The Ainciart Bergara makhila workshop, a story that goes back to the French Revolution

The story of the Ainciart Bergaras began around 1780, in the village of Larressore, in the same place as today’s workshop. The workshop’s know-how has been passed down over more than 7 generations.


From Gratien to Liza, 7 generations of craftsmen and women

June 2022

Liza Bergara

Liza Bergara is Nicole’s daughter. She also grew up close to the workshop. After attending business school, she joined the family business to take care of communication and the workshop’s presence on the social networks.

In 2014 she began a course for adults in ornamental engraving at the Boulle School in Paris, where she lived, before taking over from her distant cousin who wanted to retire.

In January 2017 she began to work as an engraver and living in the Basque Country. She engraves the initials on the makhila’s metal handle, as well taking care of special requests (coats of arms, insignia, various decorations).

Nicole Bergara

Nicole Bergara, daughter of Charles, carries on the tradition. She grew up in the workshop in her grandparents’ and father’s etxe (home). She went to Bordeaux to study and began working there in the banking sector.

In 1999 she joined the family business and never left. Nicole in particular developed many measures to better welcome visitors. She was behind the creation of the website in 1999 and in 2002 set up the Maison du Makhila to welcome visitors.

“We really want to talk about and share Basque traditions. To enable visitors to immerse themselves in Basque culture and to understand how a makhila is made, we have opened our workshop up to the public all year round”. These initiatives are why it was awarded the tourism medal in 2012.

Charles Bergara

It is the son of Marie-Jeanne Ainciart and Jean Bergara, Charles Bergara, who perpetuates this ancient family tradition. Charles has been making makhilas since he was a teenager.

During the difficult times in the aftermath of the Second World War, he managed to continue making makhilas. He managed to reach out to new customers by widely advertising the Makhila during his many trips. The Makhila workshop went from three people (Charles and his parents) to five employees, becoming a small business. Charles Bergara was awarded the Legion of Honour in 2003 for craftsmanship.

Well into his nineties, Charles continues “to live in his paradise”, in the forest and the wood reserves, where he selects and takes care of the meddlar wood stems.

Jean Bergara (1902-1972)

Jean Bergara excelled in the creation and decoration of makhilas.

In 1936, at the National Exhibition in Paris, he has awarded the prize for the Best Worker in France as a producer of Makhila Basque walking sticks.

A year later, he took part in the Paris Universal Exhibition and won two medals. During this exhibiton, his work was noticed by the King of Bulgaria during his visit in November. The organising committee then decided to gift the monarch with a makhila made by Jean Bergara. The makhila bore the motto “My friend and my aid”.

A few days later, Jean received a letter from the French President Albert Lebrun.

From Ainciart to Ainciart Bergara

After marrying Marie-Jeanne Ainciart, daughter of Jean Ainciart, Jean Bergara joined the workshop. He learnt all the workshop’s skills and know-how, and perpetuated the tradition.

The wedding between Marie-Jeanne Ainciart and Jean Bergara in 1926 was a significant date because it was when the signature of makhilas made in the workshop changed.

Previoulsy signed “Ainciart”, our makhilas were now signed “Ainciart Bergara”. This name change did not have an impact on tradition of passing the trade on in the same workshop: one place, one family, one objet.

Jean Ainciart (1863-1932)

Jean Ainciart owed many of his craft skills to his father Antoine. He became renowned and was recognised during his lifetime as a master makhila maker. The Ainciart business began to become known and associated with the makhila.

In 1918 Jean-Baptiste Daranatz wrote “Jean Ainciart, from Larressore, is a renowned makhila maker” and “Jean Ainciart, known as Quillot, son and grandson of makhila makers, a true master of his art”. According to documents dating back to that period, he was the one who made the makhila famous.

“It was the Ainciarts, distaff makers in Larressore, a small village in the district of Ustaritz, who contributed to perfecting the proportions and decorative parts of the makhila” (Claude Bailhe, 1999. Autrefois le Pays Basque).

Several centuries of family history

It was around the time of the Revolution, in the 18th century, when we found the first traces of makhila makers in our family with Gratien Ainciart.

Antoine Ainciart, Gratien’s son, took over from his father.

He died young in 1873 and it was his wife, Catherine, who took over and continued the business with the help of a brother, Jean-Baptiste, known as Sébastopol.

Their son Jean was only 10 years old at the time. It was only later as an adult that he helped his mother.


Our makhila makers

Arnaud joined the workshop in 2019 after having worked as a joiner for several years.
Elodie joined the workshop in 2020, wanting to retrain so as to actively take part in the production of makhilas.
Frédéric joined the workshop about thirty years ago and trained as a craftsman in our workshop.
Marie joined the workshop some twenty years ago. She works with leather and welcomes visitors.
Xavier joined the workshop some twenty years ago after having been the world pelota champion. He was trained by Charles Bergara.
Ximun joined the workshop in January 2018. He was trained by Robert Bergara before he retired.

Come and discover our workshop

Our workshop is located in the village of Larressorre, 15 minutes from Bayonne and Biarritz, and just 3 minutes from Espelette.

The workshop is open from Monday to Friday, except public holidays from 8am to 12pm and 2 to 6pm, Saturday mornings from 9am to 12pm. Visits are free and open to all.


Numerous awards throughout the centuries


In December 2019 Xavier Retegui, workshop craftsman, was awarded the title Master of Art by the Minister for Culture. He thus committed to train Liza Bergara over a 3 year period and pass on to her all the makhila’s know-how.

More than mere recognition, this title is the symbol of commitment and a will to pass on the trade. Since 1994, 141 professionals, creators and restorers, have been named Masters of Art with 101 craft trades honoured.


This recognition values unique know-how and skills, as well as the attachment to keep this cultural tradition alive. This distinction was requested by the Ministry of Culture. The workshop did not apply for this recognition.

The Ainciart Bergara makhila has been registered in the inventory of Rare Art Trades under the convention for the conservation of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The Ainciart Bergara makhila is the only know-how chosen for this in the Basque Country.


EPV certification is the mark of recognition by the Ministry of the Economy which distinguishes French companies with know-how of excellence.

This certification was created in 2005 and rewards companies which respect precise criteria. These unique companies must know how to reconcile tradition and innovation, know-how and creation, work and passion, heritage and future, local and international.

Our workshop (Ainciart Bergara) was awarded EPV certification in 2012. This certification was renewed in 2017.


In September 2015, on the occasion of the release of the new edition of the Aquitaine Guide for Aquitaine & the Basque Country and the Navarre Guide, the Michelin Green Guide awarded our workshop one star.

Based on 9 criteria, the evaluation which leads to the obtaining of a star juges both the public image and heritage of the place as well as its authenticity, charm and quality of the welcome and visit. It is the second tourism distinction awarded to the Ainciart Bergara workshop.


Ateliers d’Art de France is the professional union for craft trades. It brings together over 6 000 craftsmen and women, artists and art creators throughout France. Its vocation: defend and showcase the crafts sector and contribute to the economic development of professionals both in France and abroad.


In 1936, during the National Exhibition in Paris, Jean Bergara received the the award for the Best Worker in France as a Makhila Basque walking stick maker. The diploma is on display in the workshop.


The first recognition given is attributed to Jean Ainciart (1862-1932), who obtained a gold medal at the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1889. In 1937 Jean Bergara took part in the Paris Universal Exhibition and won two silver medals.


They have received a Makhila from our workshop

Drag the cursor over the images to see the names of VIPs, click to zoom in


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