Explore Pau in south west France

A cultured city in the shadow of the Pyrenees, Pau is a traditional destination for British tourists, and serves as an ideal base for exploring the beautiful region of south west France.

Air France (www.airfrance.co.uk) and its affiliate CityJet (www.cityjet.com) fly direct to Pau from London City airport, with return fares starting from £75.41 including taxes.

Pau was a medieval spa town that captured the attention of 19th century British tourists, who were persuaded that the mountain air was good for their health. Pau soon had its own sizeable British community.

There are still some traces of this in the traditional tea shops, golf courses, and bars decorated with fox-hunting prints. Mostly though Pau is a prosperous regional city with plenty of of those French shops specialising in delicious patisserie and confectionery.

Look a little closer and you discover that all the crystallised violets are for the tourists, and the locals tend to be tough farmers who love rugby. Pau is a hotbed for the sport and the big matches will find the bars thronged with fans watching the games.

Visitors spend hours wandering along the boulevard des Pyrenees between the castle and the very English Parc Beamont. The views to the mountains from the elegant boulevard are astounding, with open vistas of the highest Pyrenees peaks.

An interesting day trip from Pau takes you to the caves known as the Grottes de Betharram (www.grottes-de-betharram.com), a fascinating complex where you can take a boat trip on an underground lake to admire the stalactite clusters. Admission is 12.80 euros for adults, and 7.40 euros for children, but it's one of the most memorable sites in this area of south west France.

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