The snow in Spain

Skiing in Baqueira Beret: the best ski resort you’ve never heard of


“What do you mean, skiing in Spain?” my friend asked when I told her where I was going and what I was doing. “Why would you want to do that?”

As it turns out, there are many good reasons. With very few British tour operators offering Baqueira Beret, one of Spain’s biggest ski resorts, as a destination, it is almost unknown to the British market, despite being quickly and easily accessible via Toulouse airport.

Set in the historic Val d’Aran and with almost 100 miles of pistes, the resort has plenty to offer skiers and non-skiers alike.

With the first lift opening in 1964, the main resort is purpose-built, but strict building regulations mean that almost all the buildings are wood and stone clad, so it’s an attractive place to stay.

And while Baqueira Beret itself is new, it’s surrounded by around 30 historic villages including Arties, one of the largest. Immaculately kept and chocolate-box pretty, there’s a Romanesque church to explore as well as around 30 bars and restaurants, plus cute boutiques.

Our own accommodation, Hotel Himalaia run by Pierre et Vacances, is very different from the self-catering apartments the company is best known for.

The four-star hotel has over 100 rooms (making it one of the largest hotels in the resort) two bars, two restaurants and a free (simple) kids’ club open late afternoon into the early evening.

There’s also a spa with an indoor pool plus a cold plunge pool, sauna, steam room and outdoor hot tub. Three treatment rooms offer massages using products inspired by ancient Tibetan therapies.

Rooms are simple but stylish with exceptionally comfy beds, as well rain head showers and miniature Rituals toiletries, slippers and plenty of fluffy white towels in the bathrooms. Duplex rooms for families of up to five are available too.

The main gondola lift is around a two-minute walk away, with the hotels’ ski lockers in a room right underneath the lift so you don’t need to lug your skis to and from the hotel every day.

The hotel’s subtle Himalayan theme ranges from objects from Nepal and Tibet dotted throughout to two guides — notionally ‘sherpas’ — who will help you explore the resort, the surrounding area and learn about the local culture, free of charge.

Every morning Bernard and Juan take two groups of intermediate skiers out on the pistes of Baqueira Beret. You take your chances on the level of skier and the size of the group so while it’s a hugely useful service, if you’re a beginner, expert or want a more personal guide, the BB Ski School offers friendly lessons and guiding from British instructors.

In the afternoon and early evening, the hotel guides take guests on snowshoe outings (some in the dark so you can see the stars) and cultural visits which include exploring the local villages or tapas-tasting in Vielha.

I joined Bernard on a short snowshoe tour of Val de Ruda, around a ten-minute jeep trip from the hotel. Compared to downhill skiing, snowshoeing is a very calming, restful way to explore the mountains — if you’re lucky you might be able to spot wildlife including birds of prey or marmottes.

In the resort and nearby you can also take a horse-drawn carriage or dog sleigh ride, visit one of the museums and the Nacarii caviar factory or even take a sightseeing trip by helicopter.

The ski area itself is divided into three sections — Baqueira, Bonaigua and Beret, which are all linked by both lifts and pistes.

There are slopes for all levels in all sections but speaking very broadly, Baqueira, the central section, is usually busiest — it’s also home to the main beginner’s areas, as well as Passarells, the resort’s most demanding black run.

Beret is mainly made up of wide blue and red runs and is ideal for beginners and families, while pretty Bonaigua has the most black runs and usually has the fewest people. Heliskiing is also an option for the more adventurous, plus there are over four miles of cross-country skiing trails.

You’ll find several restaurants on the pistes, ranging from simple canteens to a Moët champagne bar and à la carte gourmet restaurants, although while there are some vegetarian and fish options in most restaurants, these are often fairly limited.

There are several restaurants in Baqueira itself, everything from simple tapas bars to fine dining in the five-star hotels. However, the main resort lacks a defined centre so it’s worth getting out to the villages to explore the bars and restaurants there if you can (a car is ideal, but there are also regular buses).

I liked Taberna Urtau in Aries where you could choose from up to 70 different pintxos from the bar as well as main courses.

With a very Spanish, relaxed kind of feel — lunch and dinner times are later than typical on a French or Swiss mountainside (though of course you can eat when you like) — even the ski lessons in Baqueira start later than is usual in other mountain resorts, often with a coffee break in the middle.

This wasn’t my first visit — I’ve skied in many places and the resort is one of my favourites. Even when I’ve skied in peak times (such as winter half term), the slopes are never crowded.

With the highest point of the resort at 2,616 metres and 629 snow cannons, plus plenty of well-kept, wide pistes, there’s always good skiing to be found.

Skiing in Spain might not yet a popular choice but it’s well worth making the trip while it still feels like a well-kept secret.

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