Pau (pop 84,900) lies above the banks of the Gave de Pau, embedded in the Pyrénées mountain range. The city that was once the capital of the old Béarn region also functioned as the territory of the Kings of Navarre (birthing their beloved King Henri IV). However, the city was officially founded only in the 19th century, by Englishmen who were heading back home from their battles in Spain during the Peninsula War. Pau then quickly became an English favourite, as many headed to the city in search of its pure mountain air that was believed to have medicinal qualities. Pau was annexed to the French only in 1620; however, its English traditions (such as having afternoon tea and going fox hunting) still remained rooted in the city. Today, a significant portion of Pau’s population (which also houses a sizeable student population thanks to its local university) remains English-speaking and the city has morphed into the most cosmopolitan city in the Pyrénées. Hence Pau has earned the right to act as the capital of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department.  The city is also enclosed by majestic surroundings that once prompted the poet Alphonse de Lamartine to state “Pau has the world's most beautiful view of the earth just as Naples has the most beautiful view of the sea”. You can arrive at Pau via flight at the Pau-Pyrénées Airport (about 12km north of town); or via trains (connected to major cities like Bayonne, Paris and Lyon) at Avenue Gaston Lacoste.

FRANCE AQUITAINE PYRENNES ATLANTIQUIES Château de PauAlthough Pau garners its fair share of tourists, the city itself does not house many must-see sights. Instead, it offers a relaxing break into the Pyrénées Mountains without missing out on any of the modern amenities. The southbound Boulevard de Pyrénées is a long path, which is great for a walk that offers sweeping views of the collection of Pyrénean peaks with a grand centrepiece- the Pic du Midi d’Ossau. This pathway is flanked by the Parc Beaumont on its east and the
grandest, man-made sight in town, the Château de Pau [2 rue de château, +33 559278478 ad/ch €6/4.50] to its west. The Château was renovated from humble Middle Age towers to a full fledged château in the 14th century. It then quickly became a place of royal dwelling (especially the Kings of Navarre), seeing the birth of the Henri IV in the 16th century. Today, the castle portrays a more Renaissance image, with the Tower de Gaston Phoebus as the only structure dating back to the 14th century. The castle was neglected for some 200 hundred years, before it was redecorated by Napoleon III and his wife Eugenie, who made it a holiday home. Listed a national monument by the French government, the château now functions as a museum, displaying the various objet d’arts that were collected by the royal families that lived here; as well as the well-preserved rooms of Henri IV (including his bedroom that still houses a giant tortoise shell, which was used as a cradle). These rooms also house fine tapestries and period furniture.

Pau has a Musée de Beaux-arts [Rue Mathieu-Lalanne, +33 559273302], just north of the Parc Beaumont. This fine arts museum houses works from the 15th century to the current era, including local ones like El Greco, Zurbarán and Degas. Its comprehensive collection houses little known pieces to internationally acclaimed ones such as the Rubens’ “The Last Judgement” and Degas’ “The Cotton Office”.