Skiing in Spain: Sun, ski and snow in Europe's most surprising resorts
Pradollano & Baqueira Beret
Did you know it's possible to ski within an hour's drive of Malaga? Isabel Conway hits the slopes in two surprising resorts.
We could ski in the morning and sunbathe by afternoon on the Costa del Sol, according to locals. I didn’t believe them.
It seemed surprising that this land so famed for beaches and summer sunshine should have any skiing at all. But I was wrong. Spain has been grooming its skiing potential for many years with big investment in ski resort infrastructure.
So I went hunting the white stuff, on a discovery of “late spring” skiing just an hour’s drive inland from Malaga. Traditionally referred to as “Sol y Nieve” (Sun and Snow), these days the area is better known as the mountain resort of Pradollano, 2,100 metres high in Andalusia’s Sierra Nevada range.
And so two ends of the land of sangria and siestas offered up a contrasting and interesting take on a winter sport break - with the added allure of being able to combine it with a couple of days in Andalusia with a choice of Malaga, Granada or chilling out along one of Irish holidaymakers' favourite sunshine strips.
But Pradollano is not the only surprise ski resort in Spain.
Baqueira Beret in the Pyrenees is Spain’s answer to top French resorts like Megeve or America’s Aspen. Usually snow-sure (even when snow is sparse in the Alps), it is smart, fashionable and well-managed - with the benefit of 50 years of development. A recent, €11 million investment in a new chair lift system and other infrastructure helps too.
Tucked away deep in the Pyrenees, Baqueira Beret is beloved of the Spanish Royal family who have a secluded chalet somewhere here. Terrain stretches high and wide above the tree line boasting a great range of easy to intermediate skiing and a few outstanding places to eat once you know where to look.
The downside is the four-hour bus transfer from Barcelona - on roads that twist and turn, albeit with great views of the valley floor and rivers snaking between the cliffs. On arrival, we discovered that our friends from London had flown into Toulouse with easyJet, hired a mini bus and would have completed the journey within an-hour-and-a-half had they not stopped for lunch in a delightful village on the way.
In early March, we enjoyed glorious sunshine, pistes groomed to perfection and just as they began to wear a little thin under a hot sun, we woke one morning to a decent dump of snow opening up the off-piste possibilities for better skiers.
Back down in the Sierra Nevada in mid-April, we expected Europe’s sunniest ski resort to live up to its name. Instead, we arrived at Plaza de Pradollano and our stylish Melia Sol Y Nieve hotel in the kind of relentless drizzle more common in the West of Ireland than sunny Spain.
A wet spring was underway and we watched the snow melt before our eyes over our two-day stay. We did manage to ski at altitude above 2,600m for half a morning, a strong Sahara wind dusting sand on to our helmets while the next day conditions improved and deckchairs were rolled out on to the slopes by mid-afternoon.
Luckily, our hotel boasted a superb spa with state of the art wellness facilities, massage jets and a enormous pool inside a Louvre-style glass pyramid after which we embarked on a relaxed wine tasting mission.
Resigned to the fact that we had chanced the visit a bit too late in the season, there was nothing for it but to visit the other highlights of southern Spain - including the Costa Tropical’s sleepy fishing villages and good restaurants less than 100km away.
Within a 40-minute drive of Sierra Nevada’s mountain heights, we were in Granada viewing the magnificent snowy backdrop to the Alhambra.
It made up for having to hand back the skis for another year.
Ryanair (ryanair.com) and Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) fly from Dublin to Barcelona, where you can get a daily bus services from central bus depot Barcelona to Bag. Conenctions to Malaga are also available from Cork.
For more information on Baqueira/Beret see baqueira.es, and for Sierra Nevada go to sierranevada.es, andalucia.org or spain.info.
Spain’s value for money
Baqueira-Beret and Sierra Nevada’s Pradollano purpose built villages, where most skiers stay, attract a mainly Spanish clientele for whom a long lunch (often stretching into mid-afternoon) sets up a gentle ski back down to the resorts to end the day.
Prices for memorable food and wines are a fraction of what we pay at home and in the Alps. Most restaurants only wake up after 9pm this being Spain and nightclubs are usually empty before 1 am.