When it comes to the easy life, Baqueira-Beret has it covered. Pop out of Hotel Himalaia Baqueira, one of the resort’s biggest, best hotels, a delight in stone, wood and slate, and there’s just short walk through an indoor arcade of shops and bars – carpeted and with a glass roof – before emerging by the gondola.
Other restaurants and shops line paths among the trees and apartments. The resort, hidden in the Spanish Pyrenees, may be modern but there’s a feel of tradition, the buildings that snake up the hillside built from stone in grandiose fashion. It’s snowsure, too, with skiing up to 2,656m.
The Spanish royal family has regularly holidayed here and that says a lot. The gondola is the only way out from the main centre (Baqueira) while another, rises from Tanau, a real old village on the slopes a little farther up. Beret is little more than restaurant, car park and beginner slopes at the far end of the area.
And this is a great place for beginners, with easy slopes to get around on from end to end, but it’s also great for experts, too, with excellent off-piste. And there’s a wealth of cruising to please anyone – there is 160km of piste but in good conditions almost every slope of the mountains is skiable.
The slopes run along a valley offering a variety of scenery; sometimes it’s familiar (Alp-like peaks), sometimes something more local (rounded, bare mountains of the sort that are familiar if you’ve ventured into nearby Andorra).
Chairlifts reach the 2,500m Cap de Baqueira peak with ways down for all levels. There is a big selection of red runs but ways down, too, for early intermediates as well as some blacks. Off (and up) to one side is the Baciver area. You have to take two drag lifts (the second a dream-like journey through a rocky, alien landscape) to reach the 6,610m peak. From here the Estanholets red is like a rollercoaster, twisting through gullies and around jagged outcrops, before linking up with the main pistes giving a run all the way back to base, passing Tanau on the way, a drop of more than 1,000m. At the other end of the resort is Bonaigua where the La Puella chair opens up a near self-contained area of enchanting runs for all levels as well as off-piste.
But this isn’t just about the skiing, it’s about the laid-back lifestyle, Spanish with hints of French (Toulouse in France is the nearest airport, Barcelona and the Med is on the other side of the mountains.
Lunch at Grill Cinco Jotas (accessible from the top of the gondola even if you’re not skiing) can last all afternoon. It’s a world of Iberico ham, giant hocks swinging from the ceiling transformed into extravagant platters, followed by pork (or lamb or squid) looked over open coals. Even the modern buffet restaurant, El Bosque, next door is a place of style and excellent food including Spanish stews and creamy cakes.
A couple of miles down the valley is the historic village of Arties, all stone buildings, the waters of the Garonne rushing through on their way to the Rhone. Here the Urtau tapas bar is a night out for locals and visitors alike, the platters of ham, squid, octopus and more celebrating both land and the Med and Atlantic, both within easy reach.
But Hotel Himalaia Baqueira, opened under the Pierre & Vacances banner in time for the 2018/19 ski season, a world of trendy, contemporary décor, is at the heart of the resort and has plenty to keep you inside. Three restaurants include a splendid buffet and a Spanish menu (the included breakfasts are lavish with plenty of Spanish dishes, too, including frittata, even roast chillies). And the bar has as its centrepiece a huge Tibetan prayer wheel, the largest of the many pieces of Tibetan and Nepalese art that decorate the hotel. There’s also a glass-roofed swimming pool, outdoor hot tub and gym.
The hotel doesn’t restrict itself to staying in – it offers free ski guiding several days a week along with snowshoeing and even snowy walks under the stars.
Baqueira-Beret offers free lift passes to those 70 and over but has plenty of other things to do – dog sledding, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing.
The resort is 160km from Toulouse airport but there are no transfers, so a hire car is needed. It’s an easy, scenic drive also gives you chance to explore the Val d’Aran which has 30 Romanesque churches in its 33 villages with painted ceilings, frescoes and Gothic arches galore.
This is an easy-going place – and the ultimate ease is that the Himalaia Baqueira even has its own ski lockers under the gondola, so you don’t even have to carry skis and boots around.
For more information about Baqueira-Beret, visit www.baqueira.es
For more information about Val d’Aran, visit www.visitvaldaran.com
Hôtel Himalaia Baqueira
Seven nights’ accommodation with breakfast at Pierre & Vacances 4-star Hôtel Himalaia Baqueira starts from £286pp / 333€pp based on two people sharing a double room. Return flights to Toulouse are available from London Gatwick with easyJet priced from £45pp. Return transfers from Toulouse Airport to Baqueira-Beret cost from £309pp based on two people sharing a vehicle. Read more
A six-day adult lift pass for Baqueira-Beret is priced from £216 / 252€.
Six day’s ski and boot hire from the Baqueira-Beret Equipment Hire Shops is priced from £86 / 100€
The Baqueira British Ski School provide high quality ski and snowboard tuition in English at competitive prices.For more information, visit www.bbskischool.co.uk
Ongosa provide a range of ski guide and ski instructor services in Baqueria-Beret and throughout the region. For more Information, visit www.ongosa.com/discover/ski/guides/baqueira
Exciting Events provide splitboarding experiences from £168 / 196€ for four hours. For more information, visit www.excitingevents.es