Pau (pronounced Po) sprawls over a small hill at the foot of the Pyrenees. Its warm climate and great location have been drawing visitors for centuries. In the 19th century, Pau became the toast of England’s high society: the place to go to escape London’s dreary winter months. The English visitors soon set about turning Pau into something of a home from home, building a golf-course (the first on Europe’s mainland), a scenic promenade, beautiful English gardens and numerous tea-rooms.

Today, Pau is a genteel and stylish mixture of these English echoes and the town’s own proud French heritage. Its ancient castle, excellent museums and great gastronomical shopping are enough to entertain the cosmopolitan visitor, whilst its proximity to the Pyrenees make it the perfect base for adventure-seekers.


Pau’s most memorable feature is probably the palm-lined Boulevard Des Pyrenees which stretches along the spine of Pau’s hill. This elegant promenade, widely agreed to be one of France’s finest, offers breathtaking views of the mountains beyond. If you don’t want to walk, a creaky but free funicular railway will lift you to the top.

At one end of the Boulevard is the Chateau. An imposing mix of medieval and renaissance styles, it is well worth a visit, if only for the sweeping gardens and woods. Inside there are guided tours and a large display of Gobelins tapestries. France’s beloved King Henri IV was born here in 1553; check out the upturned tortoise shell which reputedly served as his cradle.

Lovingly restored medieval and renaissance buildings are scattered amongst the shops and cafés in the main town of Pau. Among these is the Musee Bernadotte, which tells the story of its namesakes’ fascinating life, from his birth in Pau to a career as one of Napoleon’s generals, and from there (incredibly) to be crowned king of Sweden. The Musee des Beaux-Artes is also not be missed, hosting a wealth of European paintings including works by El Greco, Rubens and Degas.

Pau, though, is largely about appreciating the outdoors. Well looked after public parks and gardens are in abundance here - it boasts more green space per capita than any other town in Europe. The most spectacular is the Parc Beaumont, created by the English pleasure-seekers, which perches at the end of the Boulevard against a mountainous backdrop.

Sport-lovers will not be disappointed in Pau. As well as bus and rail links into the Pyrenees (and several places within town that will organise activities and hire equipment) there is the golf course, the hippodrome which hosts one of France’s best rugby teams, and an annual international horse-riding competition. If cars are more your thing, go at Whitsunday: a parade of vintage vehicles is followed by the latest technology as a grand prix Formula Three race howls through town.

If your kids aren’t feeling inspired by all this, try the Grottes de Betharram just outside Pau: a trip on a barge on an underground lake and then along a miniature railway allow you to see the grotto’s amazing stalactites and stalagmites.


Pau is a great place for food-enthusiasts. Famed for its chocolate, there are some excellent chocolatiers around the central Place Clemenceau. At the covered market in Place de la Republique you will find cheese, especially fromage de Brebis (traditionally eaten with cherry jam), wine (Uroulat and Cauhapé are names to look for), organic honey and preserved duck.

If you’re looking for more lasting mementos, wander along the pedestrian and boutique-lined Rue Serviez and Rue des Cordelieres.

Nightlife and Eating Out

There is the usual variety of eateries spread across Pau, with the highest concentration around Place Clemenceau. Traditional French cuisine (with some regional specialities like poule au pot) is the norm, although you can find Italian, Chinese and even Vietnamese restaurants too. Some of Pau’s restaurants are renowned; if you fancy treating yourself, tuck into lobster, veal or foie gras at Chez Pierre.

After dinner you can try to make your fortune at the Casino Municipale, nestled in the Parc Beaumont, or spend a night clubbing in the studenty 'triangle' district.

Pau is home to several festivals including the Festival de Pau offering music, dance and theatre from mid-June to mid-July, and the L’Ete a Pau which organises free outdoor music concerts in locations across the town. Pick up a copy of the glossy La Culture a Pau magazine from the Tourist Office to find out what’s happening while you’re there.

Tourist Information

Office de Tourisme et des Congres Pyrénées-Atlantiques (64) – Aquitaine, Place Royale (Hôtel de Ville), 64000 PAU Phone: +33(0)559 272 708Fax: +33(0)559 270


Pau has its own airport, though you can only fly there from Stansted with Ryanair. A bus runs to and from Pau airport to service the (daily) Ryanair flight, costing 5 Euros. Alternatively, Toulouse Airport is about 100 miles away along a good motorway.

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