Talk of Spain as a holiday destination and people will automatically think of Malaga and Benidorm, Sitges and Mallorca. However the skiing in Spain is surprisingly good!
The Spanish Pyrenees covers a vast skiable area with something for everyone. There are small, friendly, family resorts and then some huge ski areas; all sharing the same wonderful temperatures and stunning landscapes. Sierra Nevada, in the South, just a two hour drive from Malaga, is like Costa del Sol on snow. Although it isn’t particularly beautiful, where else can you ski in the mountains whilst looking down at the shimmering Mediterranean below? The two hour distance from the beach to the slopes also means that you can swim and ski on the same day.
The Spanish always know how to look after families too so there is plenty in the way of crèches, snow parks and many other facilities for the little ones such as ice skating, static hot air balloon flights, white water rafting and horse-riding.
Baqueira-Beret is Europe’s best-kept ski secret and is definitely Spain’s smartest resort. This is where the King of Spain goes to ski (as have the Beckhams) and is reputed to have some of the best pistes in Europe.
Sitting on the high Bonaigua Pass in the Val d’Aran, a remote nook in the north of the Catalan Pyrenees, Baqueira is a much loved resort with serious chic status. Just 2 hours from Toulouse Airport, not only has it got some seriously demanding runs for the experienced skiers but it has some lovely large areas and pistes ideal for beginners.
The snow cover is nothing short of fabulous and often, the area enjoys some of the best cover in Europe. There are 120km of groomed runs, split into three sections; Baqueira, Beret and Bonaigua, all with long intermediate high runs above the tree line at around 1,800m. The Escornacrabes run (Where Goats Tumble) will induce pure fear, followed by pleasure of course. There is also a really decent beginner area at the top of the gondola from the village.
Looks wise, Baqueira Beret isn’t completely beautiful, with a few drab blocks from the Sixties and Seventies and some purpose-built concrete blocks from the Eighties. Some recent buildings however are more pleasing to the eye and have been designed to enhance the dramatically beautiful setting of the resort. Baqueira sits above the lovely old town of Vielha and there are some other charming ancient villages in the valley such as Arties and some wonderful mountain restaurants.
Spain offers a different ski experience to the traditional Alpine resorts. Replace fondues with tapas and Gluhwein with Sangria and you are partly there. You need to get to grips with Spanish life, though if you are skiing here. Skiing rarely happens before 10:30am. Lunch is at 2pm or 3pm. Tempranillo and tapas is enjoyed until around 7pm when the bars close and everyone enjoys a late Spanish siesta. Dinner then commences at 10pm or 11pm for those without children. It is hard to imagine how people get anything done here with 3 hour lunches and late night dinners but the Spanish have definitely nailed it when it comes to filling their lives with happiness, Spanish wine, good skiing and great food!
Accommodation takes the form of hotels and apartments with chalets not being a feature. The range of hotel accommodation extends from basic 2 star options to 5 star luxury properties such as the Rafael La Pleta in Baqueira-Beret with its ultra-modern country house vibe.
As well as Sierra Nevada in the south Spain has some excellent skiing in the north with the Pyrenean resorts of Baqueira-Beret, Formigal, Alp 2500 (La Masella and La Molina) and Cerler amongst others. None of the resorts could be described as traditional or attractive but things are changing and the latest developments include better infrastructures and more eye pleasing accommodation projects. The possibility of spotting Spanish royalty is also a possibility too as they are frequent guests to Baqueira and Sierra Nevada. Resorts are not of the size or variety of the main Alpine resorts but many hover around the 60-140km mark with Baqueira-Beret Formigal, and Sierra Nevada being the largest and biggest attractions to the UK market. The skiing is absolutely perfect for beginners through to strong intermediates. Experts may struggle to find entertaining on-piste challenges but there does exist decent off-piste and especially if local guides are hired then the possibilities are limitless.
The snow falls in Sierra Nevada, and the Pyrenees to a certain extent, are very different to those in the Alps. Different weather systems prevail and often when the Alps has a poor year Sierra Nevada enjoys a bumper season. The Pyrenean resorts don’t tend to get as much snow as the Alps but still have plentiful cover to ensure a healthy season is enjoyed from December through to April.
Travel is essentially flying and there are a choice of airports such as Barcelona, Lleida, Huesca, and Malaga. Transfers can be with the package tour operators but those making tailor-made trips can either use car hire of private transfers. For those choosing to hire and drive please remember the need for snow chains or you could get stuck for hours and face a hefty bill to buy locally.