I’ve written about this gorgeous small hotel before, and I make no apologies for writing about it again. We seldom return to a hotel because we are acutely aware that life is not long enough to discover all the lovely hotels that are out there and it’s important to pursue the search….. however, this hotel is an exception (as is Molino del Santo near Ronda in Spain). It’s in a very pretty part of the French Pyrenees, in the Ariège; the simple but beautifully clean rooms are reasonably priced; the décor in the communal areas is really pretty….
…. the food is wonderful, and also affordable; the owners are enthusiastic and friendly; Robert really knows about wine and supports local production, and Philip is an excellent cook; there are two lovely dogs; and (my personal favourite) it’s right next to a charming river, and you can dine with the water gurgling through the trees just a metre or so away.
There are those who say that you should ‘never go back’ (Salad Days, circa 1956), but fortunately we were absolutely not disappointed. Robert greeted us as if we were long lost friends, the sun shone obligingly and Phillip cooked up a storm as usual.
We tried two Ariège wines that we hadn’t had before (one each evening, yes we stayed two nights…… sheer indulgence, we should have been discovering new places). The Ariège is not famous for its wines, indeed there is no Appellation in the département at all, but gradually people are beginning to refine the production and some vignerons are coming from other areas to work in interesting ways with the terroir. Our first night brought us a bottle of “Nez Creux”, an organic IGP red produced locally from a mix of Merlot and Tannat by a German wine maker, Dominik Benz who works on just 6.5 hectares of vines. Merlot of course we all know, but Tannat is more unusual. In France it is mostly used in the Madiran area, still officially in the Pyrenees but further down the mountains and really more in the Basque country; it was also taken to Uruguay by Basque settlers, where it is now the most important grape variety for making wine. As its name suggests it is heavy on tannin, which in a wine that has begun to age lends structure and a certain spiciness. In this wine it also helps to give a surprisingly long finish.
On the second night we enjoyed a Plantaurel from Domaine de Sabarthès, another local IGP organic red wine combining Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes. This wine was also nice, although less sophisticated than the Nez Creux, and definitely needing a long time between opening and drinking in the manner of most organic wines. An interesting detail is that the domaine that produces it is an organisation that in French is termed “adapté”, or APAJH, which means that they employ a large percentage of young people with disabilities.
Meanwhile, Phillip continues to experiment with local food, delving into the area’s history to find typical dishes from previous eras. To give one example, I had the Jambonneau à la crème d’orge, knuckle of ham with creamed barley, many local herbs and two ingredients I hadn’t met before – “defritum” which is a reduced syrup which is made from whole grapes – flesh, skins, pips etc – and “garum” which was the Roman version of fish sauce, sometimes called Roman ketchup. The dish is perhaps not “beautiful” in a nouvelle cuisine kind of way, but gosh it’s delicious.
Then there’s the breakfast…… they do this so well. Regular readers will know how much I HATE coffee from self service machines. Well there is no such horror in this lovely Auberge. You are given as much proper coffee as you want, hot milk for it, and a prettily arranged display of delicious fresh croissants and bread.
All that, and this view from your breakfast table:
And finally, well I can’t really think of much text to go with this, but it’s such a pretty picture and represents the Auberge so well that I’m just going to leave you with this, the landing (why can’t I just live here?):