Madame de la Gite de Borce

I was talking to Shirley Worrall (Peewiglet) recently about her recent trip to the Pyrenees, as part of a podcast that should be available shortly. Shirl, reminded me of a lovely little Gites d’Etape in the medieval village of Borce which sits in the Vallée d’Aspe. I stayed at the Gites a few times and it is typical of the kind of welcoming, tourism services that you get in the mountains. And the Gites is owned and run by one of those wonderful characters that help make these holidays so special.

My first visit to the Gites in Borce was in far from usual circumstances. I’d arrived a day late basically because I’d got lost on the GR10 footpath. Most people who know the Pyrenees will tell you that it’s impossible to get lost on the GR10 – and I’m one of those who would agree. But on this trip I managed it.

Vallée d'Aspe
The Vallée d’Aspe

I’d started walking from the lovely village of Lescun. This stage of the GR10 is pretty un-spectacular. It gently climbs up to a high, green and beautiful plateau before climbing high through a forest and over a wooded ridge before descending to the bottom of the Valley. My guidebook gave a good idea of where the GR10 left the little road, but there were non of the usual red and white slashes to be seen. But there was a footpath and so I followed it into the woods. Something felt wrong but just when I was considering turning back I came across some red and white markings on some trees. One of the few hazards of the GR10 comes in forests where the forestry workers tend to mark their patches with – annoyingly – red and white paint. I followed a faint path out of the woods and onto an impossibly steep, grassy bank. This was certainly not the GR10.

But I more of less knew where I was. I had to climb onto the top of the ridge that was in front of me. Rather than turn back I could just go straight up. A nice idea. And so up I went. Trouble was it was very hot and the climb was very steep. And my pack was far heavier than it is these days. On and on the scramble went and after goodness knows how long the top of the ridge was in sight. Trouble was I was knackered. I stopped for a breather, through the pack to the floor and then noticed that the shadows were getting rather long. Although I was on the ridge I really had no idea where, exactly, I was. Rather than mess around I decided to pitch the tent.

While wildcamping is my favourite kind of camping there is something un-setttling about an un-sheduled stop. I had no food and precious little water. I dropped down over the other side of the ridge and made camp on a little flat area shot through with sheep tracks. The tent guy lines were attached to a couple of gorse bushes. A tiny spring of water was found and soon a calming cup of tea gave me a new perspective on the place. As happens nearly always, sitting down and drinking my tea, relaxed me enough to work out exactly where I was and I settled down for the night. In the morning I stuck my head out of the tent to find myself in thick, thick cloud; visibility was no more than a few feet. More tea – a wait – and then some more tea and eventually the sun began to break through. I packed-up and headed straight back up the hill until I found the path at the top of the ridge. From here it was an easy walk to meet up with the GR10. (Amazingly I got lost in the same place the next time I came by this way – I realised that the path had moved a few hundred yards – not far but critical; luckily I was saved by spying a walker on the right route, but I suppose it means I got lost twice on the GR10 and both times in exactly the same place!)

The descent off the ridge is pleasant enough but I was by now well pissed-off, as well as hungry. I was heading for a campsite but couldn’t find it anywhere. I lugged my heavy pack into town and through to the lovingly restored medieval centre. There was little life about. Eventually I found myself at a little bar and alimentation (general store). I asked where the campsite was and Madame informed me – with a grin – that it had closed. (Whoever has heard of a French Campsite closing?). Things were getting worse.

Borce
Tiny, Borce

It was time to eat. Was there any food? Madam waved – in that lively French kind of a way – at a board on the wall. You could have anything you like so long as it was the local platter. A faded, dog-eared, plastic menu showed a photograph of a rather un-appealing plate of stuff. I was getting more pissed-off by the minute.

And then the food came. One dish yes, but it comprised of wonderful local cheese, really tasty sausiccon, gorgeous tomatoes and crisp salad that must have been dug out of the ground that morning. Madam appeared with a cold beer – a really cold beer. I told her the story of being lost. You could do with a shower she said; I own the gite up behind the bar. She let me in early and the cool, comfortable gite was like a gift from heaven. Later I bought some food to cook my evening meal – from Madame’s shop, as it was the only shop – and had a great evening.

The Gite is a comfortable building with two huge dorms, and a comfortable kitchen and dining area. I’ve been back since and have always enjoyed the experience. Madam is always there in the bar. The beer is always cold and the platter of food always as excellent – she sees know reason to broaden the menu. And then there is the music. Madam prides herself on her CD collection; “the sixties was my time”. There is really nothing better – or more unexpected really – than sitting in the shade, on a baking, hot afternoon, drinking Madames cold beer while listening to Simon and Garfunkel, the Mamas and the Papas, Joe Cocker and many more besides. If your really lucky you might even get something from the late seventies.

I don’t know if this is the case but I feel that Madam must own or run most of this tiny village. (If she doesn’t I bet she tries very hard). But the hospitality here is all you want. In lovely, simple places like this the famous ‘ Camaraderie of the Mountains’ really shines through. You are likely to be sharing the Gites with at least three or four different nationalities, all of whom have stumbled across Madame’s hospitality with the same sense of wonderment and gratitude.

If you’re ever wondering through the Vallée d’Aspe then make a point of staying at Borse. Forget the hotel in Etsuat – Borce is only 5 minutes climb up the hill. Forget the campsite up the valley; in these parts it has to be the Gites.

But if you do find your ways there – don’t forget to hand in your keys when you go walking, else there will be trouble. Oh, and the guidebooks are right. The local Church bell does ring on the hour right through the night. And the bell tower is right outside of your window!

But the Gite at Borce is a fantastic place. Madam is waiting for you. With bread, cheese a cold beer and Simon and Garfunkel playing Central Park; what could be better?

Comments

  1. Got to agree about Borce – a wonderful welcoming bar and surprisingly well stocked shop (certainly compared to Lescun). Was a nice young lady who served us (daughter of madame?)
    My schedule meant I stayed at Etsaut – and that is also one of the best gites on the GR10.
    Disagree about losing the GR10 – possibly to do it nearly every day – but as long as you realise within a few minutes and backtrack, it’s not a big problem.

  2. Sadly Eliane, Madame at the Bar/Epicerie, Borce retired last year after more than twenty years. However a young couple, Sebastien and Sidonie have taken over and run the bar/epicerie/gite with the same warm welcome. The music has moved on a bit but there is the same ambiance with a mixture of hikers, pilgrims and locals. As well as the cold plates still available in the bar, hot meals can be had from Fike who runs the Chambre d’Hotes, Maison Bergoun. at the southern end of the village

  3. Forgot to mention that the church bells no longer strike throughout the night. Madame de la Gite got this changed in response to several comments. You’ll have a good night’s rest the next time you come.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Next day I headed over the lower level GR10 to Estuat, staying the night at the lovely gite there. The next day I took the bus up to Canfranc and wondered over to the hill to the Refuge d’Ayous. After a lovely evening camping by the lake I set off back towards the HRP and the Refuge de Pombie. […]

  2. […] – and the wonderful eccentric owner – are the subject of a previous post which you can find here – Madam de la Gite de Borce). The walk is a distance of about 14 kilomters, height gain 701 metres, height loss 1004 metres, […]

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