Small village tucked away in the western Pyrenees
The village of Laruns is the administrative center of France's geographically third largest community (25000 ha) which includes another 15 hamlets and the ski resorts of Artouste and Gourette. It is located ca 40 kilometer south of Pau and 25 km noth of the Spanish border at the end of the vallée d'Ossau, a beautiful valley in the western Pyrenees.
The small village was probably founded some time before AD, as shepherds have used the land in the upper parts of the Ossau valley during the summer for thousands of years. It features a beautiful 14th century church (the neighbouring hamlet of Gabas even has a 12th century chapel) and most of the houses in the center of Laruns date from the 18th century. The village itsself boasts some impressive craftsmen, including the most wonderful butcher (in my opinion) in the whole world. If meat is your thing, this is heaven, as this family run business is now in it 6th generation, and I've never ever tasted anything like this before.
Laruns lies below a group of impressive mountains with peaks in the twothousands, and hiking here is bliss: there are 30 well signposted circuits between 1 and 8 hours, covering, depending on your stamina, between 100 and 1000 meters height per tour and there are plenty of opportunities to use that mountain bike of yours.
The best time to come would be September to October or May to June, as the valley is devoid of tourists and the weather is still cool enough to hike in splendor. During high season the valley fills up with tourists from all over the place, and recently binge drinking, football shirt wearing Englanders have been spotted.
Accomodation is cheap and good (hotels or selfcatering) and the local population is friendly and helpful. Since Ryanair has started flying to Pau this gem is right around the corner from London and certainly cheaper than a weekend in Brighton.