Hotel du Lion d’Or Cauterets lies in a particularly historic town. In the France of one hundred or so years ago Cauterets was one of the places to be seen. Here was a highly fashionable spa town where the well-heeled and well connected could travel to enjoy the famed thermal baths of the region.
From Paris travellers came directly by train, arriving in the pretty wooden station (that still stands in the square – looking much as it must have done in 1899), to catch their horse-drawn carriage to one of the newly built grand hotels.
Cauterets’ remote location, tightly enclosed in a narrow valley, has fortunately meant unsightly expansion and development has passed the town by and we can still enjoy the town much as it was in its heyday. The local population remains stable at a little over 1000 souls, just as it was in the early 19th century when it counted the Queen of Holland, Napoleon III and Victor Hugo amongst its illustrious visitors.
The result is delightful resort to explore – pretty, secluded and historic. The centre still has most of the original Belle Epoque architecture – all attractively painted in pastel yellow, orange and pink. The historic square is a fine environment just to wander and soak up the atmosphere whist the narrow streets feature interesting stores and local produce. Above the rooftops in all directions are steep forested hillsides and snowy peaks.
Where better to soak up all this atmosphere than a quintessentially French hostelry. Fortunately Cauterets is home to a perfect example – the Hotel du Lion d’Or Cauterets. The Lassere family have owned and operated this small establishment for over a hundred years and the 4th generation is now in charge.
Located in a narrow town centre street the Hotel du Lion d’Or Cauterets exterior features working blue-grey shutters and ornate wrought iron balustrades whilst the 19th century interior is similarly authentic. Any impulse to restore, ‘improve’ or change the interior has fortunately been resisted and every vintage floorboard, worn handrail and antique window has been lovingly polished and maintained. The only concession is a lift (fast becoming an antique in its own right) which has been shoe-horned in to the stairwell, but which doesn’t detract from the unique atmosphere.
To this framework the Hotel du Lion d’Or Cauteretsowners have gradually added multifarious antiques: brass pots, vintage pictures, old toys and even an art deco pram. They adorn every hallway, shelf and corner and there is something to catch the eye in each nook and cranny. Everything is immaculately cared for and the exceptionally friendly and attentive service is at a level only possible in a family run establishment.
Our bedroom was good sized and featured an embroidered bedspread on a very comfortable bed, vintage lighting, antique furniture and polished floorboards. Alongside were more modern touches like flat screen TV, Nespresso and a modern bathroom.
Each room is similar in style but uniquely furnished and decorated and include family and single rooms. Down a set of attractively wonky stairs were a small antique-decorated bar area, lounge with log fire and dining room.
The Hotel du Lion d’Or has a reputation for traditional high quality dining and our meals at the hotel were more than a match for other local restaurants that had higher aspirations (and prices). Breakfasts too were excellent, with a good buffet that included varied home made jams, pastries, ham & cheese and freshly pressed orange juice. Every day there were plates of invariably delicious home-cooked cakes, always including sugar-dusted ‘merveilles’ from Grandmother Lasserre’s own recipe.
The location of the Hotel du Lion d’Or Cauterets too is perfect. You can step from the front door in to the winding streets of central Cauterets, whilst out of the back door (on the second floor) you arrived almost directly at the steps to the must-visit Les Bains du Rocher Spa (see our feature Best Spas of the Pyrenees). In winter it is less than 100 yards from the ski room to the main gondola to the Cirque du Lys (more on the skiing in our coming feature on Skiing the Pyrenees).
Regionally there is plenty to see. A little up the valley is the famous beauty spot Pont d’Espagne – a historic bridge en route to the Spanish border that sits over a series of impressive waterfalls.
In the next valley is the UNESCO protected Cirque de Gavarnie. There are pretty villages and thermal spas, the healing waters of Lourdes and the historic city of Toulouse.
Best of all? Hardly a single English voice. This is an area strangely ignored by English-speaking tourists; an authentic bygone corner of the Pyrenees that is quintessentially French. Please keep it secret.
To book accommodation visit Hotel du Lion d’Or Cauterets
For information on the region – summer or winter – visit Hautes-Pyrenees Tourism
CELLOPHANELAND* were guests of Hautes-Pyrenees Tourism & Hotel du Lion d’Or Cauterets