Gateways to Aquitaine
Pau and Bergerac
Saturday 27 March 2010
It is a decade since low-cost flights from Stansted first put Pau and Bergerac on the map. Since then air links have blossomed to provide access to the deep south and north-east of Aquitaine. But pause before you race off to your gite or villa: each town has something special to offer.
Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac, and his notable nose, has earned not one but two statues in the centre of this lovely town on the right bank of the Dordogne. Besides the statues, much else is on offer in Bergerac, such as exploring the river aboard a gabarre (traditional barge). The tourist office is at 97 rue Neuve d’Argenson (00 33 5 53 57 03 11; bergerac-tourisme.com ). It opens 9.30am-1pm and 2-7pm daily except Sunday (longer hours in July and August).
* Sleep: Of half-a-dozen options in the centre, the Hôtel-Restaurant du Commerce at 36 Place Gambetta (00 33 5 53 27 30 50; hotel-du-commerce24.fr ) is good value: a double costs as little as €42, with breakfast a further €8 per person.
* Eat: The town centre has plenty of appetising options, with the Restaurant Le St-Jacques at 30 rue St-James (00 33 5 53 23 38 08; lesaintjacques.info) plumb in the middle and one of the most intriguing; the name celebrates the pilgrimage to Santiago, and the proprietors – who are Dutch – made a gastronomic crusade of their own to this land of plenty. They use classic Aquitaine ingredients to create dishes with flamboyant twists such as fois gras on a bed of port jelly.
* Visit: Start in the 17th-century Cloitre des Recollets, a former Franciscan friary where religion has given way to the worship of wine: the Maison des Vins is housed here, and celebrates the district’s distinctive varieties (00 33 5 53 63 57 57; vins-bergerac.fr ). It offers tastings daily except Sunday. Another vice is catered for: Bergerac is a leading producer of tobacco, and the Musée de Tabac at the handsome 17th-century Maison Peyrarède in Place du Feu (00 33 5 53 63 04 13; bergerac-tourisme.com ) celebrates its diamond jubilee this year. In the past 60 years, social attitudes to smoking have changed dramatically, but this museum presents a fascinating anthropological timeline of tobacco.
* Shop: The covered market in the town centre is a lively source of fresh fare each weekday morning; it is augmented on Tuesdays with an organic produce market – and, on the first Sunday morning of the month, a flea market that infuses the old town.
When in Pau head straight to the Boulevard des Pyrénées for superb views of the mountain chain. Pau’s location and balmy climate attracted wealthy British tourists in the 19th century, and their legacy can be seen in the city’s wealth of parks and gardens. The most interesting building, is the much-transformed château where Pau’s most famous son was born. Henry IV, “the Good King”, reigned over France from 1589 to 1610 and is credited with inventing the dish for which the city is renowned: poule au pot. The main tourist office (00 33 5 59 27 27 08; pau-pyrenees.com ) on Place Royale is open from 9am-6pm daily (Sundays 9.30am-1pm)
* Sleep: The central, two-star Hôtel Bosquet at 11 rue Valéry Meunier (00 33 5 59 11 50 11; brithotel.fr ) has doubles from €67, with breakfast an extra €7 per person. For four-star luxury and great views try the Hôtel Parc Beaumont at 1 avenue Édouard VII (00 33 5 59 11 84 00; hotel-parc-beaumont.com ), which has doubles from €215 with breakfast an extra €22 per person. Or consider the Hotel Villa Navarre, a handsome property in extensive grounds at 59 avenue Trespoey (00 33 5 59 14 65 65; villanavarre.fr ) – which includes arguably the best-located open-air swimming pool in France, with superb views of the mountains.
* Eat: A popular, central brasserie, Le Berry at 4 rue Gachet (00 33 5 59 27 42 95) accepts no bookings so arrive early. The magret de canard is particularly good.
* Visit: The Musée des Beaux Arts (pictured) in rue Mathieu Lalanne (00 33 5 59 27 33 02; musee.ville-pau.fr ) boasts work by Rubens and Degas. It opens 10am-noon and 2-6pm daily except Tuesday, €3. The Château Museum (00 33 5 59 82 38 02; musee-chateau-pau.fr ) opens 9.30am-12.30am and 1.30-6.45pm from 15 June to 15 September, €5. The grounds and gardens are free and open from 7.30am daily.
* Shop: Explore the streets behind the Place Clémenceau. Find Pau’s famous sweets, chocolates and other presents in streets such as rue Henry IV and rue du Maréchal Joffre. In the latter, at number 48, Francis Miot creates award-winning and saucily-named sweets. The Tétons de la Reine Margot are delicious: €8.90 for 150g (00 33 5 59 27 69 51; boutique-feeriegourmande.com )
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