The slopes are almost empty…
Baqueira-Beret is located in the Val d’Aran in the Spanish Pyrenees and has remained Europe’s best-kept ski secret since it was founded in 1964. It provides a real alternative to some of the over-crowded resorts of the Alps.
“Aah…” I hear you say, “The trouble with so-called ‘alternatives’ to the big-name resorts is that they usually lack the size and variety of terrain of the Alps”. Not so Baqueira-Beret. There are 120km of pistes, with the ski area starting at 1500m and rising to 2500m, making for some good long runs. Peak hour queues are almost unheard of.
There’s challenging skiing…
Baqueira-Beret has five itineraries including Escornacrabes (Where Goats Tumble) off the back of the Cap de Baqueira and looping round to the front side of the mountain then back to the village. The fast Blanhiblar chair-lift opens up immense off-piste domain below Cap de Blanhiblar and Tuc de Costarjàs, with a drag-lift linking to extensive off-piste opportunities towards the valley. The Dera Mina chair also accesses to several steep runs and couloirs. The resort also offers some of the cheapest heli-skiing in Europe: currently 290€pp (about £240) for two drops.
In the 2012-13 season Baqueira had some of the best snow-cover in Europe with an impressive 400cm base in April. This winter it’s equally good with 200cm in the weeks before Christmas when some Alpine resorts had a fraction of the amount. Currently there’s 205cm on the lower slopes and 315cm higher up, so you won’t need to worry about snow.
It has a British ski school
The 21 schools here are mainly aimed at the Spanish market, but they do include a British ski school, called BB Ski School, that provides instruction for all standards, as well as off-piste, heli-skiing and one of the cheapest instructor training courses around. The course, incidentally, also includes 20 hours of Spanish lessons.
Low low prices
Chalet-hotel Salana in Baqueira 1500 is a no-frills British-run place where regulars tend to return year after year. Like the other properties in this sector of Baqueira, it’s located close to the free wah-wah road train that takes you to the ski area. A week half board costs £499pp including flights and transfers.
Baqueira is also excellent value when it comes to eating out – with roughly the same sort of prices you’d expect to find in Italian resorts. You can easily enjoy a really good lunch on the mountain – with wine and coffee – for 12.50€ (around £10) per person.
Tapas bars and good food
Restaurant 1800 (+ 34 973 639001) on the piste has checked red and white tablecloths and wooden beams – here a Spanish omelette will set you back 7.45€ (about £6) and a bowl of soup 6.50€ (about £5). A cool mountain eatery is El Refugi San Miguel (+34 973 63 90 01), with an open fire, exposed pipework and high ceilings – here a burger costs 5.59€ (around £4.50), quiche de Roquefort 4.95€ (about £4), coffee 1.80€ (£1.50), beer 3€ (£2.50), soft drink 2.90€ (£2.40).
Era Caseta des Deth Mestre (+34 973 644651) is in the hamlet of Tredos 2km down the valley road below Baqueira. It’s a cosy little place serving wholesome local food. A main course of baked guinea fowl pintada with vegetables cost 11€ (£9), and a bottle of house red 6€ (£5). Lower down, Vielha’s cobbled streets are heaving with tapas bars including Era Gripia and La Viellito. Tapas bars are a bit like pubs to the Spaniards – they often go from one to another before stopping at around 10pm for dinner.
Some lovely valley villages
The Val d’Aran has some ancient villages, such as Arties and Vielha, all with Romanesque and Gothic churches, and architecture of stone, slate, and wood, The valley villages are where you’ll find some truly excellent restaurants and bars. There is a bus service from Baqueira, but if you’re staying down here you’d need to have your own transport to get from here to the slopes. Arties is 7km away and is a charming little village with cobblestone streets. Vielha is 13km down the valley from Baqueira and is littered with tapas bars (see above) and interesting little shops. Don’t miss Albina Bosch, which has an astonishing window of miniature ski resort scenes and an interior like Aladin’s cave.
…and there’s luxury too
There are four five-star hotels in the area but up at Tanau is where you’ll find the best hotel, Rafaelhoteles La Pleta, with its bell tower and Aranese design of slate and stone. It has a swimming-pool, a candle-lit spa, and a shuttle bus service to the lift. Its three eateries include a sushi restaurant. Tanau is also served by a double-chair up to the Altitude 1800 area.
Other delightful places to stay include the four-star paradores. The 14th-century Parador de Arties once belonged to Don Garpar de Portola, a Spanish soldier who founded California in the 18th century. It has unusual bedrooms with angular ceilings and lots of wood. The bedrooms at Parador de Vielha offer lovely views of the mountains, even more spectacular from the circular glass restaurant. Restaurant specialities include olla aranesa (a local stew), wild boar and pescajus (pancakes) with cream.