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Pau in the Gers

The English in France

No, not in Sarlat in the Dordogne, now home to thousands of ex-patriate Brits, but further south in splendid Pau and its beautiful surroundings. The British arrived in the region after the Peninsular Wars and many returned to 'colonise' the town. They were responsible for Pau Golf Club, the first on mainland Europe, the Boulevard des Pyrénées, the Cercle Anglais, the parks and much of the planting of the city, and numerous fine buildings and villas.

Pau is proud of its heritage as "la Ville Anglaise". At one time, it was home to four anglophone churches: three Anglican churches and one Church of Scotland. St Andrew's Anglican Church is the last of these churches still standing. The deeper one goes into the English influence on local life the greater the surprise. We raised the subject with a man with an impeccable genealogical rating who can trace his 100% French ancestry back to Charlemagne. We were particularly interested if the English had tried to attract their former compatriots to their adopted land. He replied, of course, then produced a list of attractions they had helped develop.

Here they are: The Parc National des Pyrénées is located on the Pyrenean range between Spain and France. The park is home to 75 species of mammals, including marmots, bears and vultures. It is famous for its canyons, waterfalls and valleys. The national Stud Farm of Tarbes is home to the prestigious Anglo-Arab horses. There are competitions and shows throughout the year. Galbart Norbert offers boat trips on the Dordogne on replicas of 18th century gabare boats. The Gouffre de Proumeyssac is known as the “Crystal Cathedral” owing to its exceptional density of crystallisations. The 45 minute guided tour includes a spectacular lightshow. The Abattoirs Museum is Toulouse’s museum of modern and contemporary art. It includes 2000 works covering the second half of the 20th century. At an altitude of 2887 metres (9438 feet), the Pic du Midi de Bigorre offers splendid panoramas over the Pyrénées and has been an observatory since 1880. Visitors can learn about space, stars and planets.

Other sites, where the English connection is less visible are: the magnificent Chateau de Pau, dedicated to Henri IV; Lourdes; the Rocher des Aigles (visitors will enjoy seeing eagles freely flying over their heads); the Centre Préhistorique de Pech-Merle is comprised of a cave and a museum. The two-kilometre cave features prehistoric paintings and drawings. And the nearest Disneyland is not much more than 500 kilometres away.

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Boulevard des Pyrénées
© OTC Pau D.Guilhamassé

Château de Pau 
© OTC Pau D.Guilhamassé

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