Roughly hexagonal in shape, France shares boundaries with Belgium and Luxembourg to the northeast; Germany, Switzerland, and Italy to the east; and Spain and Andorra to the southwest. In the northwest, France is bounded by the English Channel. At the Straights of Dover, the narrowest part of the channel, France and England are separated by just 34 km. France faces three major seas: the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the North Sea to the north, and the Mediterranean Sea to the southeast.
France is a nation of varied landscapes, ranging from coastal lowlands and broad plains in the north, to hilly uplands in south central France, to lush valleys and towering, snow-capped Alps in the east. Mountainous and hilly areas lie on nearly all of France’s borders, creating a series of natural boundaries for the country. Only the nation’s northeastern border is largely unprotected. Several major rivers drain France, including the Seine, Loire, Garonne, and Rhône.
The economy of France is large, diverse, and one of the most highly developed in the European Union (EU). It is a leading manufacturing nation, producing goods such as automobiles, electrical equipment, machine tools, and chemicals. France is the EU’s most important agricultural nation—shipping cereals, wine, cheese, and other agricultural products to the rest of Europe and the world. In recent decades service industries, including banking, retail and wholesale trade, communications, health care, and tourism, have come to dominate the French economy.
France is one of the oldest states in the Western world and its history is rich and varied. Little is known of France’s earliest inhabitants. Cave paintings in southwestern France dated to about 15,000 BC reveal the existence of a sophisticated and creative people. By the 8th century BC hordes of Celts, among other tribes, began entering and settling in France. A Celtic word, Gaul, was a name used in antiquity for the region of France. The ancient Romans incorporated France in the 1st century BC and ruled the region until the Roman Empire collapsed in the 5th century AD. After the fall of Rome, a series of royal dynasties ruled much of what would become France. Royal power declined in the Middle Ages with the spread of feudalism, which distributed power among local rulers. From the 14th to 18th century the power of the monarchy grew steadily as French kings and their ministers built a centralized bureaucracy and a large standing army. The French Revolution in 1789 toppled the monarchy, ushering in decades of political instability. Despite this turmoil, the revolution, and the subsequent rule of Napoleon Bonaparte, established a uniform administrative state in France.
French strength and prosperity grew during the 19th and early 20th centuries, and France built a worldwide colonial empire rivaling that of the United Kingdom. Much of World War I (1914-1918) was fought on French soil, and the nation suffered heavy losses. During World War II (1939-1945), Germany occupied northern France while a collaborationist regime was established at Vichy in central France. After the war France rebuilt its shattered economy and emerged as one of the world’s major industrial countries. Growing resistance to French rule in the colonies increased in the postwar period, triggering a wave of decolonization that stripped France of most of its overseas possessions. A new constitution was approved that strengthened the powers of the presidency, and General Charles de Gaulle, a war resistance leader, became the new government’s first president. De Gaulle viewed France as a great power, and he followed an independent stance in foreign affairs, a policy that helped boost France’s international influence. In recent decades, France, working closely with Germany, has played a leading role in the move toward greater European economic and political integration through the European Union.
Historically, the site was fortified in the 11th century ('pau' means 'palisade' in Occitan), and it became the seat of the viscounts of Béarn. Pau was made the capital of Béarn in 1464. During the early 16th century, the Château de Pau, made more habitable by Gaston Fébus, count of Foix, became the residence of the kings of Navarre, who were also counts of Béarn. Pau was the birthplace of Henry IV of France (1553–1610), though this required some extraordinary effort. His mother, the redoubtable Jeanne d'Albret, crossed the whole of France to ensure that her son would be born there. The baby's lips were moistened with the local wine and rubbed with garlic shortly after the birth. Charles XIV of Sweden was also born at the château, in 1763.
When Henri IV left Pau to become King of France, he remarked to the local notables that he was not giving Béarn to France, he was giving France to Béarn! The English discovered the charms of Pau and its climate and left their imprint, partly because Wellington left a garrison at Pau on his way into Spain during the Peninsular War against Napoleon. Vacationing British, arriving before the railroad did, established the scenic promenade, the Boulevard des Pyrenées, the first full 18-hole golf course in Europe (laid out in 1856/1860, and still in existence), and a real tennis court. Napoleon III refurbished the château, while Pau added streets of Belle Époque architecture, before fashion transferred to Biarritz. Pau is still a major centre for winter sports and for equestrian events, with a famous steeplechase.
From the 1950s to the 1990s Pau depended on the production of natural gas and sulphur dioxide which were discovered nearby at Lacq. Today the mainstays of the Béarn area are the oil business, the aerospace industry through the helicopter manufacturer Turbomeca, tourism and agriculture. Pau was the birthplace of Elf Aquitaine, which has now become a part of Total.
Pau has an airport, Pau Pyrénées Airport, which is about 10 km away from the centre. There are 5 scheduled flights: Air France to Paris Orly, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Lyon airports. Transavia to Amsterdam Schipol airport and Ryanair to London Stansted. The A64 motorway runs across Pau. The Spanish border is about 60 km away from Pau. From the Boulevard des Pyrénées, the Funiculaire de Pau, a newly refurbished funicular railway, takes you to the valley bottom near Pau railway station.
The Championships will be held at Beaumont Congress Palace, Pau, France, 14-28 June 2008. They are organized by the European Bridge League (EBL) in cooperation with the French Bridge Federation (FFB).
For information about hotel accommodation for the 49th European Bridge Team Championships and room reservations, click here.