The roads are deserted: no evidence of a soul – not a single car or face behind twitching shutter. We’re ambling through parasol tree-lined roads, precarious winding mountain bends and deafeningly silent hamlets toward Le Trésor in Sonnac-sur-l’Hers, Languedoc-Roussillon. The sun beats through the roof and, for a few moments, we are Alain Delon and Brigitte Bardot, the song is ‘On Days Like These’ and the car a convertible Mercedes Pagoda.
Sonnac-sur-l’Hers is a spellbinding village with just 128 residents. Hidden from the prying eyes of passing cars is a bijou church square. As we cross this charming stone timewarp to the hotel, a green-shuttered maître de maison spanning a row of houses that comprises one side of the thoroughfare, an old man who is possibly the last living member of the Resistance stares out at us from behind an antique doorframe.
Classic, enormous and very smart, Le Trésor is a luxury boutique B&B that’s imbued with traditional French character: all white walls, polished dark wood and faithful antique pieces. A tall, cheery thirtysomething Englishman strides round the corner and shakes my hand. ‘Hullo I’m Will,’ he says. ‘My wife Tilly is in the kitchen feeding our son.’ The pair moved from London to pursue the Gallic dream in 2005 and their Year in Provence became a lifetime.
Will shows us up to our suite – the largest of Le Trésor’s four guest dwellings – where the living room alone is bigger than our London apartment. ‘The ceilings are so high that they probably have to change the light bulbs from the floor above!’ Mrs Smith remarks. We walk past the living room with its ethereal Florence Broadhurst-style floral prints and original marble fireplace, into the second bedroom-cum-dressing room with its old-school desk overlooking the square and through a third set of double doors to the largest space of all – the master bedroom, where the light casts a halo onto the room’s centrepiece: a giant freestanding bath in all its glory. Mrs Smith squeals and runs around the walk-in-wardrobe giggling, clearly trying to figure out where to put all two pairs of shoes. It’s a crisp, clean vision of rustic elegance with views extending over the village to the hills.
After a well-deserved siesta (when in the South of France, eh), Will shows us the dining room and the comely honesty bar. You just have to remember to jot down how many bottles of native Languedoc Rose you have consumed. Easier said than done…
We are offered dinner in the garden. Manicured and experimental with a fresh herb garden and a young vine weaving through the fairy lights, overgrown trees shadow the sun loungers and a hammock swings under ancient branches shielding the mountain horizon. Everything feels magically old. A lone table is set in this private nirvana for a mesmeric four-course organic dinner courtesy of domestic goddess Tilly, rich with the heady flavours of L’Occitan and infused with herbs from Le Trésor’s garden.
Mountain walks in the surrounding Pyrenees lie just half an hour’s drive away (during winter you can ski right into the square) and each July the Tour de France whistles by the house. The next morning’s breakfast is pitch perfect. We feast on valley-fresh figs and sliced peaches, yoghurt, honey, pressed apple juice, baskets of croissants and granite-strong black coffee. If that doesn’t wake you up, the chiming of the church bells should.
We drive to Chalabre, a picturesque village with a castle and obligatory Provençals in blue, who drink pastis and carry long baguettes. It holds a dolls’ house-like market whose mainstay seems to be the local tablecloth. Round another precarious bend we see the stretching blue calm of Lake Montbel. Locals sun themselves and children splash in the waters. We sit at a café to shield ourselves from the blistering sun, and realise that if we were cleverer, or indeed even more romantic, we would have purchased a picnic at the village and one of those blessed tablecloths, and spent the afternoon lolling by the lake.
Instead we head for nearby Mirepoix. Driving has never been more glorious: the only other vehicle a huge combine harvester that refuses to notice us, sending us swerving into the sunflower field. Thankfully, staring into the faces of a thousand ochre blooms reaching for the scorching sun is a fun detour.
Arriving at Mirepoix, we turn the corner into the square and can’t believe our eyes. All the buildings, wooden and mediaeval; rows of stalls selling marionettes colour the paths and the place is heaving with sunblushed hippies smoking roll-ups. We have, as Mrs Smith proclaims, ‘the best moules-frites ever’ as we watch this enchanting world go by.
That night, Mrs Smith sleepily announces that the bed is too small and in a room this size it should be much bigger. It should, in fact, be large enough for 10 people. Sweet dreams ensue.
And then, all too soon, the morning sun peeks through the aged shutters and we realise it is time to leave for the fairytale castle town of nearby Carcassonne. The breakfast slows us down and we revel in the Sunday morning stillness.
Will and Tilly join us to say goodbye and it seems as if we have been here for a week. Before we set off, Mrs Smith asks, ‘Why Le Trésor?’ There is a local myth, Will says, of a treasure hidden during World War II somewhere in the house. Indeed, much like this entrepreneurial pair, we feel that in finding Le Trésor we have struck gold.
Anonymously reviewed by Jake Knowles (Intrepid advertiser)
Reviews of Le Trésor from Smith members
Whenever you book a stay through us, we’ll invite you to comment when you get back. Read the Guestbook entries below to see what real-life Mr & Mrs Smiths have said about this hotel…
The setting of Le Trésor is beyond beautiful the hotel itself is stylish in a cosy way. Tilly took amazing care of us and were incredibly helpful in arranging days out and reservations. Tilly's cooking is wonderful so don't miss the chance to dine if she's cooking! It's amazing value for money.
