AT just over 1,500 metres above sea level, it could be the highest-rated restaurant with rooms in Spain.

‘Certainly in Catalunya,’ insists chef, Oliver, a lively father-of-three, who trained at a cookery school in Barcelona before making a life choice to run the stunning Can Borrell retreat in the Pyrenees with his wife Laura.

It was her parents’ hotel, a retreat for hikers and skiers just a 40-minute drive from the nearest ski station, and counting on roaring open fires and views to die for.

Get away from it all in the Pyrennes. All photos by Jon Clarke

Two decades on and they’ve had three boys, all junior national skiing champions who help out in the kitchen and sala at the busiest times of year.

It’s all part of the charm – these strong, stocky specimens floating about with verve, particularly in midsummer.

A perfect rustic retreat

This is surely the best time to visit – when the rest of Spain is roasting, and Can Borrell delivers no more than 27 or 28 degrees, dropping to 16 at night.

It’s normally warm enough to dine on the charming terrace, with its agricultural vernacular to the fore – and you can sleep with the windows open as it’s mostly mozzie free.

Enjoying an evening meal on the terrace at Can Borrel

It’s also a popular weekend retreat for sophisticates from Barcelona, who come to hike in the nearby hills. There are a myriad of paths from the door, a couple that take you to swimmable glacial lakes in just over an hour, plus the third highest peak in the Pyrenees, Puigpedros – now that’s a challenge!

There are nine functional rooms – and one amazing suite – that adhere to the rustic architecture of this centuries-old farmhouse (or Can, in Catalan) – but you can expect central heating in winter.

A pretty village perched high in the Pyrenees

The main dining room and entrance area will sweep you back a century, and romance is guaranteed, if that’s your thing.

My wife and I ended up staying here for three days two decades ago, arriving from the Costa Brava after a two-day bout of gastroenteritis. It was the perfect tonic and we bimbled around the courtyard and hamlet of 60 souls, until we’d improved enough to attempt Puigpedros.

Views to die for

Why on earth we’ve only just made it back now is anyone’s guess, but I guess like Laura and Oliver, kids got in the way.

And the best thing of all is that while the food was good back then, today it is so much more assured.

Think mountain tucker, but with real verve and plenty of extra touches, thanks to the proximity of France just over the hill.

Take the foie gras starter which has a touch of black truffle. It’s a great kick off, despite its obvious negative connotation today. 

The goat’s cheese and spinach in puff pastry may be more palatable to many, while the ‘brik of duck’ melted in the mouth.

Mains were, naturally, meaty with the standout dish being a fantastic solomillo from a local free range breed of cattle that hugs the nearby contours.

The tarte tatin comes with tremendous vanilla ice cream.

There were plenty of other options to eat (albeit at least a 10 minute drive downhill) but as a mark of how good this is: we stayed put four nights in a row!

It’s fair to say, we’d truly acclimatised to the High Life!


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