A quick look is enough to tell you that this house is different, something special.
Climbing plants from the rear of the cottage spread to cover the entire roof which is packed with straw bales on volcanic stone: a design feature that allows for heat conservation in winter and a similarly insulating effect in summer, as well as contributing to the building’s integration in its natural off the beaten track Pyrenean setting. In springtime, the roof is decorated by a panoply of irises.
The cottage is situated in the county of Pallars Jussà, a pristine area of great ecological wealth in the early folds of the Pyrenees. From the house you see down a virgin valley, exceptional in being free of human intrusion in the form of habitation or electrical pylons.
The road which leads to the house is one of Michelin’s recommended routes for the most spectacular drives in Catalonia. The Lerida Province landscape changes continuously and is all the time extraordinary and beautiful.
The Sierras of Pallars are part of the continuum of banked mountains that rise up to form the high Pyrenean peaks. But the climate is quite different here. While the high peaks have cold winds blowing though them, Pallars Jussà is protected from these in a sunny enclave, where it is distinguished by its distinctly Mediterranean feel.
The house sits on its own beneath a rocky pinnacle, where it blends with an organic fittingness into the unspoilt environment. It has true taste, style and workmanship. Natural local stone and wood are the materials that have gone into it, the joint German-Catalonian owners using medieval building techniques to assemble wood blocks and panels without the use of a single metal screw.
An eco-house requires some understanding and participation from guests and you will receive a simple information sheet on how to care for the solar set-up and water supply. The entire property is solar powered and the generator back-up is only used as a last resort.
The accommodation is on two floors, split-level to coincide with the hillside behind the house.
Natural warmth and light in the downstairs area make it a very inviting space. A nicely designed kitchen area with wooden work surfaces is open plan with a dining area and comfortable living room. With the exception of bedrooms (to provide darkness for sleeping), curtains have been deliberately omitted to avoid clashing with the natural mountain style, yet there's no need to worry about privacy here: there are a few other equally individualistic homes dotted around the sierra, but each is well isolated at a distance from the next.
The ground floor is completed by a double bedroom and a utility room housing the fridge and solar installation. From here you can quickly pump enough water into the deposit for a full day's use.
The cottage is often rented by couples coming on their own, but families with children are very welcome also. The outdoor garden areas are generally level and safe to play in.
The first floor of the house has two more bedrooms and a small lounge with a play corner for children. Some books, videos and games are provided in the playroom: they're in Spanish, but that doesn't stop them being of interest to some little ones.
Rustical team stayed at this cottage in June 2016 and found the beds they used as "very comfortable" and the bedding as "soft and lovely".
It’s a delightfully natural spot and opening the door n summer also allows cool mountain air to circulate through the house. Heating, if required, is from the open fireplace and the old-fashioned range in the kitchen, supported by gas heaters. If there were central heating, we'd feel totally confident about offering the house for heart-of-winter bookings, but our tendency is to err on the side of caution.
Barbecues over a wood-fire grill in the hearth (indoors for safety in the dryest months) are very popular and out in the gardens there's a more conventional barbecue when there's no fire risk.
It's a lovely house to stay in and yet you're inevitably going to want to explore. You don't have to go far for some fascinating and rewarding experiences.
The private land that goes with the property is extensive and largely forested and you can start wandering from here.. Some of your closest neighbours are the 5,000 deer in nearby Bourmart natural reserve.
There's also a small meadow. Apart from walks in the woods, we recommend the half-hour walk down to the River Boixol, where you can take dips in natural pools by a waterfall and wander a thrillingly wild setting. Bring a bike (or running shoes) and cycle the 4 km to an abandoned village.
There are also public swimming pools in Isona (20 mins) and Coll de Nargo (30 mins) which open during the summer months. Wild swimming in this area is also popular and can be quite spectacular.
Both Isona and Coll de Nargo house dinosaur museums: this area was a major site of dinosaur nesting and you can see well-preserved fossilized dinosaur eggs and footprints.
It's ruggedly picturesque here in the borderland between Mediterranean and alpine forests. The views are magical and birds of prey soar overhead. And yet, although you are gloriously off the beaten track here, you can still get to villages quite quickly. We'll tell you where to find the best restaurants but be always sure of the opening days and hours as the closest restaurants are at least 20 minutes drive away.
Supermarkets are also a considerable drive away at 20 minutes drive away so stocking up before you arrive at the cottage is the best idea. You can park right by the cottage so downloading your shopping couldn´t be easier.
Walking trails and mountain biking are major attractions in Pallars Jussà, a landscape dotted with Romanic churches and the cellars of artesan wine-makers, and featuring Catalonia's largest lake (for kayaking and rowing boats) and star gazing from the cottage itself, or more excitingly, from the astronomy observatory at Montsec, which is likely to be declared a UNESCO Starlight Destination.
Just over one hour and 20 minutes by car takes you to the Fosca Valley (a cable car takes you up to 3,000 metres and a panorama of lakes) and the National Park of Aigüestortes, an area of outstanding natural beauty, or to Andorra, a shopper’s paradise amongst other things.
The usual airport for getting here has always been Barcelona at 2 hrs 20 mins, although a limited number of flights also go to the regional capital of Lleida (Lerida), which cuts the driving time to 1 hr 45 mins. People also drive down from France: the French border is 1 hr 40 mins away.