Eve, BlackSmith stayed on 29 Oct 2013
We cannot recommend this place enough. It's in a quiet French apple-growing village. The accommodation has been beautifully thought out and the building beautifully restored. The hosts Tilly and Will are great. Tilly's cooking will amaze you. There's an honesty bar room complete with comfy sofas, wood burner, DVD and book library and pool table. What more could you want? Even though it was October we even utilised the lovely garden, too, resting our weary feet with a late-afternoon refreshment.
Bernice, BlackSmith stayed on 12 Oct 2013
Le Tresor is an oasis of calm in a tiny hamlet, perfectly positioned in the village square. We were in Room 5, which is at the top of a beautiful wooden staircase. Room 5 is the largest of the rooms. It is beautifully appointed with a large bathroom complete with bath and shower. Wonderful breakfasts were served in the square. Dinner is not served during the week but you can have dinner over the weekend. If you want an authentic French dining experience you could do no better than visiting the Abbye Chateau in nearby Camon. Absolutely wonderful! Sonnac sur L'Hers is perfectly positioned for days out around the Cathar Castles or medieval villages that abound in this area, or you can visit a multitude of vineyards. Tilly will give you great advice on where to go. Alternatively there are lots of lovely walks to do around the area and again Tilly will give you good advice and even provide maps for you.
Michael, SilverSmith stayed on 8 Aug 2013
My wife and I stayed at Le Trésor for our honeymoon. Simply put, it was perfect. The location is gorgeous – a true escape from everyday life. Sonnac is a beautiful tiny village and encapsulates your expectations of the area. On one day we walked 15 minutes into the meadows and hills behind the hotel. Wild orchids and lazy butterflies were everywhere, Sonnac was a postcard bellow us and the snow-capped Pyrenees loomed in the distance. On another day we hired bikes (all sorted by Will and Tilly), took a picnic and followed converted railway lines along to Mirepoix and back, with only two walkers to be met on the path in four hours. We drove into the Pyrenees along some of the most dramatic roads in the world, drove to the coast for a perfect seafood lunch and sunbathe, and drove around the surrounding wine regions, taking in history of ancient beautiful towns like Mirepoix and eating perfect local food. The next village from Sonnac was Camon, and the food at Chateau Camon was so good we returned on our final night. Tilly and Will's hospitality was ideal, with an honesty bar to keep us from getting thirsty, a library for the two rainy days, cheese platters that were beyond generous during the week and superb three-course meals at the weekend. Our room – Room Cinq – took up the top floor. The views of the surrounding hills and the distant sound of French cow bells met us with the sunrise through the windows every morning. The decor was perfect, with minimal rustic touches and modern comforts making the stay utterly relaxing, not to mention the rainfall shower and free-standing bath! The garden was a paradise for peace and relaxing, running the length of the house and allowing for privacy while in the company of others. The location is easy to find, close to cities, towns, mountains, country and coastline, and still feels like it was in the middle of nowhere! We couldn't recommend this hotel more for those that wish for true romantic French charm and complete escapism from everyday life.
Luke, BlackSmith stayed on 29 Apr 2013
What a beautiful renovation of an old French dwelling; set in a lovely square, of a quaint French village. Our room was lovely and comfortable with crisp white bedding. The owners were so helpful and accommodating, Tilly's breakfasts are delicious and the grounds are romantic and relaxing. Will sorted us out with a lovely meal at a local chateaux, it was exquisite.
Maria, BlackSmith stayed on 6 Sep 2012
Room was gorgeous. Tilly was a lovely hostess. Dinner was delicious. Breakfast was generous and delicious as well.
Imogen, SilverSmith stayed on 31 Aug 2012 One 2 year old. Tilly was great with him and he enjoyed his stay too.
The longer we stayed, the less we wanted to leave. Will and Tilly are lovely hosts and the decor and house are beautiful. It's rural France and we loved it! Tilly is a fantastic cook too and we loved our candlelit supper in the garden.
We stayed in the Cottage and a dishwasher and washing machine would be brilliant there, but really it was perfect, that would just have been a bonus, as the cottage is more self-catering than the other rooms.
emma, BlackSmith stayed on 11 Aug 2012 yes we were - one 6 year ols
This was a wonderful little séjour in southwest France. Will and Tilly give a lovely welcome. I was offered a cup of tea straight away, and whilst that is an English thing to do we are sure the welcome would have been appropriate for whoever was arriving. We stayed in Room One, a fabulous large light room with a small extra room with extra bed so perfect for a small family. My favourite thing about the room was the large bath and yet the ensuite also had a full shower enclosure. We did try the shower once but the pressure was quite weak and the temperature not so hot, but we were happy to have the bath as often in hotels only a shower is available. There were other small welcoming touches such as a large bottle of Evian, tea and coffee tray and lovely L'Occitane and REN toiletries. The bed was large and very comfortable and the linens and bedding were soft and fresh. There are also plenty of books and DVDs available from the lounge and the room had a DVD player, iPod dock and good TV reception – we wanted to see a tiny bit of the Wimbledon tennis and that was easy to do. The church bells ring from 7am to 10pm but they are a lovely sound, not intrusive at all. Breakfast was very good – yummy breads, fruits and jams and a tea and coffee selection plus apple juice from the local farm. The location is good, not difficult to find, and the square is delightful. Room One overlooks the garden which we didn't use but which looked very pretty and peaceful. There is some noise from the road but nothing to worry about. There are plenty of views and walks locally and it is only an hour and a half to the coast. We took a fabulous drive down to Collioure following the mountains for about two hours for a glorious route. Le Trésor is exactly that – a little treasure.
Janine, BlackSmith stayed on 6 Jul 2012