When it comes to the south of Spain, snow sports and beach holidays don’t have to be distinct trips
As a sun worshipper and beach kind of gal, and having skied about a dozen times in my life, I find it hard to give up a week of my hard-earned holidays for seven days on the slopes, not to mention the cash that you fork out.
So I’ve found the perfect, feasible, happy balance: two days in Spain’s Sierra Nevada mountains and five days on the Costa del Sol - la vida ski and sea.
More months guarantee sun than snow these days, sadly, but generally the months of snow on the Sierras are bankable in our springtime. When I booked my trip for the middle of April last year, there was good snowfall in the mountains and 24/26C temps along the coastline.
Start by flying into Malaga airport on a super early morning flight, which gives you the possibility of a few hours on the slopes that same day – it’s best to shop around, but we went with the 7.20am flight with Aer Lingus (from €160pp return) and Delpaso car hire (€41/day).
Driving is the fastest route to the mountains (just over two hours) — unless you take the taxi option (from €170) or share the fare with a minibus if going with a group (from €230).
Spain’s roads are very good and easily navigable. You may have to pay a toll or two (€3.40) if driving, depending on the route you take, but there are clear signposts all the way to Granada and then again when you turn off for Sierra Nevada.
With a huge long-stay car park underneath the main village of Pradollano, that’s easily accessible via lifts, you can safely leave your vehicle overnight (€20/day).
Sierra Nevada is a small resort but full of shops, restaurants, bars and hotels for all pockets. We checked into the pristine, centrally located and friendly four-star Hotel Kenia Nevada, which probably hadn’t been done up since the 1980s but had that cool James Bond-esque feel (approx €320 for two nights B&B and dinner, two people sharing).
As it was hitting late afternoon at that stage, there was time to grab a quick pizza, get geared up (from €16), purchase a day and a half mountain pass (approx €80) from the town centre ticket offices and test out the ‘peaks’. There’s a huge choice of ski rental shops — the closer they are to the lifts, the more expensive they are.
There are 19 easy green runs but if you’re a total newbie on the slopes, I’d wait til the following morning and avail of a two-hour-long class with a personal instructor (€90 for one person or €106 for two) to get you comfortable on the snow. You’ll be gliding on the slightly steeper blues before you know it.
For the seasoned skier, there are some nice red and black trails but less tree-lined than what you’ll get in the Alps — hence, two days may perfectly fill the void. If you’re going with smallies, there’s school for four-year-olds and upwards or all-day creche at Centro Ludico Infantil for under fours (€60/day).
We had a mix of cloud and blue skies that showed off the beautiful vistas, which, if you’ve made it to the resort’s peaks, stretch as far as the Mediterranean and Morocco’s Atlas mountains. The waiting times for lifts weren’t long too as we went midweek, which I recommend to avoid the local crowds at the weekend.
Aprés ski isn’t just designated to the French. The Spanish may even have more staying power — I had visited the Sierras on two separate occasions before: once when I was on a romantic trip away with an ex-boyfriend (dinner for two in a fancy restaurant) and another time with a group of girlfriends (cocktails in a bar followed by dancing in a club till about 4am).
This time, however, the swimming pool and buffet dinner proved ideal with my two-year-old. One thing to note when you book a spa-type hotel in Spain is that sometimes the sauna, steam room and jacuzzi facilities cost extra. It’s a drag more than anything when you rock up ready to relax those muscles and you’re hit with: ‘Es extra’.
Although the hotel buffet didn’t have anything outstanding, it had a satisfying selection of tasty salads, pasta and stews, baked fish or chicken and chips. And when you’re travelling with picky kids, it’s the perfect opportunity to get them to try a bit of everything, or help themselves for seconds if they’re that bit older.
Ending the night on an array of delightful desserts makes bartering with bedtime all the more sweeter too.
We spent a full day on the slopes the next day and ended by giving my toddler a taste of the snow on a sleigh — which can be rented for €5 at the end of the slope after 5pm from the street merchants. I can honestly say that my knees were starting to wobble at that point so I was glad to be facing into a sun lounger at our five-star near the beach.
After a sound night’s sleep and hearty breakfast, we took off extra early the next day and were back at the car rental shop by mid afternoon. The car rentals usually include a drop-off service to airport arrivals so you can easily get a taxi, or in our case, a train to Torremolinos.
Five nights B&B at the child-friendly Essence Hotel Boutique, which included an outdoor pool (unheated), free-to-use hot and cold jacuzzi, sauna and hamam steam room, cost €540 for a double room. The kitsch-hip interior was a refreshing break from the traditional family resort affair too. It didn’t have a kids club or kids pool, but it had huge sofa beds and my little one was delighted to be allowed in the jacuzzi, plus the beach was a three-minute walk away.
You could see the sea from the balcony of our comfortable fourth-floor room and we woke each day to a delicious breakfast buffet of fresh fruit, egg and rasher fry-up, Spanish charcuterie spread, pastries and Cava. Snoozing by the pool in the sun till lunchtime proved the best aperitif.
Torremolinos is not one for the cultured sightseeing fanatic and may have an edge of tack to it with all the knick-knack shops and ex-pat focussed restaurants, but it’s easy for that certain stage in your life.
The choice of chiringuitos (wooden beachside restaurants) offer a taste of real Spain with loads of fish-focussed dishes cooked fresh on the barbecue. And the promenade stretches for miles, which is handy if you’re pushing a buggy. All you need then is a beach lounger and book — and bucket and spade if you’re travelling with smallies.
Further down the coast in La Carihuela, fancy beachside bars deliver drinks as you sunbathe and there are massage beds under pergolas (€20/30mins) if you need to loosen up tight legs after the slopes.
If, however, you’re looking for that hit of cultured sustenance, head to nearby Malaga to witness some of the beautiful remnants of the Moorish invasion at the Alcazaba (fortress) or learn entry-level Cubism at the Picasso museum. Foodies are in for a treat too, with a choice of Michelin-star restaurants or tapa and wine tasting tours.
But after light-tanning days on the beach, lazy balmy strolls back to our hotel in the evening, with a nightcap and bite along the way, or a nose in the selection of clothes shops, all my holiday needs were met.
Now that’s my kind of ski trip.
For more information on Spain and Sierra Nevada, see spain.info and sierranevada.es.
For flights and car hire: aerlingus.com; delpasocarhire.com
For hotels: kenianevada.com; essencehotel.es
Etain also used englishskischool.com and malaga.com