Pyrénées-Atlantiques is a department in the south-west of France which falls on the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean. It is part of the Aquitaine region and its name is derived from the Pyrenees Mountains and the Atlantic. It is a medium-sized department with a population ranking 37th out of the 100 departments, and a land area of over 7,000 km². It is a popular destination for holiday makers as it is a vibrant department with lots to do, and it is suitable for both beach and mountain lovers with its ideal location and beautiful landscapes.
The department is one of the original 83 Departments of France which were created during the French Revolution in 1790. It is a combination of the Basque country ("the Pays Basque") and the Bearn. Like the other departments of France, Pyrénées-Atlantiques is steeped in history. Pau, the capital of Bearn, was the birthplace of King Henry IV of France.
Summer temperatures are often hot which is ideal for tourists who want to go to the beach. It is still cold higher up in the mountains, however, and winters are often chilly throughout the department.
The following table shows average temperatures across Alliers over the course of a year:
Average temperature in Pyrénées-Atlantiques
Pyrénées-Atlantiques is an ideal department to visit for those who like beaches. The Basque coast is beautiful and has clear sandy beaches with many picturesque towns situated on it. For example, the cathedral city of Bayonne is situated on the coast as is Saint Jean de Luz, which is a particularly popular seaside resort not far from the Spanish border. Another famous resort is Biarritz, which is a large town divided into many sections. Biarritz became famous when the wife of Napoleon III claimed she had fallen in love with this part of the region.
There are many tourist attractions located throughout the department. Particularly interesting ones are Château de Pau in Pau which is a beautiful castle famed as the birthplace of King Henri IV. It has impressive tapestries, galleries, towers and gardens. A very different attraction is St Jacques de Compostelle, seen as one of the holiest shrines in Europe to which thousands of Christians make a pilgrimage each year. For those more interested in the landscape, it is worthwhile visiting the Iraty Forest, which covers over 20,000 hectares, almost 3000 of which are in the department. The forest remains an unspoilt and peaceful place to visit, containing unique plants and animals of the region.
Museums, galleries and culture
Being rich in culture and history, the department has lots of unique museums to visit. Some of the best ones can be found in the Bayonne region. Here you will find the Basque Museum which is the largest ethnological museum in the Basque Country containing over 2000 works of art.
Bayonne also contains the Bonnat Museum which was built in the 1900s and contains many beautiful paintings and artefacts in its three impressive floors.
There are many beautiful places to walk in the department, as there is an abundance and variety of natural scenery, both mountainous and coastal. In the mountains, a good place to walk is in Haute-Soule. Here you will find valleys and gorges which are perfect for short walks and more ambitious hikes. For example, Sante Engrace, which is located in Haute-Soule. Sante Engrace used to be called Le bout du monde (the end of the world) for its untouched landscape. It is also worthwhile visiting La Rhune, which has become something of a symbol for the department. Located 905 metres high, tourists like to walk there and get the spectacular views from the peak.
Pyrénées-Atlantiques has become known as a golfer's paradise - it is perfect for all those with an interest in golf. There are 11 turfs all within close distance, in spectacular surroundings. Top level golfers will enjoy the modern Pau Golf Club, while those who prefer older more charming courses will prefer Epherra, located in Anglet.
The department is also a very short distance away from the Catalonia Pyrenees-Costa Brava region which enjoys world fame for its golf. It was voted as the best golf destination in 2000 by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators. It boasts nine top-class courses and a further eight pitch & put courses for the keen golfer.
Food and drink
Like the other French departments, the citizens of Pyrénées-Atlantiques pride themselves on the quality of their food. Specialities of the region include wafer-thin ham from the Bayonne region, cheeses from Brebis and the red peppers from Espelette. Bayonne, a key city in the department, is also well-known as the French capital for chocolate. For those interested in finding out more about the department's delicacies, it is a good idea to go on a gastronomy tour which will allow you to sample the different flavours of the department. Naturally, the department also produces its own fine local wines which have a distinct flavour peculiar to the region.
Ease of access
The department is very easily accessible by plane, train and bus. Internationally, Air France operates numerous flights from various destinations into Pyrénées-Atlantiques. There are also numerous trains which is the method of choice for many tourists and residents alike. The trains are not only frequent and efficient, passing through most of the cities hourly, but they are also a good way of viewing the local scenery. For those on a budget, there is an abundance of local buses which, though slower than the aforementioned methods of travel, are still easy to use throughout the department.
Value for money
Pyrénées-Atlantiques is a great place to visit for families who are on a budget as there are many museums and other places of interest which are free to visit, and others only costing a few euros. And of course, simply viewing the beautiful scenery of the department is a costless experience. Food, especially if it is local produce, is also relatively cheap.
All in all, Pyrénées-Atlantiques is a welcoming, well-located and beautiful department which contains something for everyone. It is a department rich in history and architecture, but it still has modern facilities for children or those keen on sports. The beautiful coastal and mountainous landscape is refreshing for anyone who wants to get out of the busier cities and enjoy a relaxing break from it all.