Published: 20th July 2018

Whether you want to holiday in Pau or live there permanently, this beautiful, historic city offers one of the best locations in France, but it remains little known. Situated one hour from both the sandy beaches of the Atlantic coast and the Pyrenean ski slopes and just a stone’s throw from the Spanish border, the area has plenty to offer an active family throughout the year …

Despite the obvious attractions of France as a country, the far southwest tip remains comparatively little known to the foreign visitors.  Most people have heard of Biarritz, the town with its exquisitely restored ancient façades, famous as a holiday destination and for its world class surfing … but Pau as a city, remains little known even though it has a number of international links, particularly with the British.

Outstanding Quality of Life

For the energetic, the Pyrenees mountain range offers a host of exciting activities from canoeing, rafting and kayaking to hand-gliding and rock climbing. For winter sports, the Pyrenean summits boast hundreds of kilometres of ski runs, which meander beneath branches of pine trees. There are several summits topping 3000 metres, including Pic du Montcalm (3077m) and Pic du Balaitous (3146m), not forgetting the famous Pic du Midi (2872m) with its planetarium. Along the Atlantic coast, water-sports are of abundance. 

The city is well known for its arts and history and for a calmer pace of life, one can explore the music and cultural events held in the Parc Beaumont Casino, visit the art galleries and museums, explore Pau Château, birthplace of Henri IV who became king of France, the Pau museum of Fine Arts, or simply relax in one of the thermal spas dotted along the Pyrenees.

The Climate

The South West of France boasts an average of 2000 hours of sunshine per year, making it one of the sunniest regions of France. Temperatures exceed 25C between 60 and 80 days of the year. Spring comes early and has a feel of summer. Winters can be cold, but this provides enough snow for skiers extending the season from December to April.

The climate was a major reason why so many of the British aristocracy came to live in the city, inspired by a bestselling book by Dr Alexander Taylor called “The Curative Influence of the Climate of Pau”.

Also inspired by the warm climate and quality of life, the Wright brothers, set up their first flying school, outside of the USA, in 1909 in Pau.

Gastronomy and wine

Wine and food are two of the greatest passions in France and in the Béarn there is much to be passionate about! Pau is full of cafes and a wide variety of restaurants, bistros and food shops.

The area is well-known for its sweet and dry Jurancon white wines, grown within a short  distance of the city. Championed by Henri IV in the 16th century, the wine became so desirable, it was used to anoint the lips of each future King on their christening. If you prefer red wine, the hearty reds of the Madiran region can be found north of the city.

The Béarn is well known for its duck dishes, particularly confit and foie gras, Pyrenean lamb, venison, goose and wood pigeon. Fresh caught river trout and the local garbure, a chunky pork, potato and vegetable soup, are extremely popular, as is the delicious Bayonne ham. As in many parts of France, the cheeses are excellent, particularly goats cheese and Brebis, made with ewe’s milk from Ossau-Iraty. In summer peaches, strawberries, cherries and many other fruits are abundant. These fruits are used in delicious tarts as desserts, or poached in Jurancon wine. Desserts such as tarte tatin and locally made conserves and compotes area widely available.


A number of festivals stake place in the city throughout the year, the most famous of which is the Hestiv’Oc. This fun and free event has around 60 shows, involving 300 artists and attracts thousands of people to the city for two days in mid-August.

Main International Sports Events

It’s no surprise that Pau has been awarded European City of Sport in 2018 given the wide range of sporting events and activities on offer. In 1900 the term “Grand Prix” was first used in Pau, to designate a motor race and the first race of its type was held in the city. Every May, the city hosts both a modern and historic (classic car) Grand Prix, which run through the city’s streets, in its own Monaco style. 

Pau is also well known in the Equestrian world for its 4 Star International Horse Trials, attracting nearly 50,000 visitors to watch the show jumping, dressage, eventing and carriage driving competitions.  The Hippodrome of Pont-Long specializes in cross country and hurdle races with race meetings held during the winter months. The city boasts the second biggest Equestrian training centre (Sers) in France, after Chantilly, with the top French trainers and jockeys based here.  Pau airport coordinates European air freight for horses, facilitating rapid and secure access to hippodromes, training centres, breeders and stud farms.

At the end of July, The Tour de France, passes through the town centre. The countryside and access to the Pyrenees make the area and very popular location for amateur cyclists of all levels.

The ICF Canoe Slalom World Cup is held in the Wild Water Arena in Pau, also serving as the training centre for the Olympic champion Tony Estanguet. Canoes and kayaks can be hired on the Gave (local name for river) de Pau and white water rafting and canyoning can be found nearby.

Pau’s rugby union team is currently doing well in the French Top 14 league and has attracted big name players such as well-known All Blacks Colin Slade and Conrad Smith to play for them.

British links

In 1814, at the end of the Napoleonic wars, the Duke of Wellington decided to station a garrison of soldiers in the city. The British soon came to realise that the countryside was ideal for hunting and the Scottish soldiers believed the landscape reminded them of home and thought the area was perfect for golf. In 1856, the first golf club outside of the UK was built in the city and for many years, the only people allowed to be members were the British!

Throughout the mid to late 1800’s, the city’s favourable climate, beauty and lower cost of living led to an invasion of well to do and aristocratic Brits, particularly in the winter months.

This invasion changed the town, with large, elegant Maison de Maîtres being built, a new theatre, English style parks and gardens, an elegant Winter Palace and the creation of the famous ‘Boulevard des Pyrénées. This 1.8km avenue can be found in the city today, where you can enjoy fantastic views of the nearby Pyrenees mountains. In the 1800’s the Boulevard became a favourite place to take some air and enjoy the weather and scenery.

6th Best Place to Retire in the World!

Voted as the 6th best place to retire around the world by Forbes, in 2014, noted for combining its Old World Lifestyle, low crime and quality health care.

And, as a plus, it remains to be discovered !

photos - © crédit photos: D.Guilhamassé


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