Pau, (pronounced Poe), capital of the Bearn region, has a dream location: a couple of hours away (with the highway) from Bordeaux and Toulouse, the biggest towns of the South-West region, 1h30 away for the Atlantic Coast and the resort town of Biarritz and a little hour from the Pyrenees numerous valleys and the Spanish border. With an airport and a TGV station, Pau is easily accessible from anywhere in France.
Thanks to its climate (mild wind-free winter and warm summer), Pau has been the favourite destination for the British. The town was even called at one stage, Pau: la ville anglaise (the British town). Golf, hunting, tennis were brought in and still present today. The first 18-hole golf course in Europe was founded in 1856 and still running as well as the Pau Hunt. For the anecdote, following the assassination of her husband, Mary Todd Lincoln stayed four years in Pau in the late 1870s and so toward the end of her life.
What to do and see: our favourites
- My favourite spot in town have to be the Boulevard des Pyrenees. This almost two kilometres long esplanade is full of cafes and bars (among them in Australian bar…yes mate!) and is the best location in town to admire the splendid view of the Pyrenees. Alphonse de Lamartine, a French writer and poet from the 19th century once said: “Pau has the world’s most beautiful view of the earth just as Naples has the most beautiful view of the sea.” On a beautiful clear day like that day, you can see some famous mountain summits like the Pic du midi d’Ossau, le pic de Midi de Bigorre and its observatory and the Vignemale. I like sitting at the terrace of Metayer, a café at the end of the esplanade, eating ice-cream and sipping coffees. Brasseries like L’Aragon or the popular Le Berry are great spend to the night and enjoy a nice meal.
- if the mountains offer this beautiful natural background, the Château de Pau represents the historical symbol of the town. Situated on the top of a 200m cliff dominating the Gave de Pau, the fortified castle was built in the 11thcentury. You can visit it all year long. It only became habitable in the late XVI century for the Kings of the Navarre region. King of Navarre and France Henri IV was born in the Château de Pau. Locals proudly remember the story that after his birth, his lips were moist by the local Jurançon wine and rubbed with garlic. After some renovation works, the castle became the holiday residence of Marie-Antoinette of France and later Napoléon.After visiting the Castle, take some time and stroll in the Quartier du Château and its nice little paved streets. You will find there some nice restaurants, fashion and antics shops. My favourite restaurant there is “Chez Maman”, just opposite the Castle entry where crepes are the speciality. Miam Miam. If you stay around the area, enjoy a morning or late afternoon walk au Parc du Chateau. I enjoyed lots of morning walks or jogs in this park going all the way down to the Golf club and along the Gave de Pau.
- The Palais Beaumont and the parc Beaumont: The Palais Beaumont hosts numerous events during the year and host a Casino. A walk in the park Beaumont across the street is absolutely delightful especially if you plan your trip around the 21 June, for the Music Festival, where a lot of artists are playing in the gardens.
- Rue Serviez, Rue des Cordeliers, Place Clemenceau: The town centre, la Place Clemenceau, years ago the busiest part of town with bus terminals and heavy traffic, have been fully renovated becoming semi-pedestrian for the full enjoyement of shoppers. All around the place and all its adjacent streets, it is shop heaven: Galaries Lafayettes, Sephora, Zara, Mango, Petit Bateau, Naf-Naf, La Fnac (our French Jb-Hi-Fi version).
- For wine lovers, a little 15min trip out of town will bring you to the stunning Jurancon hills and its renowned vineyards overlooking the Pyrenees. Mainly white wine is produced both in a dry (sec) and a sweet style (moelleux). You can embark on a little gourmet tour and enjoy wine degustation and local delicacies. You will find a lots of nice B&B to stay for the night in the area.
- Féerie gourmande: le musée la confiture (the Jam Muséum):For a great treat, do not miss this one! It is all about jam, lollies (with weird funny names) and chocolate from the famous local and nationally well-known confiturier Francis Miot. From confection to the end product we will see and eat it all! You can find a boutique in the centre of Pau close to the Chateau or simply visit the museum at Uzos, little village 15min from the town centre, village close to our hearts as we grow up there.
Depending on the time of your trip, there are a few yearly big events not to be missed:
- The races in January attract a lot of people. Pau being well known for his racing history and hosting lots of championships at the Hippodrome de Pau
- The latin-american festival is held in March, with artists from around the world
- The Grand Prix de Pau is held at Pentecote in May. F3000 and others cars are racing in the streets of Pau. Lots of today F1 riders have a win in Pau in their resume.
- Pau has been “ville hote” and the departure town of many Tour de France, so in July, if you are around, don’t miss the biggest sport event in the world.
- In September are held the National Journees du Patrimoine where you can visit for free the city of Pau, monuments and museums.
- If you travel in Autumn, don’t miss the pelote basque world championship which are held in October in the biggest pelote basque complex ever built.
- For those keen for some more adventure, only 5min away from the town centre,spend the afternoon at the Pau Whitewater stadium, the home training facility for the French national canoe slalom team (the local Tony Estanguet has won a gold medal at the last London Olympics) and a World Cup venue. Its facilities are open for recreational use for the general public. You can try canoeing, kayak, rafting or even whitewater swimming. You can stay on firm soil with plenty of activities available (7km bike ride, picnic areas, tree climbing,….