"The famous waters contain high levels of sulphur (occasional wafts drift through the town) and silicates of soda and have a nasty taste (they really do!) Not surprisingly, the Victorian visitors didn’t like the taste either, so an enterprising doctor back in the late 1800s prescribed sugar to get rid of the lingering sulphur taste – giving birth to the Berlingots sweet industry. Today Berlingots come in several flavours and colours. You can watch them being made in Cauterets by Eric Lestable, who comes from a long line of Berlingots makers. (See the MumAbroad Members special offer below).
Unlike many other Pyrenean ski towns, Cauterets does not feel like a resort; it is lived in year round and has a charming, welcoming feeling. During spring, early summer and Autumn Cauterets is a fantastic place to visit with your family to escape the heat from across the border. There are limitless outdoor activities, for all ages, either in Cauterets or within a 30 minute drive. Right now, the walking is just beautiful; there are flowers everywhere, the rivers are in full flow, waterfalls are cascading, and cows are lazing in the meadows clanging their beautiful huge bells.
There are walks for every age and ability:
Older children (my 7 year old made it without a complaint) can walk from Pont d’Espagne (7km drive from Cauterets) all the way up to Lac de Gaube or from La Fruitière to Lac d’Estom.
Little ones who can’t manage a hike, but are too big to put in a backpack, can take easy paths meandering along the valleys, where there are beautiful picnic places or they can go on mini hikes from the town through meadows, past roaring waterfalls following alongside mountains streams.
And all ages can take the ski chair and telecabins from Pont d’Espagne up above the trees! (Adults: 15 euros for both lifts; children 6-15: 12 euros; under 6: ride free).
And, at the end of the day, you can soak in the thermal waters that Cauterets is famed for – children welcome too! For a family of four it cost 24 euros to sit in a pool of warm, slightly sulphurous water whilst being massaged by powerful jets (jets are for adults only). By the end of June the new ‘Bains du Rocher’ will be open with indoor and outdoor baths; the site looks very impressive and will be more child friendly – the current baths (called Thermes) are a bit too hushed for an exuberant child. We noticed that our skin the next day was super soft and clear. Minor facial bumps and lumps had gone. Even my husband was impressed with his own face!
If you have older children (or an older child within!) there are many other outdoor activities available including: Ice skating, whitewater rafting, canyoning, parapenting, horse riding, and lake swimming. Cauterets is also the starting point for some of the best downhill mountain biking in the Pyrenees; the gondola lift right in the centre of Cauterets takes you and your bike up 1500 metres to the Cirque du Lys; from there it’s all downhill!
And if you stay more than a couple of days there’s even more to see and do within a short drive:
Watch huge birds of prey at the spectacular Donjon des Aigles in Beaucens (20 minutes)
Aerial tree climbing parks 2km from town and in Beaucens.
Visit the Pyrenees Animal Park where you can see Pyrenean animals in their natural habitat and even feed and touch the Marmots (22 minutes)
Take a trip to Lourdes castle and the famous grotto (30 minutes).
If this all sounds great but you don’t have the time, or energy, to plan everything, read on...
We stayed in the heart of the old town at ‘Mulcares’ (www.mulcares.com), a superb self-catering apartment ‘complex’ owned and restored by the Mulcares family. The English owners have made sure every possible need is met, especially for families with young children. The apartments overlook the river (the Gave de Lutour), are very spacious and light and yet you still feel you are staying in a very old building (check out the original ovens in the ‘Welcome Room’ that go way back into the walls!) I have to admit that when I stay in self catering accommodation I usually bring my own sharp knives, chopping board, peeler and grater. There was no need this time; the Mulcares kitchen equipment was better than my own! Everything from the plates, to cutlery, bedding and towels is crispy clean and high quality.
If the thought of planning activities for all the family leaves you with a headache don’t worry... James Mulcares will help you organise your stay, suggesting activities, walking routes, guides, restaurants and more. Every day, from 4-6 pm, James serves yummy homemade cakes and tea in the Salle de Gave or ‘Welcome Room’, a beautiful stone lined sitting room, overlooking the river where there are games, DVDs to rent, toys, books, maps and brochures to read and comfy sofas to relax on (you’ll have those in your apartment too). It’s a great place to chat with family and friends and decide on activities for the next day. There is even a crèche in Cauterets where you can safely leave your little ones for an hour or more while you go off and do something child-free!
Can’t be hassled to pack all your baby or child gear? You don’t have to! Mulcares has baby & toddler packs for rent.
The Baby Pack (12€) includes cot and linen (2 years & under), highchair, baby bath, changing mat, nappy bin and electric bottle sterilizer. The Toddler Pack (6€) includes a bed rail, potty and booster chair"
(Lucy Culpepper, June 2010)