Pau, Pyrénées-Atlantiques

Pau, Pyrénées-Atlantiques

French commune

Aquitaine Region flag
image_coat_of_arms=Escut de Pau.pngimage_coat_of_arms_size=60px

canton=Chief town of 6 cantons
maire=Martine Lignières-Cassou
intercomm=Communauté d'agglomération de Pau Pyrénées
latitude=43.3016666666667|alt moy=178 m
alt mini=165 m
alt maxi=245 m
Pau is a town and "commune" in the Aquitaine "région" of southwestern France. It is famous for the Boulevard des Pyrénées, a walk of three-quarters of a kilometre from the Château de Pau to the Parc du Beaumont with magnificent views of the mountains in the Pyrenees mountain range.

Pau is the "préfecture" of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques "département" and of the "arrondissement" of Pau. The commune of Pau has joined together with 13 neighbouring communes to establish the "communauté d'agglomération" of Pau-Pyrénées which provides a framework within which local tasks are carried out together. The Université de Pau et des Pays de l'Adour (founded in 1972) is situated in the town and accounts for Pau's high student population.


Pau was the capital of the former province of Béarn. The site, on a slight elevation overlooking the valley of the mountain river called the Gave de Pau, where it was crossed by a ford, controlled access to an easy passage into the Pyrenees, used annually for the seasonal pasturage of flocks of sheep in the high meadows (now represented by a hiking footpath GR 65 that runs about 60 km south to the Spanish border). Access to the pass partly accounts for Pau's strategic importance.


The site was fortified in the 11th century ("pau" means "palisade" in Occitan), and it became the seat of the viscounts of Béarn. Pau was made the capital of Béarn in 1464. During the early 16th century, the "Château de Pau", made more habitable by Gaston Fébus, count of Foix, became the residence of the kings of Navarre, who were also counts of Béarn.

Pau was the birthplace of Henry IV of France (1553–1610), though this required some extraordinary effort. His mother, the redoubtable Jeanne d'Albret, crossed the whole of France to ensure that her son would be born there. The baby's lips were moistened with the local wine and rubbed with garlic shortly after the birth.

Charles XIV of Sweden was born in Pau, in 1763.

When Henry IV left Pau to become King of France, he remarked to the local notables that he was not giving Béarn to France, he was giving France to Béarn.

The English discovered the charms of Pau and its climate and left their imprint, partly because Wellington left a garrison at Pau on his way into Spain during the Peninsular War against Napoleon. Vacationing British, arriving before the railroad did, established the scenic promenade, the "Boulevard des Pyrenées," the first full 18-hole golf course in Europe (laid out in 1856/1860, and still in existence), and a real tennis court.

Napoleon III refurbished the château, while Pau added streets of Belle Époque architecture, before fashion transferred to Biarritz. Pau is still a major centre for winter sports and for equestrian events, with a famous steeplechase.

Château de Pau

In the center of Pau there is a magnificent castle, the Château de Pau, that dominates that quarter of the city. It is famous for being the birthplace of the 16th century king of France Henry IV and was once used by Napoleon as a holiday home during his period of power. It has a small garden that was tended by Marie Antoinette when she spent much of the summers in the city.

The château now is considered a French historical monument and contains a nice collection of tapestry.


From the 1950s to the 1990s Pau depended on the production of natural gas and sulphur dioxide which were discovered nearby at Lacq. Today the mainstays of the Béarn area are the oil business, the aerospace industry through the helicopter manufacturer Turbomeca, tourism and agriculture. Pau was the birthplace of Elf Aquitaine, which has now become a part of Total.


Pau has an airport, Pau Pyrénées Airport, which is about 10 km away from the centre. There are limited scheduled flights, to Amsterdam, Bristol, Brussels, London, Lyon and Paris.

The A64 motorway, from Bayonne to Tolouse, runs just to the north of Pau. The Spanish border is about 60 km south of Pau, and the "Route nationale" 134, which forms part of the European route E07, connects Pau to the Spanish cities of Huesca and Zaragoza via Canfranc.

Pau is served by Pau railway station, on the line from Bayonne to Tolouse. TER regional services linking these two cities call at Pau, which is also the terminus for TGV high speed services from Paris. The Funiculaire de Pau links the city centre and Boulevard des Pyrénées to the railway station in the valley below.

The Société des Transports de l'Agglomération Paloise (STAP) operates 13 urban bus routes, serving Pau and the adjoining communes.

Military presence

Pau is the home of the French military's "Ècole des troupes aéroportées", which trains and certifies military paratroops.


The local basketball team, Élan Béarnais Pau-Orthez have been French champions five times in the last ten years- most recently in 2004. Famous former players include Boris Diaw, Mickael Pietrus and Johan Petro.

Pau is home to Section Paloise, the city's rugby union team, which plays in the second French division known as Pro D2. Most recently in 2000, it won the European Challenge Cup, a top European trophy. French International player Damien Traille once played for the team and is a native to the city.

