Thursday, 21 June 2012


A short drive across the border takes us to Pau.  Now this is a town with a fascinating history. Set on a high ridge with a huge panorama of the Pyrenees, 50km away (apparently - it was too cloudy for us to see!) this was a castle that was turned into a little jewel of a royal palace for the kings of Navarre, and by Henri IV who became king of France (a good king!).  It's on the turn between gothic and renaissance and now beautifully restored, a white limestone jewel still dominating the dense little streets. 
The city later, in the time of Napoleon III, became a fashionable resort with Europe's elite, especially the English, who no doubt came to inhale the clear mountain air when London got too much.  Or maybe the casino and the steeplechase course were more of a draw!  Well, Pau eventually lost out to Biarritz and has been on the slide ever since.  Faded grandeur is taking over the once grand Empire-style hotels along the Boulevard des Pyrénées.  This promenade, with te mountain view, stretches along the whole south side of the town, and was once filled with grandees in boaters and ladies in bustles.  Many of the hotels are now turned into apartments, and many shops in the old medieval streets are dying or empty. 
The funicular still rises as graceful as a grand duchess, from the station up to the promenade, but there are no belle epoque passengers now.  Instead, Pau seems to have more than its fair share of alternative yoof - think matted hair, tattoos and piercings in unusual places, and nervous looking dogs on lengths of rope.
It's still a beautiful town though, and well worth the visit.  We did find a great restaurant near the chateau - the Henri IV - with good regional specialties and a friendly waiter.  The days of surly service, with a refusal to understand your rusty French, are gone.  Nowadays waiters seem glad to practice their English, or indulge your attempts to dig up that O level phrasebook from some suppressed mental recess. 
Thunderous rain in the evening and quite cool.  But still better than arctic London over the jubilee weekend.

No comments:

Post a Comment