Spain’s hidden Mountain Gems… for Summer & Winter!2.11.18 | Oliver
The mountain ranges of Switzerland, Austria, Italy and France are some of Europe’s most popular to explore during the summer months with breathtaking scenery, easy driving routes, plenty of alpine activities for all ages and good quality cuisine and culture to take in. There is however a European country that isn’t quite as synonymous with winter ski or summer lake and mountain holidays, and one which is one of the easiest to get to from many airports in the UK.
It has however always been the Brits favourite destination for a summer beach holiday and has been since the 1950’s! It’s home to ski resorts described by the experts as the true ‘hidden gems’, frequented by Spanish royalty. An abundance of runs with very few queues and excellent quality facilities. In the summer months, driving to Spain’s Pyrenees is a dream…. the country’s road network is vast and unlike the UK, as soon as you leave a major city the numbers of cars competing for space on the road dramatically drops.
I’ve had holidays in the two regions in both winter and summer and I can’t sing their praises high enough. Here’s my brief guide and hopefully it will inspire you to go too.
Skiing in Spain
There are a number of good quality resorts, my favourite are Formigal and Baqueira Beret. I took a week to experience both resorts and to be honest, having skied all my life around other parts of Europe and North America I was a little dubious. Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised.
Our first stop was Formigal, an easy 4-hour drive from Barcelona, and a beautiful one at that. Unlike some of the other European ski resorts, the lack of non-Spanish tourists means there are far less people driving to the resorts, and these two are a little further away from the main cities meaning a day trip is more challenging.
Formigal has a vast number of runs and we never queued once. A fresh snow storm arrived on day 2, which added further challenges to some of the already difficult black runs; but this also made for a really adventurous skiing experience. Rarely, during peak skiing months in Europe can you be the only two enjoying a run in the midday sun!
Whilst my brother would push me to try some of the harder runs, I should mention that Formigal has a great selection of lower level runs for families and beginners. With less people there, the kids seemed to be getting more of a personal learning experience too.
Apre Ski isn’t at its strongest in Formigal, but there were a few good quality local restaurants which offered an enjoyable selection of Spanish/French fusion mountain cooking. I would recommend 2-3 days as we did and then move on to your next stop, for us this was the Royalty-Ready Baqueira Beret.
The drive from Formigal took around 3.5hrs as we travelled as close as you can drive parallel along the mountain range. Again, the lack of fellow drivers made it a pleasurable journey as we snaked between the peaks along the modern roads.
Beret is very well known in Spain as their best ski resort, and many ski journalists’ class it as the best in Europe. There is a certain quality in the air and whilst it doesn’t have a traditional Main Street or commercial centre as you find in the North American resorts, it does offer some of the most expensive and exclusive accommodations, and what is the most important thing for any ski holiday… extremely high quality ski suns for all levels, excellent, swift lifts as with Formigal very little time is spent queuing.
My brother often insists we ski pretty much every run in every resort we visit, and this was certainly a major challenge here as there were so many! The challenging by far are on the Tuc deth Dossau, the resorts highest peak. On our last day we enjoyed a well-deserved drink just in time to be the last to ski down there is always something special about being one of the last down a run in the afternoon, having it all to oneself is a real treat!
Cuisine is the major highlight of the Apre Ski scene here. You won’t find any night-clubs here, but you will find fine dining and I can definitely recommend Ticolet as the spot to catch a special meal (do book ahead!)
Whilst there are other Spanish ski resorts, in comparison; Formigal and Baqueira Beret are the two which I would head for first and I am sure you won’t be disappointed.
Lakes & Mountains in Spain
In the same mountain range, and again driving from Barcelona we headed towards the Parador Biesla, a unique historic hotel perched high in the Pyrenees, just over Mt Pertido from France. The journey was a great experience in itself. We soon left the motorway behind and stopped at The Mont Rebei Gorge for lunch and a small hike.
These were scenes you would expect only to see when visiting the Great Lakes in North America. The bold green/blue of the water perfectly mirroring the rocky surrounding, engulfed by silence as we turned off the engine. Very few foreign visitors know about this unique spot in Spain and I must urge you to try it out, especially as it is only a couple of hours drive from Barcelona! To experience the full 6hr round trip hike you need to stop over nearby. Or there is a shorted 3.5 hour round trip but it is not for the faint hearted with sheer drops along the way. Alternatively, you can board the boat or self-canoe for a more serene experience. The scenery was breathtaking!
We continued on our journey along the locally famous N230 road, winding through the hills, past small villages, more lakes and flat planes – a landscape for each season. Soon we turned off this scenic route and headed up into the mountains, through villages specialising in adventure pursuits such as mountain biking, hiking and climbing. We eventually arrived at Parador Biesla, located as the final stop of the road and surrounded by towering rocky peaks with natural waterfalls bursting through, roaring in the background. Whilst we were staying for just one night before our onward journey down into France and onto the Basque Country, we could easily see why our fellow visitors were booked in for a few nights. The remoteness, peace and quiet and opportunities for exploration were soon apparent.
The journey time direct from Barcelona to Biesla would be just around 4 hours. My top tip for this journey would be to hire a decent size automatic SUV, it gives you extra height to see the scenery and also allows the driver you to relax a little more and take it all in.
To plan and book your holiday to the Spanish Pyrenees, call RB Collection on 01543 258631 or email email@example.comSpain