I was lucky enough to secure an interview with another hotel-managing dog (see my interview with Eddie at Molino del Santo), Cola, who runs the Auberge des Deux Rivières, an exciting small hotel/restaurant in Pont de la Taule, deep in the French Pyrenees, along with her talented assistants Robert and Phillip.
The Auberge des Deux Rivières is an old inn built at the confluence of two bouncy little mountain streams which meet up just under the Auberge’s dining room terrace and rush off together happily chattering down into France. The Auberge has crisp, plain wooden floors, original windows and beautifully pared-down rustic décor. As contented diners sample Phillip’s superb cuisine, Cola does the rounds of the tables, sometimes taking Robert with her, checking that everyone is happy. And who wouldn’t be?
In a snatched conversation between looking after her guests, bringing out culinary delicacies like Phillip’s wonderful mussels in green herb sauce….
… and a truly delicately flavoured, melt-in-the-mouth steak tartare, complemented perfectly by a local Sabarthès red wine, La Plantaurel……..
…. I find out a little more of Cola’s background.
She communicates quietly and with some emotion when she speaks of finding Robert and Phillip a year ago; she found them on a walk in the Pyrenees, lost and clearly callously abandoned. She took them back to her Auberge, and having failed to find where they had come from, the three have stayed together ever since, making this simple hotel and excellent restaurant a real rising star in the local area and beyond, with people regularly travelling from Toulouse to dine here then sink into one of the almost immorally comfortable beds in the simple but charming rooms upstairs for the night.
Robert’s smiling and friendly manner as he runs ‘front of house’, and his understanding of effective marrying of wines with Phillip’s beautifully-executed dishes have combined in a way that Cola could not have foreseen when she found them, and she is discreetly very proud of them.
As she made to return to her duties as gracious chatelaine, she paused, looked back and revealed that there was one thing that puzzled her about her assistants – they had insisted on hanging near Reception a small photograph of an uncomfortably smiling man in a tweed jacket wringing his hands, and from time to time they laughed together and claimed that they were going to organise a “Fawlty Towers” weekend, both claiming to enjoy whatever this was. As Cola shrugged her shoulders and turned away again, I didn’t feel it was my place to tell her about the famous television series. I did, however, tell Robert when we checked out next morning that we wanted to be put on the mailing list for this event. I would relish any excuse to return to this lovely, peaceful retreat by the water.
As I pursue my other life away from travelling, the one that pays the bills, I oh so often picture in my mind’s eye the little garden right down by the river and can nearly taste again the cold drink and feel the warm grass on my naked toes. “Emotion recollected in tranquillity”, said Wordsworth. Oh yes.