A village for all seasons
When the Morgan-Wood family moved to a vibrant Pyrenean village two years ago, they started a fascinating mountain adventure that lasts all year roundWORDS: DEBORAH CURTIS
Jenny and Martin Morgan-Wood and their daughters Flo and Pru, now 20 and 16, run a busy g�te d’�tape in the mountain resort of Formigu�res. They provide comfy accommodation for the skiers, walkers, mountain-bikers, bird-watchers and lovers of the outdoors who head for the Pyrenees in all months of the year to enjoy everything that this spectacular corner of France has to offer.
High in the mountains, their location is idyllic whatever the season and there is always lots going on too. Here, Martin and Jenny tell us about life in their village and the surrounding area as the seasons unfold…SpringSpring is the quietest time of year for the family. Once the snow has gone and the skiers and snowboarders have hung up their salopettes, Martin and Jenny have a bit of a breather before the summer season starts. They also use this quieter time to do maintenance on both the g�te and their own self-contained apartment but they schedule the work to make sure that guests are not inconvenienced and so that they can always welcome people who want to come and enjoy a relaxing spring break in the mountains.
"When the snow goes, because it’s so sunny here, it changes very quickly from the brown mountain slopes to the lovely green grass and the spring flowers," says Martin. "A lot of people come up for walking and cycling. We are also on bird migration routes so people come to watch the birds on their way north or south."
Jenny continues: "Spring is a bit late here because you have to wait for all the snow to melt. Sometimes you get late snow like last year when we had a big fall in May but once spring is in full swing we’re lucky because the village puts on a lot of events.
"They obviously do things for the tourists but they also do things for the villagers too. For the Festival St-Jean in June, which used to be a summer solstice but now celebrates the birth of John the Baptist, they light a big bonfire in front of the church. The mayor and the deputy mayor cook a meal, everybody jumps over the bonfire and they set off fireworks. It’s very sociable!" Then, once the festival is over, the family gears up to welcome their summer visitors.
SummerSummer kicks off with Bastille Day. Things don’t get that busy until round about then," says Jenny. "We have someone who makes fireworks in the village so we always have an amazing firework display in celebration. The Tour de France usually passes quite near so that’s another thing we love to follow."
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By this time of the year, more and more people are heading up into the mountains to enjoy all the activities available; an impressive list which includes white water rafting, caving, sailing and kayaking, paragliding, parapenting, gliding, walking, donkey treks, mountain biking, horse riding and climbing. Martin is a qualified mountain bike guide and will often lead clients on rides around the region. "We also have hot water canyoning close by and thermal baths," says Jenny.
"People come to the mountains because it doesn’t get blisteringly hot in the summer," Martin explains. "We have lovely sunny days but it rarely gets above 30�C. A lot of people come up for walking holidays. The GR10 walking route from the Atlantic to the Med runs through here and the Tour de Capcir is a well-known walk. People tour the valley and they stay in a g�te one night, walk the next day, stay in another one the next night and so on."
Up to now, their clientele has been about 85% French, 10% Spanish and then a few Italians, Irish and Brits thrown into the mix. In the summer, the evenings can be very relaxed and sociable with someone suggesting a BBQ and then everyone bringing something to create a feast. With such a large number of French clients, Martin and Jenny’s French has come on in leaps and bounds.
"We made a conscious effort to get to know our local community," Martin says. "There isn’t a large expat contingent and we always wanted to integrate with the local community so village events have been really good in that respect."AutumnAs the year draws into autumn, the number of visitors falls but the weather is still warm and welcoming enough to pull enthusiastic walkers and cyclists up into the peaks.
"There’s still lots of sunshine," says Martin. "It’s normally lovely until mid-October but then it can turn quite cold and there is always the possibility of early snow."
For the villagers of Formigu�res, life starts to calm down and everyone enjoys a brief hiatus before the winter ski season starts.
"The medieval f�te marks the start of autumn. It’s always the first weekend in September. It’s for the locals really and there is always a big turn-out," says Jenny. "Everyone dresses up and you all sit down to eat outside on long trestle tables in the village square."
