Pau and Pyrenees are synonymous. It is a city in the south-west and is the capital of the Béarn region with a population of 150,000 inhabitants. Although it is 85km from the Spanish border the Pyrenees are very visible. Walk along the Blvd de Pyrenees and you have a panoramic view of the mountains.
Pau is also the birthplace of Henri IV (1553 – 1610), King of France and Navarre. His reign was marked with religious tumults but also political pragmatism.
Pau’s unique selling point is its climate. Influenced by the Basque coast, it has a temperate climate and enjoys a long Indian summer when the rest of the country is already significantly cooler. It is this, along with a harmonious architecture and plenty of attractions which draws the visitors, students, and many companies to the region.
British holidaymakers visited the town from the 18th century. The first full 18-hole golf course in Europe was created by people from Scotland. So popular was the town, that it became the world’s first holiday resort and a template for other towns to model their attractions in a similar fashion.
Pau is also the departure town to explore the rest of Béarn and the Pyrenees. About 30 km south-east of Pau is the famous pilgrimage town of Lourdes. It is of course known as the town where Marie-Bernarde Soubirous, in 1858, then aged 14 had visions of the Virgin Mary. Today, between 4 – 6 million visitors per year come to Lourdes to seek healing.
Not far from Lourdes are the magnificentLes grottes et le sanctuaire de Bétharram. Travelling by small train and a boat, you reach an underground lake. Then on foot, you can discover the five excavated gallery levels of different geological epochs. You can admire stalagmites, stalactites, cave draperies and columns, all in amazing shapes.
Oloron Sainte Marie is a small town at the entrance of the Béarn Valley. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site because the Romanesque cathedral from the 12th century has a magnificently sculptured entrance. Inside are also goldsmiths’ and silversmiths’ items, and an organ in the Baroque style. The town is also on the St Jacques de Compostela path.
There are plenty of markets to visit and see, there is a half marathon for the sports-minded people, the first weekend in June. Nature lovers can enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of the Pyrenees, rivers invite fisherman to catch trout and salmon.
The winds known as the “the foehn” sweeping in from the Atlantic give the Jurançon Wine their special characteristic taste.
Walking along the paths, you will see protected flora such as Edelweiss, the Venus Orchid and many others. The region also is home to many birds of prey, heather cockerels, snow partridges and rock ptarmigans. The Pyrenees are also the home of bears and otters.
You can move around the region in many different ways, walking, cycling, on horseback, in snowshoes. There are many different sports activities for you to choose from.
In the heart of the Béarn is the Vallée d’Ossau, an ideal destination to rejuvenate body and soul.
Les eaux d’Eaux-Bonnes, are thermal springs that have been benefitting people since the reign of François 1 (1494, crowned 1515, died 1547). The waters are known to heal wounds and help ease rheumatism. Gourette is a large ski resort with many different runs, levels, and possibilities.
Or simply walk along the “Shepherds » path and learn about their way of life and work. Again, as we pedal forward on our tour, we leave behind a beautiful region with more to do and see than can fill these lines. But we must continue, as we head north to Charente Maritime. I will send you a postcard when I get there.