36 hours in Baqueira-Beret

a skier in orange makes fresh tracks off-piste

16.32 Still not there… but the final stage of the 300km route from Barcelona to Baqueira-Beret must be one of the world’s loveliest drives to a ski resort. Probably less so on a busy Friday night, but right now we’re alone, with just one pass to climb – the Bonaigua – before descending into Baqueira in the Val d’Aran.

How hard can that be?

17.37Just where the road has turned steep and twisty, it has also turned snowy. Why do they always do that? Can hardly see a thing now. Exciting, but not in a good way.

19.35 Made it, though it was a bit tense at one point. Thank goodness the hotel dining room opened five minutes ago– I’m starving – rather than keeping late Spanish hours. We weren’t the only ones on the dot either – far from it. Plenty of locals were practically knocking the door down. Which feeds into my theory about Spain and dinner time: correlation is not causation – the assumption is that everyone wants to eat late, but maybe they do so only because there’s no option to eat early, and so it goes on.

Anyway, to judge by the first-course buffet, with calamari, and other tasty fishy things, along with pancakes and a traditional soup ‘Olha Aranesa’– which looks like a three-course meal in a bowl – we won’t be going hungry while we’re here.

22.17 A quick look at the piste map before lights out, in preparation for exploring the jewel in the crown of Spain’s Pyrenean skiing, Baqueira-Beret. It looks immense – bigger than many Alpine resorts. Is that really possible out here? I mean, so close to Africa and all that non-skiing-y type of stuff like deserts and so-forth.

According to the stats, there’s over 160km of piste as well as some marked off-piste itineraries. Tomorrow could be fun.

dusk over a snowy mountain village, a church tower catching last of the light
wet streets photographed at night of an attractive village, lit up warmly, the people moving a blur

9.07 OK, maybe quite a lot of people ate late after all. We’re halfway up the Baqueira telecabine and – though it didn’t snow half a metre overnight (boo!) – the sun is shining, the piste below looks incredible and there’s very nearly no-one here (hooray!).

In the parallel universe that is skiing-in-the European-Alps, there would have been a queue at the base station about half a mile long. This is all most promising.

9.25 Also promising is our guide for the day, who we meet at the top of the lift. Carlos – an instructor with Ski Inspired’s BB Ski School – will be whizzing us around as much of the resort as possible in one day. Even with all of Baqueira’s 35 lifts – many of them speedy multi-person chairlifts – I feel it might be a tall order. And, of course, there’s a chance our legs will fall off in the attempt.

9.32 Carlos gives a quick explanation of the area’s four sectors – Baqueira, Beret, Baciver and Bonaigua – and then we’re off, exploring the reds and blues that make up most of the Baqueira section before firing down the Luis Arias black – just skier’s right of the long Jorge Jordana chairlift. What a run, with access into various itineraries and steep sidecountry, which drops into a partly wooded valley; lots of good terrain in there and the snow’s been pretty nice where we’ve dared to dabble.

9.58 In the time it takes us to ride the Jesus Serra chair, Carlos explains how the Val d’Aran is the only ‘north facing’ Spanish valley in the Pyrenees. Its river, the Garona, flows northwards out of the mountains and is better known further downstream, where it gives its name to the bit of France known as ‘Lot-et-Garonne’.

The theory is that the amazing snow we’re skiing – dry and fluffy – is a function of being north of the watershed, but I’m dubious. It’s still a very sunny place, after all, and I think some magic must be involved.

Further research required – definitely one to ask a pal who’s an expert in geography and meteorology, and generally knows everything. Forget Google, I’m thinking we should have an app: ‘Ask Monty’.

yellow deckchairs on a snowy mountain under the sun, with a great mountain view
How can there be this much sun and that much good snow?

9.59 A couple of drag lifts and we’re at the top of the Baciver lift – a 2,610m domain high point – where Carlos does a peak-naming ceremony and ritual pointing of the ski pole, then it’s off to pick up the Eth Coret red run, which was only made in 2019.

It’s superb, twisting through a stunning bit of mixed terrain – lovely rocky outcrops, trees, and open country.

We’ll definitely have to come back for another go; this is my favourite so far.

a skier in orange makes fresh tracks off-piste

11.57 The morning’s been a bit of a blur. It’s already time to head towards lunch via the Argulls chair into the Bonaigua sector, which has a top-of-the-world feel to it. Carlos has moved from favourite topic number one: snow and skiing, to number two: food. It’s not just what you eat in the Val d’Aran, but where.

West from Baqueira is a string of old villages, in one of which – Garos – is our hotel, the Vila Garos, complete with a large bear in reception. In a neighbouring village– Arties – practically every other house is a restaurant.

Meanwhile, just 14km down the hill from the resort is Vielha, a buzzing town that is food-heaven. Its old centre along the river is built entirely of tapas bars. That’s a plan for tonight, then.

12.05 No mucking around at the top – just straight down to the pass we drove over last night, to the distinctive Cap del Port – its tower and solid stonework makes it look a bit like a castle. Built in 1924 it was originally lodgings for hydroelectric engineers. Fortunately for us it’s now a restaurant.

12.32 Inside is rammed, but Carlos worked his magic and we’re tucking into a version of black pudding, with a fantastic pasta-like spicy something-or-other that has the consistency of refried French fries. Whatever it is, it’s amazing and top skier-fuel, and a bargain.

