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Skiing in Spain over Christmas in picturesque, historic location - Where should we go?

Skiing in Spain over Christmas in picturesque, historic location - Where should we go?

May 2nd, 2000, 01:08 AM
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Skiing in Spain over Christmas in picturesque, historic location - Where should we go?

We would like to spend Christmas in the snow in a picturesque village/town, with good skiing, amenities, restaurants etc and preferably close to "historic" areas. Are you able to recommend a village/town, apartments/hotels/guesthouses etc. We live in Australia so it's difficult to locate the right "areas" to focus our investigation of suitable places to stay. We would love to locate a traditional area which will also allow us to join in festivities and feasts over the Christmas period. We speak Spanish and French as well as English.
May 2nd, 2000, 05:29 AM
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Hi, Gillian.
Three places come up to me. If you want great skiing, Baqueira-Beret in Vall d´Aran. Maybe the biggest resort in Spain, fine slopes to cater all tastes, and maybe the royal family returns after a year in the Canary Islands. In that case, everybody will want to go there, so better to book early.
Another one, Sierra Nevada, near Granada. The highest resort, and if the weather is fine, you can go down to the Mediterranean.
And the last one, my favourite, Jaca. Small town, one of the first romanic cathedrals in the Saint James´Way, a military fortress still working, 4 resorts nearby (Candanchú, Astún, Formigal and Panticosa), a spa (Panticosa) and France across the border. Pau and Oloron-Sainte Marie, think of the Bearn, think of Henri IV...
And sometimes you can even get white Christmas down in Jaca...
Any questions, here you can find me.
rgds, Cova
May 2nd, 2000, 01:56 PM
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I concur completely with Cova regarding Spain's two best, most up-to-date ski resorts, Baqueira Beret in Catalunya and "Solynieve" in Sierra Nevada. We don't ski but have spent time in both areas, and it is much like visiting two strikingly different countries.

Baqueria Beret in the majestic Swiss looking Catalan Pyrennes is 5 hrs. northwest of Barcelona (you can also fly into Toulouse, which is closer) in a valley, once an independent country, which was completely isloated from the rest of Spain for most of the yr. until a tunnel arrived in 1948. Some locals still speak the Aranese language, similar to Gascon, and you'll find catalan, French (since it's a stone's throw from the border and historically was aligned with France) and some Spanish spoken as well. We love these extremely picturesque tiny Val D'Aran villages with their 12th c Romanesque churches, cute granite, steep slate roofed houses and breathtaking alpine like views, the river Garona runs thru the valley, lots of meadows, and you'll have fabulous, sophisticated French-Catalan cuisine and great cava in simple "bordas"(stables) and Michelin starred restaurants. One of Catalunya's finest, "Casa Irene" in Arties, "Casa Estampa" in Escunhau and "Casa Peru" in Baguergue are a few favorites (incredibly fine food and not expensive), nice accomodations in 2 paradors (I find the one in Arties prettier and more recently refurbished), large ski hotels (we really liked the Tredos) and many cozy B&Bs to choose from (Casa Irene/Hotel Valarties in Arties is a personal fav.-or the adjacent Besiberri). As Cova says the Royal Family skis there, so it has considerably cachet. Plus, if you like walking (or jeep) excursions, you have gorgeous trails in the vast, magnificent Parque Nacional de Aigues Tortes. Truly stunning beauty everywhere you look in this heavenly valley. We love it so much we considered trying to purchase property there (there are also timeshares and house rentals) but decided against it due to the relative isolation and the fact that it's really much more France than Spain, but it still remains very tempting...can't stress enough how picturesque and bucolic this area is!

Have only been in summer but didn't find much natural beauty at the modern Solynieve complex (uninspiring with some deforestation), and lodging looked far less charming, but it held the World Alpine Championships in 96, and you'd certainly have the advantage of the 30 min drive to Moorish Granada, plus 1 hr. more of a very pretty drive down to Salobrena on the Med. And down in Granada you'll have your full complement of amazing historic sights of the 700+ yr. Reconquest-the Alhambra, Cathedral, Royal Chapel (burial place of the Reyes Catolicos) plus, if this is your first trip, more of the atmosphere of "quintessential" Spain that brings to mind flamenco, guitars, castanets, toros, sherry and tapas. If you're there Jan. 6 you could join in the city's celebration of the Fiesta de los Reyes Magos.
Again, two totally unlike experiences in two vastly different regions, Catalunya verus Andalucia.

I'm not as fond of Jaca as a town (hasn't grown on me yet) as I am of the delightful, storybook Aran villages, but you would have all the nice "extras" that Cova has so wisely mentioned, it is young and lively at night, plus it's a short drive to two castles and monasteries (Javier and Leyre to the west, Loarre and San Juan de la Pena to the south) and the two lovely valleys of Anso and Hecho are worth exploring.