Pau is home to the first golf course on continental Europe, laid out in 1856. Since May 2007, the converted trinquet has reopened to its original sport, real tennis, on Sundays.

Since 1930, Pau has become a mainstay of the Tour de France cycling race, thanks both to its geographical location and to its marvelous infrastructure. Pau hosted its 62nd stage in 2008, and only one other city besides Paris has done better.

In 2008, between August 11-23, Pau hosted the 83rd French Chess Championship. The men's event was won by Étienne Bacrot, on tie-break from Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, while the women's event resulted in a victory for Sophie Milliet. Thirty-six players took part. Pau was previously the Championship venue in 1943 and 1969.

For amateur joggers the Gave de Pau river banks footpath is a most valued itinerary, which starts near the castle and passes along Pau's golf course heading west. Another spot is Pont-Long wood north of the town.

The city also has a football (soccer) team, Pau FC.

Grand Prix de Pau

Pau holds the honor of arranging the first race ever to be called a Grand Prix in 1901. After that the 1928 French Grand Prix was held in nearby Saint-Gaudens, Pau also wanted to arrange the race and in 1930 the French Grand Prix was held on a Le Mans type track outside the city with Philippe Étancelin winning for Bugatti. Pau was back in the race calendar in 1933, now with a Monaco inspired track in the city center.

The track, which is 2.769 km in length, is one of the most curious and twisty in the GP history and has remained more or less unchanged into the 1990s. The first curve is the sharp station hairpin. After that the road climbs on the Avenue Léon Say, alongside the stone viaduct that carries the Boulevard de Pyrenées, to Pont Oscar. A tunnel is followed by the narrow hairpin at the high school Louis Barthou that leads the track into the demanding Parc Beaumont section at the top of the town. After visiting the Casino garden and passing yet another hairpin, the Virage the Buisson, the track winds its way back to the startline along the Avenue Lacoste.

Pau was traditionally the season opener but selecting mid February as the date for the 1933 GP was to tempt fate and the race took place in a snowstorm with sludge making the conditions into one of the worst ever in racing history. After a one year pause the race was back in 1935 with Tazio Nuvolari dominating in an Alfa Romeo P3 entered by Scuderia Ferrari. The 1936 race saw the only major victory for the Maserati V8-R1, driven by Ètancelin. In 1937 the race was part of the French sports car series with Jean-Pierre Wimille dominating, running three to four seconds a lap faster than the rest of the field. GP racing was back in 1938 and Pau became a test track for Mercedes-Benz before the Grandes Epreuves.

The 1938 race saw René Dreyfus' Delahaye sensationally beating the Mercedes-Benz team. In 1939 Mercedes wasn't to be taken by surprise, Hermann Lang leading the team to a double victory. After the war Pau continued as a non-championship Formula 1 race until 1963. Thereafter the race was run to Formula 2 rules until the sport was replaced by Formula 3000 in 1985. In 1999, the event again changed, with Formula Three cars racing.


Pau was the birthplace of:
* Gastón de Peralta, marqués de Falces (1510-1587), viceroy of New Spain from 1566 to 1568
* Jeanne d'Albret (1528–1572), Queen of Navarre from 1555 to 1572
* Henry IV (1553–1610), king of France from 1589 to 1610
* Jean-Baptiste Jules Bernadotte (1763–1844), Marshal of France and later King of Sweden and Norway
* Charles Denis Bourbaki (1816–1897), French general of Greek descent
* Jean Jules Verdenal (1890-1915), friend and correspondent of T. S. Eliot
* Marguerite Broquedis (1893-1983), female tennis player
* André Courrèges (born 1923), fashion designer
* Roger-Gérard Schwartzenberg (born 1943), politician
* Alain Lamassoure (born 1944), politician
* Bertrand Cantat (born 1964), singer and songwriter
* Cédric Gracia (born 1978), mountain biker
* Walter Lapeyre (born 1976), pistol shooter
* Jérémy Chardy (born 1987), professional tennis player
* Tony Estanguet (born 1978), French slalom canoer

Twin towns

Pau has been twinned with
*flagicon|Spain Zaragoza, Spain, since 1970
*flagicon|United States Mobile, Alabama, United States, since 1975cite web|title="Regional Overview"||url=
*flagicon|Italy Pistoia, Italy, since 1975
*flagicon|Japan Kofu, Yamanashi, Japan, since 1977
*flagicon|Portugal Setúbal, Portugal, since 1981
*flagicon|UK Swansea, United Kingdom, since 1982
*flagicon|Germany Göttingen, Germany, since 1983
*flagicon|Côte d'Ivoire Daloa, Côte d'Ivoire, since 1984
*flagicon|China Xi'an, China, since 1986

ee also

* Pau FC
* Palais des Sports de Pau
* Stade du Hameau


External links

* [ Tourist office of the city]
* [ City council website (French)]
* [ "Pau and around: Pau tourism travel guide"]
* [ Visiting Pau (English)]
* [ ]
* [,-0.374222&spn=0.129676,0.361862&om=1&iwloc=addr Google Map of Pau]

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