Within a 20km radius at the heart of the Pyrenees mountain range, lie three buildings sharing a common attribute: they all
harness the power of the sun. The THEMIS solar tower and the Odeillo solar furnace were both experimental facilities for the production of alternative energies used by France in the 1980's to weigh up against nuclear. Back then, nuclear came out victorious but 30 years on and just down the road in a the pretty little village of Planes, a success story has emerged.
The owners of L'Orri de Planes and the hosts for our sejour en France are Arif and Marta. They restored the beautiful original farmhouse in the spirit of a native American proverb:
"We do not inherit this land from our ancestors, rather it is on loan to us from our children". L'Orri de Planes, which offers the options between camping, a dorm-style hiking lodge Gite and private bedrooms, takes this notion very seriously – though passionately may be a better way to describe it. Starting off as nature lovers, they developed into preservers of the natural environment, but insist that ecological damage has surpassed the stage where it concerns only people like themselves and often welcome schools and other educational courses into their home as an example for how sustainable living can be achieved.
Partnered with Slow Food France, the clearest and most fruitful language for their ecological beliefs is expressed through the home-cooked suppers they provide for guests. All food is collected once a week from fresh, locally sourced as well as organic or biodynamic suppliers. On our first evening, enveloped within the cosy dining room, we began with naturally pale organic smoked salmon on sour-dough slices topped with a crisp gherkin and a glass of local biodynamic rosé to sup. A simple prawn stir-fry followed. Now stir-fry is by no means my usual dish of choice but this was somewhat of a revelation to me – soft carrots and courgettes so fresh you could taste the life within them with a gentle nudge of ginger turned something I can live with to something I now love. The cheese board and fig chutney, which followed put another grin on my face as I greedily gobbled my third round of local cheese that day followed by an anise digestive tea, concocted by a herbalist friend of Arif and Marta's.
Our full day's activities began the next morning in the very same room, with a large satisfying breakfast and a list of fun things to do in the area. Walking was an absolute must-do, so we excitedly slipped on our hiking boots and followed the steep and winding path to a local monastery, where within its dark and cavernous rooms, many before us had left gifts, burning candles and letters of hope and admiration to the Virgin Mary. A veritable, loving shrine took over the stone altar like ivy, serving as a radiating beacon of hope atop this hill, high within the Pyrenees.
With aching bones and a happy heart, we retreated back down in search of some deep, physical muscular relaxation. The hot volcanic springs of Dorres provided us with a natural chlorine and chemical-free alternative to a Jacuzzi, but this did of course come with a sulphur-smelling catch. A nasally sensitive persons nightmare, the unmistakable smell of rotting eggs is bad enough, without the possibility of retaining the stench within one's skin for days once immersed in the water. Slightly excited at this prospect, we sat beside the half-naked aged locals, awkwardly trying not to blame any one person for eating lentils the night before...Though it was an exceedingly relaxing and beautiful experience, I fear I may not have sold it to anyone reading this so perhaps Rudolf Steiner's words may be of help here. He says that "while this is rather unpleasant outwardly, there being such a terrible smell, you suddenly begin to feel rather good in your belly. Anyone who is not driven away from the smell can experience this, and rotten eggs smell is an extraordinarily good medicine [as] it will give the body the power to make atrophying muscles grow strong and firm again." The smell, it is said, also helps with various digestive problems and could cure even the most enthusiastic of skin conditions.
We returned to the far more agreeable smell of a creamy tarragon chicken pot, bubbling away in the oven for us hungry hikers and after a dinner of many invigorating courses, we slept for England.
So if you're planning a holiday abroad this summer, this place certainly ticks all the boxes. You won't have to fly to get there (when coming from the UK) and if low carbon accommodation, delicious but responsibly sourced food, thermal spa's and sensational walks don't help to provide you with a feeling of inner peace and relaxation, I don't know what will!
Other things to do in the area:
- Sip away while biodynamic wine tasting.
- Trundle up the road and sample the neighbouring farm's creamy sheep cheese.
- Take to the sky with a spot of paragliding.
- Forage for mushrooms and other wild food.
- A day out, fishing for trout.
- Soak up the scenery by horseback, or if you prefer two wheels over four legs...
- Go mountain biking instead.
- Laugh in the face of vertigo and attempt some of the local climbs.
Accessibility: Arrive by foot, car, bus or via the 100 year old Train Jaune (yellow train).
Telephone: 00 33 (0) 4 68 04 29 47 or Mobile: 00 33 (0) 6 22 32 25 32.