South France (Toulouse and Pau)


RECOMMENDED ACCOMMODATION

  1. Quality Hotel Pau City Center – clean and centrally located, with large rooms.
  2. Hotel Castellane – a basic 2 star hotel, clean rooms, friendly staff, bad wifi.

RECOMMENDED RESTAURANTS

  1. O Bali (Toulouse)
  2. Au Boui Boui Lau (Toulouse)
  3. Frog & RostBif (Toulouse)
  4. Chez Pierre (Pau)
  5. Aragon Brasserie (Pau)
  6. Le Grain au Raisin (Pau)

Recently I was fortunate enough to have a course in Pau, France, allowing me some time to check out this lovely little sleepy town and the surroundings. Pau sits in the Basque region, only 50 km from the Spanish border and 100 km from the coast. The main attractions here can be done within an afternoon – mainly a stroll along the Boulevard de Pyrenees, with absolutely gorgeous views to the Pyrenees mountains and  Jurançon hillsides, providing the region with it’s famous wine of the same name. Alphonse de Lamartine said “Pau has the world’s most beautiful view of the Earth just as Naples has the most beautiful view of the sea”.

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I did the quintessential stroll along the Boulevard, marveling at the view, and with some other course attendees we visited the Pau castle and several churches. However, there really isn’t much more to see.

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The thing we were repeatedly told by locals as the “thing to do” was to eat duck, foie gras, and some wine – this area of France is famous for it. And so we obliged – a night out at Aragon Brasserie allowed us a full-on local hit – foie gras appetizer, followed by lamb, duck, accompanied by local  Jurançon and finished off with a digestif of Armagnac.

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Armagnac is a type of brandy, originally consumed in the 14th century for it’s therapeutic benefits. Not sure about those, but it’s a damn strong way to end a meal.  Jurançon, the local wine, can be either a dry or sweet white wine, however the region produces other types – such as the Sauvignon Blanc (left) and Malbec (right) below.

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On our last evening, keen to maximize our tasting of local products, we went to Le Grain au Raisin, a wine and tapa bar. The Spanish influence is very evident here – with snacks of pan con tomate, morcilla, and jamon. We selected a few more local wines and enjoyed the evening of sunshine and heat.

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Stretching out my weekend, I spent some time in the rural region close to Pau – perfect for walking through the hills, sleeping, and relaxing.

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I made my way back to Toulouse to see what the city had to offer before flying home. Toulouse is the 4th largest city in France and home to the Basilica of St. Sernin – part of the Santiago de Campostela pilgrimage route. It’s a busy city, and at least in the area I stayed, home to many international influences. First-day wanderings from Hotel Castellane brought my to the Place du Capitole, and up to the top of Galleries Lafayette to see views of the Basilique Saint Sernin, Church Les Jacobins, and Cathedral St. Etienne. I went back down to see the churches themselves, and spent the afternoon with further window shopping and walking through the city center.

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Place du Capitole

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The rooftops of Toulouse

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Perhaps it was all the heavy French food in Pau, but I was in the mood for something different for dinner, and for whatever reason Toulouse is awash in international restaurants – I walked past at least 3 Indian, 1 Nepalese, and many many Thai and Asian places before settling on Au Boui Boui Lau, a tiny Lao restaurant with smiling staff and a fantastic beef noodle soup. Down the street, the Frog&RostBif pub serves English-style pints in a friendly atmosphere.

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On my final day I did some last-minute souvenir buying and then enjoyed another Thai restaurant before leaving for the airport – O Bali, which did an amazing job of making me feel like I was really in Bali (and good food to boot).

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Both Toulouse and Pau gave me a different French experience then I’ve had before, and I would definitely go back to see more of both. Next time, a detour to the beach is in order!

Categories: Active Weekends, Good drinks, Running around citiesTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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