Top Lift: 2510m
Ski area: 120km of piste
Adult lift pass: 215€ for six days
In a Nutshell
Essential Advice for the Perfect Trip
Seaside and sangria rather than slalom and snow are more familiarly associated with Spanish holidays, but the country does in fact offer some surprisingly good skiing. For years, Baqueira-Beret in the Pyrenees has remained Europe’s best-kept ski secret, shared by a small but knowledgeable band of international skiers who have found a truly viable alternative to the over-commercialized resorts of the Alps. The trouble with nearly all such so-called ‘alternatives’ to the big-name resorts is that they usually lack either the variety of terrain or the sophisticated infrastructure of the Alps – or both.
By royal appointment
Not so Baqueira in the Val d’Aran, a cross-cultural pocket of the Pyrenees where Spanish, Catalan, and Aranese are all spoken. As a holiday destination it has serious chic status. The Spanish monarch has a majestic home here. King Juan Carlos no longer skis, but his children and their families visit most weekends during the season. Even Victoria Beckham and her children have stayed here.
For the past 40-odd years since the resort opened above the lovely old town of Vielha, Baqueira has been content to offer its slopes to a predominantly Spanish market. However, it is now actively seeking an international image as the ski area expands into neighbouring valleys.
Three new hotels including a five-star opened in recent years just below the resort, reached by an additional stage of the gondola. Baqueira seems set to realize a major international profile. For those of us who have quietly enjoyed its skiing over the years, this is a shame – but in today’s competitive market ski resorts must evolve or die. The window between unspoilt mountainsides and commercial exploitation is unfortunately an all too narrow one.
Pretty it is not. The original purpose-built edifices of the 1980s are made of functional concrete and are mainly located in Baqueira at 1500m. However, more recent additions are in a much more pleasing style, in keeping with the resort’s dramatically beautiful setting on the road that leads up to the high Bonaigua Pass. The valley has some ancient villages, such as Arties, with good restaurants and more accommodation choices. But if you are staying here you will need transport from here to the slopes. Beret and Bonaigua are part of the ski area, and where some of the mountain restaurants are located.
A slow start, followed by lunch, siesta then late to bed
For indigenous guests, skiing is an activity you rarely contemplate before 10.30am. Lunch is at 2pm or even 3pm, followed by a last run to the base area. Rioja-and-tapas last until 7pm when the bars empty and everyone goes to bed. The Spanish summer siesta habit remains unbroken in winter. Dinner en famille is at 10pm, or 11pm for grown-ups, and the nightclubs start to warm up around 2am.
For more information see our feature Are You Bold Enough to Try Baqueira?