Pau: Nestled at the foot of the Pyrenees, a picturesque setting & mild climate


City Hall

Pau, a city in the southwestern part of France in the region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, is the capital of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department. Though not well known abroad, Pau is nestled at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains, offering a picturesque setting with stunning mountain views and a mild climate. This makes it a charming and attractive destination for both residents and visitors.


Pau has a rich history that dates back to the Middle Ages.

The city was first mentioned in documents in the 11th century, and its name is believed to derive from a palisade (palu) that surrounded the original settlement. Pau became an important site due to its strategic location near the Pyrenees and its role as a crossing point over the Gave de Pau river.


The old city center

In the 16th century, Pau became the capital of the Kingdom of Navarre. The Château de Pau, a key historical landmark, was the birthplace of King Henry IV of France in 1553. The castle now serves as a museum and houses an extensive collection of tapestries, paintings, and other artifacts related to Henry IV and the history of France.

British visitors played a crucial role in popularizing Pau as a winter retreat. The British community in Pau was substantial, so much so that the city became known as a “Little England” They established their social clubs, churches, and even a cricket club, contributing to the city’s cosmopolitan atmosphere. The presence of the British led to the construction of amenities and infrastructures, such as the English Club and the Anglican Church of Saint Andrew, which catered to the expatriate community.

Geography and Climate

Pau is approximately 100 kilometers from the Atlantic Ocean and 50 kilometers from the Spanish border. The city is built on a slight elevation, providing panoramic views of the Pyrenees to the south. The Boulevard des Pyrénées, a famous promenade in Pau, offers one of the best vantage points for these scenic vistas.


The view from the Boulevard des Pyrénées

The climate in Pau is classified as oceanic (Cfb), characterized by mild temperatures throughout the year. Summers are warm but not excessively hot, while winters are cool with relatively moderate rainfall. This climate contributes to the lush greenery and pleasant environment of the city.

Culture and Attractions

Pau is known for its vibrant cultural scene and numerous attractions. The Château de Pau, perched on a hill overlooking the Gave de Pau River, is a historic castle in Pau. Originally built in the 11th century as a fortress, it was transformed into a royal residence in the 16th century and is famously the birthplace of King Henry IV of France.

Napoleon Bonaparte stayed at the Château de Pau. His visit occurred in 1808 during a tour of the southwest of France. While at the château, Napoleon recognized its historical significance and ordered restoration work to preserve the building. This effort was part of a broader initiative to maintain France's historical monuments and sites of cultural importance. Napoleon’s stay and subsequent interest in the château helped ensure its preservation for future generations.

The château showcases a blend of medieval, Renaissance, and classical styles, featuring a grand keep, elegant courtyards, and richly decorated interiors. Today, it houses the National Museum dedicated to Henry IV, displaying an extensive collection of art, tapestries, and artifacts, and offering visitors a glimpse into French history and royal life.

Château de Pau

The city also boasts several museums, including the Musée des Beaux-Arts, which features a collection of European
paintings from the 15th to the 20th century. The city’s architecture blends historical and modern styles, with notable buildings such as the Palais Beaumont, a former casino turned conference center, and the Eglise Saint-Jacques, a beautiful Gothic church.

The Palais Beaumont, constructed between 1894 and 1900, is a significant landmark in Pau. During a time when Pau was a popular winter resort destination for European aristocracy and affluent visitors, the building was originally designed as a casino and a luxury venue to entertain these wealthy guests. The architectural design of the Palais Beaumont was the work of the renowned architect Émile Bertrand. The building’s style blends Neo-Renaissance and Neo-Classical influences, featuring elegant facades, intricate detailing, and opulent interiors.

Today, the Palais Beaumont serves as the Palais des Congrès de Pau, hosting various events, including conferences, seminars, exhibitions, and cultural performances.


Palais Beaumont

Pau is also renowned for its gardens and parks. The Parc Beaumont offers well-maintained gardens, walking paths, and panoramic views of the Pyrenees, providing a serene environment for visitors. The surrounding countryside offers opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, and skiing in the Pyrenees.

Festivals and Events

Pau hosts various festivals and events annually, reflecting its rich cultural heritage and lively community spirit. The HestivOc festival celebrates Occitan culture with music, dance, and traditional performances. The Grand Prix de Pau, an annual motorsport event, is one of the oldest street races in the world and draws motorsport enthusiasts from far and wide.


Pau is a city that beautifully blends historic charm with modern amenities, set against the stunning backdrop of the Pyrenees. Its rich cultural heritage, vibrant economy, and excellent quality of life make it an attractive destination for visitors.

Have you been to Pau? What were your impressions?


About the Contributor

Mike Werner

I'm a Dutch journalist, who writes for American newspapers. I've lived in 22 countries and settled in France 35 years ago with my Irish wife, and I'm enchanted by its charm. You can find my writing on 'Mike's Substack' here:

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