Pau is so lovely – a surprise of a town, with Pyrenees peaks in the distance and beautiful buildings. The historical capital of Bearn, a state annexed to France in 1620, it’s famously the birthplace of King Henry IV (and most of the historical sites revolve around him). It has had several waves of interest on specific themes – it was very popular with soldiers returning from the Peninsular War with Spain in 1815; which turned it into an important winter resort town. Home of Frances’ first golf course. Home of the Wright Brothers’ first aviation school. There’s a racetrack in town, which still hosts a city circuit (most years, at least).

Our visit was quite brief – we’d like to return for the races and an overnight stay. The *Château de Pau was worth a stop, the guided tour took over an hour and was quite detailed. It wasn’t really necessary – self-guided would be fine, though the day of our visit that wasn’t an option. Impressive furnishings. We had an uninspired lunch in a pretty square at *Restaurant Etna.

From Pau, we went quite a bit out of our way to drive several passes in the Pyrenees – all very well signed at the moment because of the recent Tour de France. If you like driving passes, this was very worthwhile.

**Col du Tourmalet was short – only 10 km, more traffic than the other passes we took, good road surface. Tight and curvy. As a ski area, it looked fairly large, not very steep, and didn’t rank high on our list of future destinations.

**Col d’Aubisque was our favorite – pretty, no people (almost no cars), longer – 18 km. Good surface, tight curves, and more majestic views.

**Col du Pourtalet, the last pass of the day, crosses over into Spain. It was similar to Col d’Aubisque, though the road is great on the French side and horrible on the Spanish side. Also not very crowded.

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