I'm sitting outside a restaurant in France, 700ft up a mountainside and the winter sun is out. Not so strange really, considering that this particular region of the Catalan Pyrenees receives over 300 days of sunshine every year. It is, however, a region that has remained under wraps for years, enjoyed in the most part only by French and Spanish locals.
Winter sports heaven
Font-Romeu and its sister resort, Les Angles, provide some spectacular winter sports activities at prices well below those of their more illustrious neighbours.
The resorts also offer specialist snow activities for non-skiers. For someone like me, who has avoided skiing at all costs, the chance to indulge in some risk-free snow walking and cross-country skiing was an opportunity not to be missed.
Although the resorts are perched on the French side of The Pyrenees - only a 90-minute drive from Perpignan-Catalan is spoken widely here. Font-Romeu, the largest of the two resorts, is my first base. With its assortment of homely restaurants, shops, equipment hire and hotels, it's an ideal place to stay, with everything you need, including lift access to the slopes.
The town has a reputation for being the place to be for high-altitude training for Winter Olympic teams and long-distance runners, including Paula Radcliffe, who lives here for part of the year.
My introduction to cross-country skiing is swift. After being kitted out, I am straight on to the skis and soon learn the basics under the watchful eye of a qualified instructor.
Cross-country has none of the perils of alpine skiing, forsaking the steep slopes for flatter forest terrain. It does, however, give you an excellent introduction to using skis, leaning too glide along the snow and getting to grips with stopping when you need to.
Fort-Romeu has a number of well-marked dedicated cross-country routes and you can pick courses with varying degrees of difficulty, according to your growing confidence and skill.
Refuel and relax
After all that, there is something quite special about basking in the glow of your achievements with lunch on the slopes French/Catalan-style, which, of course, involves a heady choice of both food and drink.
Taking a break from the snow, I spend an afternoon with the locals, relaxing in hot natural thermal baths, and visit the Solar Furnace at Odeillo. Built in 1968 to capture solar energy, the centre provides advice on heat management and consults to Nasa.
Snow shoe shuffle
Les Angles and snow shoeing are next, which gives me the chance to go off-piste with an experienced guide and witness the true majesty of the Pyrenees.
Snow shoes are hired and no training is needed. I do, however, have to muster plenty of energy to negotiate steep slopes of impossibly white, virgin snow but am rewarded with some breathtaking views of the Pyrenees.
Les Angles is a compact resort yet it provides some high-quality food and lodgings, as well as plenty of apres ski diversions, which include ice-climbing, dog-sledding and an adventure park with four tree-top courses.
There are eight Catalan resorts in the Pyrenees, and you can buy a weekly or season long ski pass that will provide access to all of them from €197.
Feeding your face
Pyrenean food represents a mix of French and Catalan culture. Cassoulet, a delicious meat and white-bean stew, and duck liver fole gras are popular dishes. Roquefort cheese is in plentiful supply and you must try the custard dessert, crema Catalana, which is similar to a crème brulee.