Veering off the freeway and meandering our way through narrow country lanes and small villages in the Pyrenees countryside wondering where on earth our trusty (or untrusty) GPS was taking us, we eventually found ourselves in the minute town of Moumour, in the heart of the French Pyrenees. Winding our small car through tightly angled stone streets, we reach the towering gates of Chateau De Lamothe, a grand guesthouse within a 13th century chateau.
Rolling down the long driveway, lush lawns are splayed to our right as the towering chateau looms ahead. The wooden shutters on what seems like 200 windows are all open, like welcoming open arms, the castle basking in the afternoon sun.
We are greeted by a red flushed face and a smile, from Christine, our host. She welcomes us inside and provides a quick tour so we have some sort of bearings in this maze of a mansion. An indoor cinema, library, two grand lounge rooms, an oversized dining room – more like a small ballroom, billiards room… the list goes on. It was then time to see our quarters. Our room, which is the size of our house mind you, had rooms and doors off every wall. Walk in robes, a sitting room with magazine stand, the bathroom alone was the size of our living room back home. Everything is opulent, grand and luxe. The toiletries are proudly Hermes, the toilet paper – wow – I’m sure it was at least 20 ply! Artwork and sculptures adorn the mantelpieces and walls, palatial day lounges are spread comfortably throughout the oversized sitting area. Fit for royalty.
“Will you be joining us for dinner this evening?” Yes of course. “Wonderful, we will serve drinks in the front garden at eight, see you then!” Christine vanishes. Moments later we hear a hum, we see her driving the ride on mower from our window – with no other staff Christine and her husband Laurent are definitely kept busy!
With a few hours left of what is a beautiful autumn day, we head outside to explore the grounds of the chateau and surrounding village. Outdoor lounges and tables are positioned comfortably in the sun, rocking chairs under the shade of gently swaying trees, manicured lawns and a selection of bats, racquets, balls and even a frisbee for those feeling energetic. A large swimming pool with deck chairs, marquee and a fully equipped gym are also available for use. We venture further, down the long driveway and outside the grand stone gates, to wander the streets of the tiny village.
Quaint stone houses punctuate the sidewalk, a bakery or should I say boulangerie sits in the centre of town. A cute little cottage like school erupts with giggles and squealing voices of children and of course a church with its token bell tower make up this small hamlet. After exploring, we make our way back, for a refreshing dip in the pool and to laze the rest of the day away as horses with large swiss like bells clunk away in the background.
As the sun dips, a cool breeze tickles our skin and lifts us back inside. The aroma of dinner being prepared floats on the air. We hear the voices of other dinner guests below and peer over one of our many balconies before making our way down stairs to take a seat in the front garden. We are greeted by Laurent, our cook and host for this evening. Champagne and hor d’oeuvres, oh how very French!
We are soon ushered inside, the oversized dining room, like the rest of the chateau, is filled with an eclectic collection of wares and art of all sorts. So large, I don’t even notice the piano. This room is dominated by an enormous, well used fire place at one end (and when I say enormous, think the size of a horse stable), and an equally outsized cupboard at the other.
The food served is regional fare with a vast selection of high end wines available from their inhouse cellar. From chicken and pastry parcels in a deliciously rich sauce, to a lusciously moist chicken and leek stack, to pork medallions and risotto Milanese finished off with a restaurant quality crème brulee. Between courses we have the wonderful opportunity to speak with Laurent, a former businessman, lawyer, and now a trained cook and chateau owner! We learn that he and his wife sold up and moved from Rotterdam in the Netherlands to France, buying the 13th century property in 2007.
Abandoned, left in complete ruins and pillaged of every fitting and fixture, the couple have performed an amazing restoration, paying respect to the grandeur of the building, with just enough modern touches. “We installed over ten miles of electrical cabling, and introduced over 80 radiator heaters”. “The only things remaining in this room were the flooring, and that cupboard. We used an industrial hydraulic lift to move it a little so we could clean and get behind it. It was too heavy to steal!”
Our classic crème brulee bowl now scraped clean, the bottle of champagne empty and tummys more than full, we head upstairs and fall into our (oversized of course) bed.
The next morning I rise early and go straight for the camera, to try and capture the elements that fill the chateau and give it such a great character. This perfectly placed ‘clutter’ consists of oversized reproduction artworks, brightly coloured vintage furniture, sculptures created by Christine herself and absolutely everything in between. Everywhere you look, there is something that catches the eye. But it is not just all these pieces that bring so much life to this property; it is the devotion and hard work of Laurent and Christine that shines through.
After a delicious breakfast of eggs, salmon, fresh pastries, baguettes, homemade preserves, fresh juice, (the list goes on!), prepared and served by Laurent of course, the time has come to gather our bags and bid farewell to our wonderful hosts. Thank you again Laurent and Christine, for saving this property and bringing new life to a beautiful piece of history.
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This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.