13.43 Off again, and still heading away from Baqueira. I’d imagined the pass was the edge of domain, but in fact there’s more. One short chair before skiing east, then a longer chair to the Cap de la Peulla. Off the top to the left there’s some serious skiing; it may ‘only’ be about 400 vertical metres back to the bottom of the lift but it’s steep ground, with room for reds and a black, which loops out and then down through forest, with glimpses east down the Bonaigua river valley.

14.26 Time to head back towards the centre of the domain– roughly retracing our steps, though skiing down faces we rode up and vice versa.

photo taken from a chairlift of a vry snowy ski area

15.35 We’ve made it back across the lift system to the wide base of Beret, with time to take on the Dossau peak (2,450m). I can see what they’ve done here: take a right, along a sort of ridge from the top station to reach a handy drag – almost more along than up – which opens up multiple parallel pistes down a big mountainside. That’s an efficient way of doing things without clogging up the mountain with lift pylons.

There’s a lovely mellow route down past a funpark from where you can loop round to do it all again, but we keep skier’s left of yet another chairlift to ride back to Baciver.

Tapas bar number three… I like this style of eating: you can just keep on going, with plenty of variety, a bit like the skiing here

15.43 Just time to return to base via a repeat of Eth Coret and past the Moet Winter Lounge. If you’re remotely lacking in self-control that might detain you for a while…

17.53 We’ve ‘done’ it, just about – the bare bones. The rest of the week we’ll be revisiting our favourite bits (that’s most of it) and the one sector, west of Beret, which we didn’t fit in today. For now it’s back for a bath and tapas.

skiers all headed home at the end of the day, under a chairlift, the valley filled with clouds ahead of them
The home run from Beret

20.49 Tapas bar number three and we’re just getting into our stride. I like this style of eating: you can just keep ongoing, with plenty of variety, a bit like the skiing here. On both fronts we should have plenty to occupy us for therest of our week.

21.52 Taverna Urtau Vielha: this is our final tapas bar fortonight, I promise. On our way here we spotted lots ofpreviously deserted restaurants, which are now rammed.I think we might have to draw up a spreadsheet to make surewe visit all the best ones, if we can drag ourselves beyond thehotel’s dining room.Meanwhile, we’ve got a plan for tomorrow: Blanhiblar andCostarjas – the mountains west of Beret, which we missedcompletely today, and which are handily east facing formorning sun. According to Carlos, if we make the short hiketo the crest we can see straight down into the next valley tohis house, so we’ll give him a wave. And maybe we cantempt him out again before the end of the week. I’ve a feelingthere’s a lot more skiing for him to show us.

a skier in blue and orange walks away from the camera, skis on shoulder, towards a mountain church surrounded by snow

Don’t miss

New pistes
Baqueira has new pistes and route improvements this season. Not just a question of creating more skiable space, but of reducing congestion for the return to resort – we like that. You can now reach Orri via blue run Vista Beret, or ski to the centre of Beret via Clòt der Os; also in Beret, a couple of runs have been adapted so that they no longer cross each other. From Mirador de Baqueira you can try anew 770m red run Barqueta for access to Arguls and Bonaigua and, at Baqueira 1800, the Bosque piste has been added, from Telecabina Baqueira cable carto Esquiròs.

Night-time dog sledding to Montgarri
Head 14km by dog sled in search of dinner in the mountains north of Baqueira, to the historic hamlet of Montgarri. In the old stone refuge you are served a gourmet meal of Aranese specialities, washed down with enough wine to fortify you for the return journey. Don’t forget your coat.

You thought you’d come to Spain, but listen out in bars and shops for Aranese. It’s one of the region’s three official tongues, along with Catalan and Spanish, and is a version of the language spoken in Occitania (the ancient region stretching across southern France from the Atlantic into Italy). Over 80% of the valley’s 10,000 inhabitants can understand Aranese and 60% speak it. Since 1984 it has been taught along with Spanish in local schools.

Val d’Aran dry gin
Gin ‘de Nauta Montanha’ is produced by local mountain guide Roger Martorell. In winter he finds powder to ski; in summer it’s herbs for gin, such as wild oregano and thyme, ‘savory’ and gentian.

Iglesia de Sant Andrèu de Salardú
We don’t care if you don’t do ‘old’ or ‘church’ (this one is nearly 1,000 years old and has a 25m-high bell tower): you must stop in here to have a look at the pictures. It’s plastered with wall paintings which, considering they were done about 500 years ago, are in pretty good nick. Just 5km down the road from Baqueira base station, open 9am-8pm. There is no excuse.


The most convenient airport for Baqueira is Toulouse (180km); shuttle transfers take about two hours.

In the resort of Baqueira itself is a range of lodgings with easy access to lifts. A few bends uphill towards Beret is Tanau, at 1,700m, with smaller hotels and the Esquiros chairlift into the ski domain.

For an authentic experience of the valley, staying at Hotel Vilagarós gives the best of all worlds – village life and a speedy hotel shuttle to the slopes. Doubles from around €150. Or opt for tapas and nightlife in Vielha, from where hotels such as the Era Borda has efficient shuttles to reach the skiing.

On-piste guiding by a ski instructor, from £120 (half day) or £228 (full day) for four people with BB Ski School; they also offer a range of tuition, including an off-piste course (22-26 Jan 2024). Also see Snoworks for backcountry courses.

❄ For more info go to baqueira.es/en and visitvaldaran.com