The f�te was very much enjoyed by Martin and Jenny’s younger daughter Pru who has settled well into her new life and is now bilingual. Her school is a national academy of sporting excellence and she does many hours of sport alongside her academic studies. Among other things, she has discovered a love and aptitude for rock climbing and is now a member of the Languedoc-Roussillon regional team.
A major part of their energy at this time of year goes into gathering firewood. Jenny now has her own lightweight chainsaw and when she isn’t admiring her line of sparkling clean blankets, duvets and bedding from the g�te fluttering in the crisp autumn breeze, she can be found wielding it like a pro. Their guests in autumn and winter like a roaring fire in the evenings so a good supply of logs is essential.
"A major activity for all of us around here in autumn will be chopping wood in the forest," Martin explains. "The forestry commission gives you a cut of the forest then we have to go collect it, cut it and split it, stack it and dry it ready for the winter."WinterOnce the snow comes, the main activities that bring people here are the snow sports: skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, dog sledding and snow-kiting," Jenny explains. "There has been less snow this year in all the ski resorts but the skiing here has actually been very good and the clients have been happy. The weather’s been beautiful and because the resorts are smaller, the slopes are managed very well. You really have to look after the snow if you’re not getting regular snow falls."
Much of their time at peak season is spent cleaning and preparing the rooms, and looking after their guests, but they’ve still been able to ski most days in winter and to get out and enjoy the summer activities too. They’re enjoying the lifestyle that running the g�te d’�tape is enabling them to live and, being active people, they like the variety of activities that are possible because of the climate. Their elder daughter Flo is studying French and Linguistics at university in Southampton but this year her studies have brought her to Aix-en-Provence for her year abroad so they are seeing a lot more of her during the ski season.
"The winter time is the busiest time and all the villages are geared up to cope with the snow," Martin says. "If you like being out in the snow, skiing, snowshoeing or whatever, then it’s fun. Here we have all the benefits of snow without any of the inconvenience. It brings so many opportunities and there isn’t the hindrance factor.
"And it’s a different sort of cold here because even when it’s minus 15, it doesn’t really feel that cold. You have days when it’s snowing and when it stops snowing, the sun shines. It’s crisp, bright and you get that lovely shimmering with the sun on the mountains."
"The village rounds the year off with the Christmas market in Formigu�res with fireworks attached to the church and Father Christmas abseiling down from the clock tower," laughs Jenny. "We still say to ourselves when we go out for walks or bike rides or skiing… We live here’. It’s still surprising to us that we can say that. We are enjoying the adventure." Grabbing life by the hornsMartin and Jenny Morgan-Wood have always been up for an adventure. They met in Turkey and worked summer seasons there before returning to the UK. They always wanted to do something else and then, while on holiday in the Pyrenees, they were struck by the possibilities of the area.
"We came on holiday here for a summer holiday; a multi-activity holiday doing all the summer sports and Jenny fell in love with the boulangerie," laughs Martin. "That’s essentially why we moved here! Formigu�res has a really lovely old square with the church in the middle and shops round the outside. It’s a traditional village with life all year round, not a purpose-built resort."
They spotted a g�te d’�tape for sale in the heart of the village and decided that this type of self-catering accommodation would be the ideal business for them, moving out to Formigu�res with their daughters Flo and Pru in 2009 . Their g�te, La Dressere, sleeps 20 people in seven rooms, which vary from a standard double with en suite facilities to a simple room containing just two bunk beds, and their rates vary accordingly. The g�te d’�tape is run in a similar way to a UK youth hostel in that guests cater for themselves and share a communal living area.
As well as skiers, walkers, cyclists and families, Martin and Jenny also welcome school groups who come to the mountains to enjoy all the outdoor pursuits and there is no minimum booking so guests can stay for just one night, as is the case with many of the walkers and cyclists; a weekend as many of the skiers do; or for a longer holiday, an area of the business which Martin and Jenny are hoping to expand.
La Dressere60 Carrer d’Amont66210 Formigu�reswww.ladressere.net