Explore the charming resort of Cauterets where one family’s mountain hospitality goes back a century
Cauterets, high in the Pyrénées south of Lourdes, witnessed the birth of French tourism when 19th-century visitors were attracted by the apparently health-giving properties of its thermal waters. More recently the resort has developed into an intimate ski station with a reputation for reliable snow.
The family-run Hôtel Lion d’Or opened in the town 100 years ago and although it has evolved with the resort, many things remain unchanged. It still serves a set dinner for all guests at 7.30pm, which gives everyone a chance to exchange pleasantries over an aperitif and to meet Thomas, the latest generation of the Lasserre family to run the business.
Meanwhile, his mother prepares traditional Pyrenean food that is simple yet intriguing. I enjoyed a meal that included locally produced foie gras, black pudding and goat’s cheese. At breakfast, Madame Lasserre’s speciality is merveilleux – sweet little pastry pillows.
Despite the hotel being in a constant state of barely discernible renovation, the Lasserres have chosen to retain many period features. Large converted oil lamps hang over the dining room and a large brass coffee maker resembling a part from a Jules Verne time machine sits behind the bar.
Mostly, the continuity is in the careful preservation of the mountain atmosphere. The rooms, which are reached via a tightly wound wooden staircase, are unfussy and simply furnished. Lace covers the table-tops and the lampshades, while the floors are bare and just a little creaky. The light fittings are in brass and the telephone is a wonderful working antique. However, the modern and spacious bathrooms do not conform to the Spartan tone.
Space is tight in Cauterets and the rooms to the front are directly above a very narrow street. It is so narrow, in fact, that it is difficult to properly take in the hotel’s elegant three-storey neo-classical façade. Most windows opening on to the street are full height and each has a cast-iron guard.
The hotel’s central position means that it is just 50 metres from the Bains de Rocher thermal spa and a short walk from the main ski lift – an important factor when you are wearing ski boots.
Hôtel Lion d’Or
12 Rue Richelieu
Tel: (Fr) 5 62 92 52 87