Halfway up a mountain at an altitude of 1,150 metres, Sers is a tiny hamlet deep in a valley within the French Pyrenees. It’s been a home away from home for us this week, a destination only reached after a long trip south with a car loaded to the brim with excited children and all manner of winter clothing. Nestled on a ridge overlooking the valley, Sers boasts just 100 year-round residents and also proudly announces to anyone reading the local noticeboard inside its tiny church that it is the best preserved village in the region.
Sheep roam the open roads, and the bells around the necks of the older, more stately members of the flock, let us know well in advance of their imminent arrival, difficult to hear in a vehicle, but good news for hikers with a fear of horns.
The views are spectacular right from the old shepherd’s house we are staying in, and while ours is easy enough to reach, we’ve spent days trying to fathom out how one gets to the house below, built into the side of the mountain. We assume everything is done by foot for there certainly is no road. Far across the valley we see the clues to how life here has worked for centuries, with slate-clad buildings perched as high as cows and sheep might graze during summer.
Every building in the Pyrenees blends into the hillside into which it nestles, lending a deceiving air of gentle cosiness to what in reality is a harsh landscape, forged by glaciers aeons ago, and now subject to two important seasons, one with snow and one without.
Last year was the first year our children skied, and so they all went to ski-school. This year however, we have skied as a family and I can tell you there is nothing like it. Descending the slopes all together, it’s been quite the best feeling in the world. We have giggled and laughed, and there have been the inevitable tumbles, and stiff legs each morning. The feeling of family camaraderie has been wonderful though.
We had lunch at a mountain restaurant after a first morning of blizzard like conditions, and we enjoyed the sun as it finally appeared, making it warm enough to sit in a t-shirt.
One of the most scenic runs is the one we take home at the end of the day, a mix of slope and narrow trail that one follows alongside the river, all the way down into Barèges where the car is parked for the five minute run to Sers, perched across the ridgeline.
For once afternoon goûter is not just for the children, for after a hard day of skiing we are all starving. Fortified and replenished once again, we took the opportunity yesterday to explore Sers a little on foot. The village is a real community, even if several of the houses are owned as holiday homes. Sers is most definitely not a spruced up tourist trap, and you won’t find any shops or souvenirs here. Enjoyment here comes from the stupendous views, walking around, and soaking in the clean mountain air amidst the surrounding peaks and taking photos of course.
There is a small Chambres d’Hotes in the village, with a very simple and wonderfully understated sign advertising it’s presence, 70 euros for 2 people per night and breakfast included.
There is a also a small restaurant, and signs along a few trails all seem to lead to it. I suspect it is also a wonderful summer destination! There’s even a special Menu Randonneurs (hikers menu) for 13 euros.
The Church of St Vincent of Sers is a Romanesque church from the 12th Century, and magnificently, much still remains from that date – the ground plan, the pillars, a semi-circular chancel and the barrel-vaulted nave still stand as their creators intended. The church was altered slightly in the 18th Century when the presbytery was built.
As with every church we have visited in France, it was open, which in itself speaks volumes. As a result one can walk around inside and be awed by the history that resounds through the stone and small space for worship.
Back outside, the lanes are narrow, built originally for sledge, or donkey and cart; now they are just big enough for a car. Houses jostle for space on the ridge, and everything is built at what appears to be slightly precarious angles.
Smallholdings sit amongst the village houses and aside from some renovated roofs and the occasional new chalet one gets the feeling not a lot has changed over the centuries.
In fact, despite the entire neighbourhood having been under three foot of snow just a couple of weeks ago, the leeks and cabbages in this vegetable garden are thriving.
There are several fountains in the village with natural water, eau de source, pure from the mountain springs. Yes – it does taste delicious!
Many of the houses are built of local slate, a method of ancient construction where the stone is hand-cut.
At the very end of the day as the last of the sun’s rays disappear over the mountains we relax in the hot tub, a warm cure-all that is miraculous at soothing aching muscles and reviving tired bodies.
Dinner follows, either in the house; real mountain food where raclette is but one option, so much cheese but we’ve earnt it and we’ve certainly burnt off more than enough calories,
or a meal in one of the incredibly picturesque little restaurants
Afterwards it’s time to curl up as a family by the fire with a good book or a game of cards, sipping a hot chocolate or a glass of red wine to soothe away the evening.
I can tell you we won’t want to leave, this has been the most incredible house and holiday, but it’s not over yet, we have a few more days thank goodness.
If you want to enjoy this fabulous house you can find out more details here.