There is a village in the foothills of the Pyrenees called Saint-Savin, near the town of Argeles-Gazost and not far from Lourdes, which encapsulates the essence of the French mountains, whether there or the French Alps. In the summer, the air can be warm, thick and humid, and you can taste the sweet nectar from the mountain flowers, climb some of the highest peaks and dive into the cold, pristine lakes to cool down. Saint-Savin is close to such iconic places such as the snaking Luz Ardiden climb and ski resort, and the magnificent Cirque de Gavarnie, so the roads and hills are brimming with cyclists and walkers, and the bars and cafés overflowing with tourists and locals soaking up the sun.
In winter, the locals are still there in force, frequenting the local markets selling porc de bigorre, local saucisson, bread and cheeses. This is what I love about these places – they are real, not just summer enclaves that become depopulated in winter. On a clear day, the air is pure and the snow-capped mountains razor-sharp to the eye with no heat to refract the light and blur the view, and the smell of wood-burning fires wafts around the villages. I find that smell intoxicating; it nourishes the soul and makes me feel relaxed, warm, homely and content with life.
Saint-Savin is also home to one of my favourite hotel restaurants in the world – the fabulous Hotel Viscos owned by the great Saint Martin family. Alexis is a culinary genius and has served me some wonderful Pyrenean and Gascon classics over the years.
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