Pau Pyrenees retains a distinctive old charm while giving the pleasures of modern life
By: LuxuryFacts Team
Posted on: July 10, 2010
Cities usually modernize gradually, starting from infrastructure, leading up to the society. But what happens when a city is instantly modernized? It retains a distinctive old charm while giving the pleasures of modern life. That’s Pau- Pyrénées for you.
Originally a village which grew up round a hunting lodge of the Counts of Béarn, Pau developed into a town which became the capital of Béarn in 1464. It was the residence of Jeanne d'Albret, queen of Navarre, whose son became king of France as Henry IV. The town, which had barely 8,000 inhabitants at the end of the 18th century, was ‘discovered’ by British visitors in the 1820s and thereafter developed rapidly. Pau soon became a favourite ‘watering place’ for the Victorian high society.
Today’s population of approximately 1,50,000 still observes some English traditions. Pau showed considerable population growth because of industrialization giving birth to aeronautical equipment, fine chemistry and high-tech services and also because of its proximity to the natural gas and chemical extraction complex at Lacq.
In one hour driving distance from Pau on either side, discover the Basque Country and the Atlantic Ocean on one side, and the Pyrenees snow-packed mountains on the other side. The magnificent countryside of Bearn and Gers in Gascony are also just an hour away.
Running over a mile from Henri’s castle to the Beaumont Park, the Boulevard des Pyrénées skirts the city centre, providing a dream panorama over a 50-mile stretch of mountains and the wooded foothills in front. The townspeople come here to take in the stunning views in the morning, walk their dogs in the afternoon, and return in the evening to watch the sunset, with the conical peak of the Pic du Midi in the distance.
The Museum of Fine Arts is a fine example of 1930s architecture. The glass roofing lets in enormous amount of light inside the first floor gallery. Much of the art is 18th and 19th century French, with many Pyrénéean landscapes. There are some choice works by Italians, Flemish and Spaniards. There is also a collection of modern art and a section devoted to ancient and medieval coins.
The Musée Bernadote is an interesting read. This little house tells the story of Jean-Baptiste Bernadote who was born here. He was a soldier who worked his way up to become one of Napoleon’s field marshals. When he fell out with the emperor, he retired, was adopted by the heirless king of Sweden and led troops against Napoleon at Waterloo. In 1826, he assumed the Swedish throne and ruled for 26 years as Charles XIV. The museum contains personal mementos, paintings and period furniture of this time.
The English left many luxurious villas in Pau. One of them has been converted into a beautiful hotel called Hotel Villa Navarre. It gives stunning views of the Pyrénées Mountains. Another hotel, the luxurious Hotel Parc Beaumont, has British influences since the architects designed the building in a way which evokes the 1841 Crystal Palace.
Pau is a strong sportive town as well, renowned for its indoor sports arena, its Motor racing Grand Prix and Pau Arnos and Nogaro car circuits. The newly opened Pau Pyrénées Whitewater Stadium greets guests all throughout the year for a volley of fun! Enjoy canoeing, rafting and other whitewater activities here. Gamble away your money at the casino, tee-off in their golf course, catch fishes or cheer out loud in their automobile racing. Horse racing is also enjoyed here a lot. There are numerous ways to enjoy the extensive mountain scenery of Pau.
Wine lovers will love this. Pau is the birthplace of Jurançon wine. In 1553, the future King, Henry IV, was baptised with a drop of Jurançon wine. The golden wine was then hailed as the “wine of the King and the King of wines”. This sweet white wine is made from strong-flavoured local grape varieties of Manseng and Corbu. There is plenty of Jurançon wine to sample here, along with good wholesome food which has been prepared in the same way through generations.
Pau has beautiful natural scenery. But apart from that, Pau has some exotic gardens too with a wide variety of tree and flower plantations to enjoy and see.
To the North, the salt town of Salies-de-Béarn is renowned for its spa, its fitness treatments and its Conference centre. Nestled among wooded hills, it is a small town full of old stone houses which give it a beautiful character.
If you are tired of all this activity and wish to relax in serene surroundings, then Lourdes is the perfect place to be. Situated in the heart of the Pyrenees, Lourdes is where Virgin Mary appeared to a peasant girl. It welcomes more than 5 million pilgrims all over the world every year. Spirituality, though belonging to history, is part of the present through the depth and beauty of the past.
The Bétharram Caves (15 km from Lourdes) are a wonderful sight. Discovered in 1810, they were one of the first grottos open to the public. As early as 1880, the British residents of Pau ventured into the grotto with the help of the local miller Losbats de Lestelle Bétharrram. They were opened to the public in 1903, after several years of work by Léon Ross, an artist and one of the first photographers of the Pyrenees region. These caves have huge limestone deposits and waterfalls. They comprise multi-levels of natural floors, each belonging to a different period, structured floor by floor like those of a house.
The Gavarnie-Gèdre trans-frontier territory, backing onto the Spanish Anisclo and Pineta canyons, as well as the mythical Ordesa canyon, is recognised as a world heritage site by UNESCO both for its natural and cultural landscape. With its 17 summits at over 3,000 m, home to Europe’s largest waterfall, the Gavarnie corrie is almost impossible to describe, it can only be contemplated and discovered.
The Pau- Pyrénées region is a wonderful landscape of colours. The charming people, beautiful natural landscapes, a variety of activities to keep you busy and the proximity to a spiritual destination, make it a complete destination which can be enjoyed with family or just your beloved one.