The Buzz Of The Slopes At Baqueira Beret

VISTA ARGULLSThe rain in Spain may stay mainly on the plain. But the snow certainly falls on its magnificent mountains.

This will prove a welcome surprise to skiers and boarders whose default setting is heading for more familiar slopes in France and Austria, Switzerland and Italy.

Spain is a revelation. For winter sports fans, the jewel in Val’Daran’s crown is Baqueira-Beret, the most extensive of Spain’s ski resorts. The King of Spain certainly thinks so. He has a pad there for Royal Family hols and you might spot them whizzing down the slopes in their goggles and crash helmets.

While there are plenty of very attractive chi-chi developments of slate-roofed houses and apartments in the area, blending perfectly with the mountains and ancient cottages, the resort is a horror of modern architecture that would raise the hackles of our skiing royal, the Prince of Wales.

The Val d’Aran is known as the Valley of Valleys – a 230 square mile haven of towering peaks, forests and meadows that host unique species of butterflies. You won’t find them before May as the snows lay deep and crisp (ish) and even till March.

We took a day off skiing to explore Vielha, the capital of the Vall d’Aran, with its winding narrow streets, typical Arenese stone houses, stepped gables and carved wooden balconies.

The area is a hotch-potch of cultures, with the local language of Arenes a mix of Gascon French, Catalan and a smidgen of Basque – unintelligible to the rest of us. French day-trippers flock to the smart boutiques, posh shops and trendy restaurants while British tourists are more rare.

BAQUEIRAWe dipped into the cultural heritage of this unique area – the only Atlantic valley in the Eastern Pyrenees and, until the 1940s when a tunnel was blasted through the Maladeta peak, completely cut off from the rest of the world by the winter snows.

We toned our ski legs by climbing the height of the bell tower of the 12th century Church of Sant Mique to catch a view of the surrounding mountains and the pretty village square. And we were enchanted by Romanesque sculptures and fabulous frescos.

But man cannot live by frescos alone. We needed the buzz of the slopes, and Baqueira boasts a host of good intermediate slopes with great sunshine than can leave slushy conditions towards the end of the day. But the grooming is of a good standard, with plenty of hard-packed pistes to keep skiers if not inexperienced boarders in their element.

Baqueira celebrated its 50th year as a ski resort so it must be doing something right.

GETTING THERE:

Gill flew with easyJet between London Gatwick and Toulouse–She stayed at Hotel Montarto, visit www.en.montarto.com or more information on Baqueira/Beret, visit www.baqueira.es.

Gill Martin

Gill Martin

Gill Martin is an award winning travel writer and former Fleet Street journalist – Daily Mail reporter, Daily Express feature writer and Sunday Mirror Woman’s Editor.
She is a freelance writer for national newspapers from the Financial Times and Daily Telegraph to tabloids, magazines, regional newspapers and websites.
After a six month career break after the Indian Ocean tsunami where she volunteered as a communications consultant in Banda Aceh, Indonesia for Plan, the children’s charity, she is now focused on travel.
From skiing everywhere from Kashmir to Argentina, Morocco to Turkey, North America and all over Europe; snow shoeing in Canada; captain of the GB team of the Ski Club of International Journalists; whitewater rafting down the Zambezi; electric mountain biking in Switzerland and cycling in Portugal; Kenyan and South African safaris; riding elephants in India and horses in Brazil; paint balling in Romania; opera and archeology in Serbia; Caribbean snorkelling; sampling food and wine in Italy.

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