Where else but in France can you enjoy city elegance and superb skiing side by side? It would be hard to find a better example of such dual luxury than in the beautiful Pyrenees town of Bagnères de Luchon. You can enjoy coffee on the sunny terrace of a chic French café, then jump into a cable car and be whisked up the mountain in just eight minutes. As you can imagine, this is one of my favourite places to track down property for clients and spend days off en famille.
Bagnères de Luchon (known also as Luchon) is an ancient spa town and ski resort on the Spanish border with grand houses and hotels testifying to its illustrious past when the who’s who of Europe descended to take the waters, from Flaubert to Bismarck and more recently, the Queen Mother. The spa was built in 1848 on the site of the old Roman baths where the waters are reputed to help rheumatism and ear, nose and throat problems.
In spring, summer and autumn, health seekers and holidaymakers come to Luchon for the waters and mountain activities. In the winter, it is the turn of the skiers and winter sports fans.
It is also one of the few places where you don’t need a car. From Toulouse and from Pau is a train right into town and once you are here, everything is within walking or cycling distance with gondola or bus access to the slopes.
Known as “the Queen of the Pyrénées”, the centre of Luchon is a little slice of Paris. The busy, tree-lined boulevard Allées d’Etigny has restaurants spilling out on to pavements, as well as boulangeries, pâtisseries and chocolateries with the enticing aromas of fresh bread, vanilla and roasting cocoa beans.
Luchon is full of flowers, fountains and gardens and well-equipped with shops; you can buy pretty much anything you need in the town. It also produces 30 million bottles per year of its own mineral water that has been classified since 1990 and is said to be particularly therapeutic.
Bagnères de Luchon has something for everyone, transforming itself from glamorous playground in the summer months to chic ski destination between December and April. In summer, there are walks for all levels, lakes such as Lac d’Oô for swimming and paddling, plus tennis courts, a golf course, fishing and biking trails.
In July and August, you can take your bike up to the high trails via the gondola. There are also opportunities for paragliding, climbing, pony-trekking and kayaking. In the evenings, there is sport of a different kind at the famous casino, built in 1880 and modelled on Monte Carlo.
In winter, the attached ski resort of Superbagnères can be accessed by cable car (or road) while the bigger resort of Peyragudes is just a shuttle bus away. The skiing is excellent and varied, without the crowds or the prices of the Alps and there are incomparable views of Spain and Aneto, the highest peak in the Pyrenees. For non-skiers, there is snowshoeing, dog sledding and the ultimate indulgence – a relaxing spa treatment to ease tired muscles in the thermal baths, hot springs and spa.
If there is a better place to wile away one’s leisure time, I have yet to find it.