What a contrast to the sad commercialism of Lourdes, just 30 minutes away. You wind up the Estaing valley until a majestic mountain couloir opens out before you, its floor filled with a large glacial lake. (At 1164 m this is the highest natural lake in the area accessible by car.) The hotel restaurant is on your left, but the road continues along the edge of the lake to a camp site and visitor centre at the far end. The backdrop is steep pasture and woods rising to rocky tops of the high Pyrenees, the tallest around 3,000 m. It’s a wonderful scene, even on a grey day, and before eating at the hotel you can do the circuit of the lake on foot.
   Awaiting you inside is a small but comfortable dining room and some of the best food you’ll eat in such a remote hotel. Aline and Christian Houerie offer several fairly priced gourmet menus: the 18 euro menu offers more than you could reasonably expect, and a glass of house wine is 3 euros.
   This is an unpretentious place, serving locals, not tourists. Don’t expect anything remotely designer-chic. There isn’t a sitting room – a second simple overflow eating room and the outdoor terrace complete the public areas. Upstairs and along a downstairs corridor are small, not especially comfortable but acceptable bedrooms with curtained off shower areas.
   Come here for a few days of peace, mountain walks and communion with nature, plus memorable food. Half board is only 55 euros per person. Few accomodation guides know of it, so it represents the Charming Small Hotel Guide quest to feature places that others overlook.