With last-minute getaways, sometimes you just get lucky. That was certainly the case for us when we left the Thursday after Christmas for a two-day escape to the Pyrénées.
With no firm destination in mind, other than to just be in the mountains and away from work, our frenzied internet searches stumbled upon La Soulan, a gite and restaurant located just up the hill from the town of Boutx. Snow in the Pyrénées during winter vacances can be hit or miss, and this year it was definitely a miss. But instead, we found spectacular food at La Soulan and a gorgeous, sunny hike that began right outside the front door.
From Toulouse, the drive was only about 1.5 hours to La Soulan, which sits just in the shadow of the Station du Mourtis ski slopes. Inside, the gite offers snowshoes for rent and sleds. We booked a cozy family room with one double bed for the adults, a bunkbed for the kids, and bathroom at a cost of €78 per night, including breakfast. One can also book a room for €46 per night with a shared bathroom.
Having arrived in the early evening, we took our stuff up to the room and made a dinner reservation for 20h. And is so often the case when we visit the Pyrénées, the quality of the food was amazing. I ordered the magret de canard, my wife the filet de truite, and the kids got the steak haché and a charcuterie plate. The owners later told me that the cooks were a father and daughter who tag team. In any case the food was far better than we had any reason to expect at a place we found by chance.
The next day, we opted for a hike under sunny skies. La Soulan will organize tours on donkeys, but set out on foot. Straight out the door and across the main road, we began an ascent toward the Col de Menté.
One can simply follow a winding, unpaved road up the hill. We decided to take the official paths, though we still managed to get slightly off track. We found ourselves wandering through the trees a couple of times, but you can only get so lost because all paths eventually lead back to that road. After a moderate climb for about an hour, we arrived at the Cabane de l’Escalette, basically a small house that offered the first really spectacular, unobstructed views of the hike.
From there, we decided to attempt the second leg and reach the Col de Menté. We found this next part more of a struggle, much steeper, and the paths quite muddy despite the sunshine and warth. Not entirely surprising in late December, but still quite difficult. Worn out, we stopped at a saddle where the path splits toward either the Col de Menté or along a ridge to the Pic de Cagire. We ate our picnic lunch of ham-cheese-butter sandwiches that the kitchen at La Soulan had prepared for us and simply enjoyed the views.
As we ate, the wind picked up and those clouds began to move in fast, filling the valley below. We packed up quickly, and hustled down the mountain to avoid being unable to see, even finding ourselves slipping and sliding on our butts a few times. By the time we reached the Cabane, we were in the clear and took a leisurely walk back to La Soulan by the unpaved road.
After a mellow afternoon hanging around the gite, we had dinner at 19h30. Tonight we choose the fondue, which requires a minimum of two people to order. The table behind us had ordered the raclette, which must be reserved in advance, but looked spectacular. Once again, everything was outstanding and by the time we hand finished some small bowls of ice cream, we were immensely satisfied.
We checked out the next morning, and the final tab (2 nights, breakfast, a few beers at the bar, two dinners for a family of four) cost a total of €348.96. Beyond reasonable considering it was the holiday season, we booked at the last minute, and we ate magnificently.
One footnote to the weekend: After leaving La Soulan, we made a detour across the Spanish border to visit a thermal bath sation called Termas Baronia de Les. As former Californians, such spas are problematic for us because while the facilities are often lovely, the water is almost never as warm as we would like. While we prefer 39 to 40 degrees Celsius or higher, typically spas hover just a spot over body temperature. Okay, but not super satisfying. Termas falls into this category: Pleasant, but at a cost of more than €100 for four people, it was still a bit disappointing.