Once you decide to study abroad in Pau, France you’ll immediately start planning your weekend travels. If you’re studying during the spring, it’s common to pour a majority of your time and money into a long break, such as spring break vacation. Don’t get me wrong, spring break is a great time to travel, but it’s important to know that you don’t always need seven days to travel outside of Pau and have a great time.
These nine locations vary from a short city bus ride to a four-hour train ride. Traveling this close to Pau is ideal because it won’t empty your piggy bank. Also, don’t forget that you can always be a tourist in your home away from home and spend weekends exploring the city of Pau itself.
Before you begin any of your travels, you’ll want to buy a Carte Jeune. A Carte Jeune is a youth travel card that provides a discount on transportation. As long as you’re between 16 and 27 years old, every train ticket you buy automatically gets a 40% discount. After that, you’re free to enjoy these top 9 locations in southern France at a cheaper price.
These destinations are listed in order from furthest away from Pau to closest. This can narrow down your trips whether you’re in the mood for a quick day trip or a fun, full weekend with your homies.
The Château Comtal is the prominent aspect of Carcassonne offering people Harry Potter nostalgia while walking through the castle’s long corridors. It seems to wrap around the city and you can look over the castle walls to view the beautiful country landscapes. It truly is a one of a kind view. Near the castle, there are many little shops to fulfill your touristic needs. If you’re looking for a place to stay, try the Auberge de Jeunesse for about 40€ for two nights.
However, USAC does offer a field trip to Carcassonne and it’s included in your program fees which means you can visit and stay overnight for free, even better!
Bordeaux may be known for its wine, but it’s also the shopping capital of the south of France. Try not to be overwhelmed by every small shop from clothes to knickknacks to bags. Shop owners stand outside their stores, with a smile on their face, waiting to invite the next passerby in. It’s very easy to navigate the city and USAC even offers a field trip to Bordeaux included in your program fees.
Toulouse is the “pink city” of France. The architecture is unique to other cities in France because the buildings all give off a pink hue. It makes the city romantic and begging for pictures. After the sun goes down, the city center glows under many sparkling lights.
Visiting the Canal du Midi is one of the easiest ways to get a taste of the beauty of Toulouse. Take a nice stroll through its park beside the river. You’ll feel like you’re walking through a fairy tale and you’ll notice the trees hang over and curve around the park’s path. You can also walk or rent bikes to explore the canal. If you participate in the USAC field trip to Carcassonne you’ll also visit Toulouse, but this destination is worth going to more than once.
4. San Sebastián
Anyone studying in Pau knows that as soon as the weather warms up, the first priority is grabbing a beach towel and heading to the paradise of San Sebastián. It’s only an hour and a half train from France, yet as soon as you cross the border you can feel the Spanish influence over the city. Everything is more colorful, including the buildings and the people.
To get a bite to eat, walk into a restaurant and order as many tapas or pintxos as you can stomach! San Sebastián is the capital in Spain for its pintxos. Pintxos are savory bites usually served at the bar and placed in single servings on plates. Trying to describe them wouldn’t do them justice, so go get them!
Speaking of paradise, Biarritz is your go-to on the French side of the Basque Country. It is a beautiful coastal town with ice cream shops as popular as Starbucks in the U.S.
The small walk over the bridge is breathtaking as the waves crash against the walls.
The aquarium nearby allows you to dive under the water to experience sea life. There are four different stages of the aquarium including a cafe at the top and an adorable gift shop for you or souvenirs for your family.
Lourdes is a large Catholic Pilgrimage site receiving millions of tourists every year. Lourdes is a little under half an hour train ride and under fifteen euros round trip from Pau. The site is nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees and holds several historical sites. There is a beautiful shrine commemorating when Bernadette saw Mary and many other Biblical sites that are all free. Along with the Biblical history, Lourdes has a castle rested atop a hill that is full of history. The castle also offers a beautiful look out onto the city and only costs 2.50€.
7. Chateau de Morlanne
A short thirty-minute car ride from Pau is Morlanne, a small rustic French village in the southern French countryside. Within the village, you can get an authentic French meal in a local restaurant. There is also a completely renovated Chateau. The Chateau costs 3.00€ and includes a picturesque view of the French countryside. You can spend the day exploring the elegant old churches and you’ll have the opportunity to hike several trails.
8. The Pyrenees
While this is the most popular field trip that’s included in your USAC program fees, chances are you’ll want to return to the Pyrenees more than once. Guided hikes offer the opportunity to practice your French and also experience beautiful sights of the Pyrenees. The hikes in the Pyrenees can cost as low as 15.00€ including the round trip bus ride from Pau and the hike. In addition to hiking the Pyrenees offer the ability to go skiing snowboarding or snowshoeing depending on the season. Ski stations are a short bus ride and less than 15.00€ round trip. Even if you’re not feeling very active, you can head to the Pyrenees to soak in the hot springs for 10€.
While you’ll have the urge to travel during your study abroad, don’t forget to explore your new home. Whether you are a foodie, a history buff, or a sports fan there is something for everyone. Scattered all over Pau are traditional French restaurants. Some fun things to try include crepes, escargot, and raclette–a potato, meat, and cheese dish. Each of these can be found around Pau for less than 20€ and if you live with a host family you’ll most likely get to taste them homemade.
If you’re a history buff, there is a lot to do in Pau. One of the top attractions is the Château de Pau dating back to the middle ages. The Château is a fun visit that is free with your student ID. Pau also offers Le Musée des Beaux Arts, the local art museum which is free for students and includes pieces from artists all over the world.
The sports lover will never be bored in Pau either. You can play golf on the first golf course on mainland Europe for a little over 50€ or go watch the local basketball team for 10 to 20€.
Pau and the exciting destinations surrounding it have something for everyone. Be sure to check with the USAC staff on included field trips and offered optional tours, and have fun exploring France during your summer, semester, or year abroad!
This blog post was written by Ayshané Sivells-Taylor and Brandon Green for a travel writing class during their semester in Pau, France.