By Marie-Béatrice Baudet

Posted today at 2:00 a.m., updated at 5:36 a.m.

The adventure begins with a stroke of blood. In the summer of 2011, Jacques Pédehontaà, mayor of the charming little village of Laàs in the heart of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, sent a letter to the Head of State, Nicolas Sarkozy. The elected from the South-West is bubbling. An ardent defender of rurality, this son of farmers is opposed to the ongoing territorial reform which, according to him, favors large cities and tramples on those with fewer than 500 inhabitants. “It seems necessary, Mr. President of the Republic, to take a break under penalty of seeing desert countryside where the disaster will have replaced the happiness of living”, he writes.

Jacques Pédehontaà, mayor and prince of Laàs (Pyrénées-Atlantiques), in July 2021.

His request has little chance of succeeding, the city councilor knows, so he tries a game of poker and requests, a few paragraphs later, a special status for Laàs. Jacques Pédehontaà details his desire to transform the city into a principality and calls for the same tax advantages enjoyed by Andorra and Monaco. Alcohol, tobacco, gasoline would not be taxed and businesses ready to set up in the town of 140 inhabitants would be exempt from taxes. Nicolas Sarkozy’s response, guarantor of a one and indivisible Republic, comes a few weeks later. It’s no, of course.

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Read our archive (2011): What the territorial reform changes

The irreducible Béarnais, who have panache like their compatriot Henri IV, are not discouraged. At the beginning of 2014, the municipal officials proclaimed – for fun – the independence of the village. Politics leads to everything, including the creation of a micronation. In order to formalize this vengeful snub, the statutes of the association Principality of Laàs in Béarn are deposited a few months later at the prefecture. The fiscal secession failed but the town, which has become a principality, now has an attractive window to take (in part) its destiny in hand.

Wheelbarrow race in the center of the world

Jacques Pédehontaà conquered the town hall of Laàs in March 1983. Holder of a BTS in agriculture, he was 24 years old and had long hair. Thirty-eight years have passed and he is still the chief of the village. The terrace of the charming Auberge de la Fontaine, Place de l’Eglise, serves as its HQ. The sixty-year-old talkative sticks to the motto of the micronation: “Passion and daring”. Here, many call him “Mr. 100,000 Volts”.

“Did you understand our approach? It’s simple, we want to stay alive even if today small towns are no longer in fashion ”, he preaches after a long monologue. Are we trying to interrupt him? It accelerates, “Wait, I’m done”. No, he never finished. A cow’s mow sounds, it is the ringing of his telephone. “And it’s not just any cow, it’s the béarnaise, the most beautiful of all, not to be confused with the blonde d’Aquitaine ”, he adds, in a hurry.

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