Weekend Away: Clos Mirabel, Pau, France
At the foothills of the French Pyrenees, near the fairytale city of Pau, a winding country road twists high on to a ridge revealing vast mountain views.
First-time visitors gasp at the hairpin bends that curve through this steep hill before it reaches level ground near the gates of a country manor.
Clos Mirabel is a vision in white, surrounded by soaring peaks and vineyard-wrapped fields. This elegant hideaway is first and foremost home to a charming family: Ann Kenny, a warm Irish-Scot, her Canadian husband and former diplomat, Andre Peloquin, and their bubbly teenage daughter, Emily.
When they moved here seven years ago from London, they decided to share the manor with guests, transforming the gate lodge and winery into self-catering lodges for families, and providing B&B in the fine bedrooms of the manor house.
Room to book
We stayed in the Manor House apartment, a private three-storey den with white wooden floors and spiral staircases that rise into the eaves of the main house. At the very top, a corridor leads to a cosy bedroom for two with high-pitched roof, a huge sky window displaying acres of blue, and a deep bed dressed in soft beige linen.
Next door, a snug, white-tiled bathroom comes with Villeroy & Boch fittings and a walk-in shower, while in the mezzanine beyond, twin beds sleep another two.
On the floor below, there’s a smart living room with portable TV and sofa, and at entrance level a slick kitchen is fitted with underfloor heating and essential mod cons including a designer oven, dishwasher and washing machine. With a separate entrance, guests can come and go as they please.
Those staying in the main house can choose from a selection of airy, pastelshaded bedrooms featuring country antiques, fireplaces and en suite bathrooms.
Ann’s buffet breakfasts are worth a visit in themselves. Pots of freshly made jams, home-baked breads and pastries, soya yogurt with pineapple, rhubarb compote and kiwis from the tree in the garden adorn the communal dining table and the grassy terraces beside the pool.
No other meals are provided at the manor but, a five-minute drive away, Chez Ruffet (0033 559 062 513; restaurant-chezruffet.com), a Michelin-star restaurant with a fine reputation, serves three-course lunches for €28.
We came upon our best meal by chance, after a day exploring the gorgeous riverside villages of Sarrance, Bedout and Aydios high up in the Aspe Valley where a tunnel burrows into Spain. On the side of the road in the hamlet of Gurmençon, the Relais Aspois restaurant didn’t look like much from outside, but in a candlelit wooden room inside we tucked into a three-course feast of melting goat’s cheese from a local herd, the juiciest lamb chops we’d ever tasted and a perfect peach melba, all for just €18 each.
The pamper factor
Guests often tell Ann and Andre that they’ve never slept as well as they did at Clos Mirabel, and when we woke up after nine most mornings, we had to agree. After a day in the mountain air, we couldn’t wait to pull down the blinds on our Velux windows at night and doze off in the pitch black silence of the countryside.
The outdoor pool, built more than 60 years ago with its mosaic tiles still perfectly in tact, is warm all summer. The house is set on 15 acres of private parkland, ideal for early morning strolls or finding a perch to watch the crimson sunsets over the valley. What to do Start in Pau, a treasure trove of chocolate boutiques, super shoe shops and terrace cafés that serve up divine coffee and endless peoplewatching. It’s a stellar city with a fine chateau, where King Henri IV was born in a tortoise-shell cradle, still on view in his chambre today. Even now, 400 years after his death, he is the one monarch held in high esteem by the French. An influential ruler, he brought religious wars to a close at a time of upheaval between Catholics and Protestants and raised standards of living. The hour-long tour is only in French, but it’s a fascinating meander around the furniture of the day including a cupboard of bedpans. Day pilgrims to Lourdes will make it to the town of St Bernadette in less than 45 minutes.
Clos Mirabel is not a hotel, so if you fancy a brew at 4pm, you’ll have to get it yourself. The upside of this is that there are no staff bustling around trying to make you spend money.
Double rooms with breakfast start from ¤75 to €139 a night for two. A week for four in the Manor House apartment starts at €595 per week in low season, rising to ¤1,195 in high season. The details Clos Mirabel, 276 av des Frères Barthélémy, Jurançon. Tel: 0033 559 063 283; clos-mirabel.com.
We took a Ryanair flight from Dublin to Biarritz and rented a car for the one-and-a-half hour journey to Clos Mirabel.