It’s bitterly cold in much of the U.S.A., so why not do a little armchair traveling with me to Prades, France, where last summer, I came upon the most charming B&B I’ve ever stayed had the pleasure of staying in.
What follows includes an overview of my trip, as well as an independent, unbiased review of the Villa Lafabrègue; I did not make it known to the innkeepers that I might be writing about their wonderful spot. I received no special treatment, no special rates, etc. #notsponsored!
I don’t know about you, but I’m often skittish about staying in B&Bs. Some can yield wonderful experiences; others can bring a creepy over-familiarity that makes you almost wish you’d stayed at a Marriott. I’m thinking specifically of American B&B owners who want to give you a little too much information about their renovation, antiques, grandkids, divorce—whatever. And what is it with American B&B owners making everyone sit at one big table for breakfast? Too often, someone is going to monopolize the discussion, and way too often, it’s the innkeeper. I’m just not a fan of being a captive audience in the a.m.
European B&Bs are generally much better, but even in France, I’ve had my share of nutty innkeepers. Not long ago, our host at an otherwise lovely Chambre d’Hote (B&B) in Narbonne stood at our breakfast table for about 20 minutes telling us why we shouldn’t book a room through TripAdsivor (it cuts down on her profits). Seriously. She got in a loop about the subject and simply would not move on. I kept thinking, “We’re paying 30 euros for breakfast so we can listen to your problems? Stop it!”
And so….last summer when Dave and I were in our wonderful vacation rental in Collioure, we decided to take the 1 Euro Train up the Têt Valley to Prades for a night. (Yes–the train costs just 1 Euro, but it’s a bit tricky to figure out how to get the cheapest tickets; I’ll post on this at another time).
Trouble was, there was only one place with a pool that had a room available for the night. And it was a B&B. Nevertheless, we rolled the dice, and, as it turns out, it was the best B&B in the entire world. Or, at least the best B&B I’ve ever stayed in.
Our journey started in Collioure….
We changed trains in Perpignan, which, happily, is just a great little train station. Salvador Dali called it El Centre del Mon–the center of the world (he claimed he got his best ideas while sitting in the waiting room there). Now the completely modernized station calls itself that.
Of course, the journey up the Têt Valley in the train was a great part of the fun—chugging (not speeding) by the scenery of fields, trees, mountains, dotted by stone outbuildings. Yes–France at its unspoiled best.
About one hour from Perpignan, we landed in Prades. Our B&B was an easy 10-minute walk. A word about Prades: There is a cute town square, a lovely medieval church, and a handful of shops, cafés, and restaurants in the center. However, a lot of the commerce has moved to the outskirts, so some of the streets leading away from the town center felt sadly vacant.
Do not let that stop you from going to Prades, however, because the town center does have its charms….and you’re going to want to spend most of your time hiking and exploring the surrounding area anyway!
It’s always exciting coming upon new lodgings for the first time….you’re wondering: Is it as nice as pictured? Is it everything we’d hoped for? It’s especially a thrill when you find that it is. Frankly, there’s nothing like the first glimpse you have of a place that you later fall in love with. It’s like kissing someone for the very first time. Enchanting.
We stayed in the Canigou room: Charming, spacious, and tastefully furnished. We liked the room even more, of course, when we saw the terrace, and the view from the terrace.
Oh. Did you notice that I’m drinking a glass of wine? One of the many things I loved about the Villa Lafabregue was that they have an “honor bar”: In the common area downstairs, there’s a fabulously well-stocked refrigerator, with mineral waters, sodas, wine, beer, etc. There’s a basket with cookies and crackers and potato chips and other snacks. You simply write down what you consumed. So civilized!
We took a swim in the pool; hung around the gardens a bit, then went into Prades for dinner. That evening, we sat on the terrace, finishing up our evening with a bottle of Badoit, and stared at the mountain range as it receded into the dark night. It was magical!
More pleasures were to come. In the morning, we had breakfast in the sunny breakfast room. They put out a nice spread:
And get this. You know how some hoteliers and B&B owners will give you the evil eye if you take so much as a cracker out of the dining room with you? The owners (Kate and Nick Wilcock) actually invite you to make yourself some lunch sandwiches from their generous spread. How kind is that? It’s a great idea if you’re going to go hiking that day–pack yourselves a couple of sandwiches.
Frankly, as many B&Bs as I’ve stayed in, I’ve never come across such generosity.
We did not pack a lunch, however; instead, we decided to go for a hike (the gracious owners have all kinds of maps for you to borrow), then have a little lunch at a cafe. Here is a list of the hiking around this spot.
When it was time to leave, Nick Wilcock offered to drive us to the station. Even though it was a short walk, it happened to be a very hot day, so we took him up on his offer. We were so touched that he took the the time out of his workday to do this for us.
Did I mention that the owners are British? In my view, that’s neither here nor there–nice French hoteliers exist, too, of course. But I got the sense that being from somewhere else in the world, these two really had a deep understanding of what a non-native visitor to France would really appreciate–and they supplied it at every turn.
I know I’ll be back. And I give it my highest recommendation.
Villa Lafabregue — www.villafrench.com/
Owners: Kate & Nick Wilcock
15 Avenue Louis Prat
Pyrenees Orientales, France
Tel 04 68 96 29 90
Intl 00 33 4 68 96 29 90
Prices for a double room, including breakfast: 65 to 85 Euros