
  • Fireplace, self service bar in the tower
  • Terrace and swimming pool
  • Park (6 hectares), with an old orangery, chapel and bathroom
  • Spoken languages: English, French, Spanish
  • Closed between November 1st and March 31st
  • Nearest city: Biarritz (23 km)
  • Motorway A63, exit St-Jean-de-Luz Sud > 1st left on the RN810 direction Urrugne-Hendaye
  • Private parking
  • Biarritz airport: 21 km
  • TGV Railway Station of St-Jean-de-Luz : 3 km
  • Accessible for those with reduced mobility (lift)
  • Families and children welcome (family suite)
  • Domestic pets are not allowed
  • Non-smoking interior

In the neighbourhood

 

Saint_Jean_de_Luz

The grand staircase © Maison de Louis XIV

One of the places which will enable you to appreciate your stay in Urtubie to the full is the Maison Louis XIV at Saint-Jean-de-Luz. This is where the Sun King stayed when he married Maria Theresa of Austria, the Spanish Infanta (1660). The House of the Prince and the Corsair city are also well worth a visit.

Other historic cities in the Basses-Pyrénées, Biarritz, Bayonne, Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port and Hendaye also have great surprises in store! And what about San-Sebastian (Donostia) and Pamplona in Spain – only a hour’s drive away?

Saint-Jean-de-Luz

Saint-Jean-de-Luz beach

Mention should also be made of the Basque villages route and the beautiful beaches of the Bay of Biscay, as well as the famous “Camino del Norte” where thousands of pilgrims flock through on their way to St. James of Compostella.

To read, watch or listen to

 

Urtubie_CastleTo fully appreciate the period atmosphere of Urtubie castle, do not hesitate to enhance your stay by reading a few books (nothing beats a good historical novel to bring old stones back to life). Listening to some period music may also be a good way to transport you back in time… A few suggestions:

Learning and understanding

  • The Basque country: A cultural History”, by Paddy Woodworth
    The history of the Basque country is quite different from the rest of France, which is what you learn in school text books. Its culture is redolent of mysterious words, archaic traditions, haunting legends and epic memories. Reading this book gives enthusiasts a perfect introduction to this particular landscape, which is rugged but also very endearing.
  • Bayonne and Toulouse 1813-14: Wellington invades France”, by Nick Lipscombe
    At end of of 1813, the English, Spanish and Portuguese armies, commanded by Arthur Wellesley, future Duke of Wellington, managed to chase the Imperial troops out of Spain. They crossed the Pyrenees to attack Napoleon, forcing the French to withdraw. However, the soldiers of the Emperor, obliged to retreat, offered ferocious resistance, under the orders of Maréchal Soult… The two strategists, both guests at different times of Urtubie castle, are here involved in a real duel.

Books to be devoured in situ

  • Louis XI, the Universal Spider”, by Paul Murray Kendall
    A passionate biography of King Louis XI, not held in high esteem by his peers, whom he often betrayed, was a formidable political strategist. He considerably strengthened the power of the monarchy in France, severely undermined during the Hundred Years War. A (slightly biased) rehabilitation.
  • Joanes, the Flying Whale Boat”, by Guillermo Zubiaga
    An epic strip cartoon, founded on the adventures of one of the greatest Basque whale hunters of the 16th century, Joanes de Etxaniz. An adventure in three volumes, with wonderful drawings, richly inspired by the history and legends of the Basque country.
  • Wellington, The Iron Duke”, by Richard Holmes
    Queen Victoria once said “the Duke of Wellington was the greatest man the 19th century had produced”. Discover the fascinating military and political career of Arthur Wellesley as told by the talented historian and BBC storyteller Richard Holmes.

Films to be watched before arriving

  • Sharpe“, conducted by Tom Clegg
    British television serie, based on the bestselling books of Bernard Cornwell, evoking the Napoleonic Wars seen through the eyes of a British officer in Arthur Wellesley’s army. The action takes place mostly in the Spanish peninsula and along the French border. The atmosphere and the settings are quite suggestive (see trailer).

Period music to be enjoyed on location

  • Trio in A minor for Piano“, by Maurice Ravel (1914)
    It was in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, where the celebrated impressionist composer spent his childhood, that he composed this vibrant and emotionally charged trio for piano, cello and violin.
  • Au Pays basque“, by Philippe Gaubert (1930)
    Two beautifully evocative, symphonic poems: a “Morning in the mountains” and “Folk Festival in Saint-Jean-de-Luz”.

 

Some of the links below will enable you to consult the recommended titles directly on Amazon.com. If you decide to purchase one of these titles via this link, please note that intoHistory will receive a small commission on your transaction, which goes towards covering its running costs.

Leave a review

Please fill in all fields, your email address will not be published

Historical authenticity
Ambiance and settings
Quality of welcome
Degree of comfort

14th century Castle Hotel 100-150€/room

Family traditions

Château d’Urtubie ***
Rue Bernard de Coral – Urrugne
64122 SAINT-JEAN-DE-LUZ
France
+33 559 54 31 15
+33 559 54 62 51 (fax)
Castle’s own website

READ OUR ARTICLES