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O N T O U R: Pau ” Home of the Kings of Navarre
The introduction of direct flights from Stansted to Pau Pyrenees Airport on 1 May brings an interesting dilemma to Ryanair. For possibly the first time its destinations will be competing with each other. Pau is just 80 miles from the established Biarritz operation and 130 miles from Bergerac, a former Buzz destination. It will be interesting to see if there is a dilution of traffic. Pau is the site of Wilbur Wright”s first flight in Europe (1908), a memorial to the occasion sited not far from the fine modern airport on the outskirts of the city. For skiing fanatics the season on the border of France and Spain lasts for nearly six months, from late October to early May. Well under one hour”s drive from the Palm trees at the airport.
Sitting on the River (or Gave in this part of France) Pau, Pau is a medieval city dominated by its massive chateau, the birthplace of Henry IV, one of the most successful of French kings, a contemporary of Elizabeth I and a man whose branch of Christianity seemed to vary according to the mood of the time. In truth the chateau is now more 19th century than 16th, transformed by Louis-Philippe and Napoleon III, but taking nothing away from a remarkable building. Pau, a University city, is the major conurbation of this part of south west France, capital of the Bearn region, a thriving commercial metropolis combining an historical centre with up-to-the-minute industrial development, a city the size of Plymouth with a population of 200,00 plus. It is also one of the major horse racing centres of France with a thriving stud farm, massive training gallops and the Pau Hippodrome (or racecourse). The European Three Day Event will take place here in October. Like many historical cities the centre of Pau is not large and a stroll along the Boulevard des Pyrenees is a must, the wonderful aroma of the patisseries attracting those not too weight conscious into a fantastic world of chocolate and cakes. Marvellous.
The Anglos have been established in this part of France since the time of Napoleon and in 1856 organised the first golf course on the continent, still thriving and still very English. In the centre of the town the British Club is a quiet rendezvous for expatriates, a parkland setting belying the location perhaps ten minutes walk from the traditional French covered market, a bustling focal point where town meets country (and the fish folk too).
The Grand Prix de Pau is reputed to be the oldest Grand Prix race in the world, and was the first to use the name ”Grand Prix” in the year 1900. The Pau ”street” circuit is just under two miles in length and winds its way around the lower town past the railway station and often parallel to the river. Throughout the 20th century many motoring titans such as Nuvolari, Fangio, Ascari, Villoresi, Trintignant, Brabham and Moss braved the twisting circuit, often compared to Monaco. For safety reasons its was downgraded to the then Formula 2 in 1958, but for two weekends of the year all the noise and smell of historic, and some modern, motor racing returns. If you are into motor racing mark in your calendar 31 May/1 June and 7, 8, 9 June. Sir Stirling Moss turned out last year and the break will cost you a lot less than Monte Carlo.
As an alternative to hotels increasingly popular are the Gites de France, often rural bed and breakfast (with the facilities for much more usually available). The Maison Priats is near the Village of Lasseube, quiet and isolated with wonderful views, yet but a 15 minute stroll to the local brassiere. There is a swimming pool too and plenty of do-it-yourself facilities. The vineyards are not far away. You can reckon on E250 for four on week at a quality Gite during the summer in this area. Splendid value. Ryanair is not the most popular of airlines in some quarters, but if it opens up this delightful area of France in the coming years it is a job well done. ww.pau.fr top