Here are some web sites to help you decide:
for skiing in Spain,

for "Solynieve", Sierra Nevada:

for Baqueira-Beret, Vall D'Aran:

for Jaca:
May 3rd, 2000, 01:17 AM
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Hi Cova and Maribel,

Thanks so much for your very helpful comments. I will now get back to my Fodors Guide book and "work up" an itinerary. Vall D'Aran, and Jaca seem to fit the bill best!

A couple of other questions come to mind...Will we be able to travel by public transport to these areas, or will we need to rent a car? We will probably be arriving from within Spain (not France). I don't have any experience driving in snowy conditions.

We will want to stay somewhere that it is easy to get around. Do the villages in Vall D'Aran, and does Jaca, have easy access to snow fields, or will we need a car? It may perhaps be easier to be based somewhere that we can walk, or get regular public transport.Maybe the snow is only high up in the hills, but not down in the villages!...I just don't know!

Separately, we are very keen to be able to join in a local Christmas (Noche Buena y Navidad) if at all possible, both in terms of going to church and, if possible, eating a traditional Christmas meal in a local restaurant, or within a "guesthouse" envinroment.Do you have any suggestions here?

I look forward to hearing from you again. Thanks! Gillian
May 3rd, 2000, 02:18 AM
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Hi, Gillian.
Jaca has public transport, both by bus and train (from Zaragoza or Madrid). You can check the train schedule on www.renfe.es, and I have the bus schedule some place (although my mum says that the bus stops for too long time in Huesca), I must look for it.
I don´t know about Baqueira, I guess there is, but it probably will be by bus.
If you are planning to stay in one place, and being able to get to the slopes without using a car, the best place is Baqueira-Beret. Here you will be more likely to find snow covered roads, but usually you don´t have major problems.
In Jaca you have to drive at least 30 kms to get to the nearest slope. There is a public bus going up and down the Valle del Aragon towards Astún and Candanchú, and I think there is another in the Valle de Tena for Formigal and Panticosa. I have taken a couple of time the bus to Astún. I didn´t find it OK, because I was carrying all my gear (and the boots and the skis can be bulky), but if you are renting (I guess that´s your case), it would be easier, because you can rent in the resorts.
But Jaca is better with a car. Don´t worry about the road, there are so many people going that they have to take care of the road cleaning. The good thing about having a car is that you can move around, go to Loarre (magnificent castle) or to San Juan de la Peña. Go to the small villages and the various valleys surrounding the region.
Christmas´Eve Mass should be at the cathedral, and don´t forget to buy "turrón" (made with almonds and honey) in Echeto (and so many other cakes and pastries). There is a nice small hotel in Jaca, "Conde Aznar", I like, and quite a few restaurants...
I agree with Maribel regarding Vall d´Aran. Years ago we used to go there and stayed at the Parador de Viella, but now friends have stayed at Arties (although I think Arties is a bit far away of the slopes, you should look for something nearer), and they say it´s nicer. The people from Aran used to feel more "araneses" and spaniards than catalans, but that was years ago. Nevertheless, it is a fine place for skiing.
But remember you are thinking about Christmas. Book, in both cases, in advance. And when I say advance, I don´t mean end of November. You might find a place, but they are very popular Christmas, and specially New Year´s Eve destinations.
Good luck, Cova
May 3rd, 2000, 02:51 PM
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Hi gillian,
Me again with a few more thoughts...
Regarding transp., as Cova says, you'll probably want a car for the Jaca area, as there's no skiing in Jaca itself, and you'll likely want the car to make other excursions (Castillo de Loarre, San Juan de la Pena, Hecho/Anso) besides trips to the slopes. If you fly into Madrid, there's a train that leaves at 2:45 p.m. and takes 6 1/2 hrs., or the drive thru Zaragoza should take about the same. It's about a 5 hr. drive from Barcelona but no direct train.
For the Vall D'Aran, there's bus service linking all the villages from Vielha, the capital, to the ski slopes in Baqueira-Beret and taxis as well (distance is only 13 km.) To reach the valley, you can drive from Barcelona or take a bus leaving at 2:30 p.m., arriving at 7:30. Because this is Spain's #1 ski resort, the roads will be kept passable; in fact the valley will be packed with cars.
As to accomodations, in Jaca I also recommend the family run Conde de Aznar. It's pretty, cozy, friendly and its restaurant "La Cocina Aragonesa" has great food and a fireplace. Because the hotel and restaurant are combined, it will be open on Christmas Eve for dinner. And later you can attend the "misa de gallo" at the Cathedral.
For Vall D'Aran, if you prefer a guesthouse environment with a nice restaurant, I'd suggest either the family run Hotel Valarties (cozy dormer rms) with its fabulous, famous restaurant "Casa Irene" next door in Arties (Irene Espana and her son run both--email: [email protected], phone: 973 64 09 00), the Deth Pais (973 64 58 36) in Salardu or the Hotel de Tredos (lovely rms, beautiful views-973 64 40 14) in Tredos. We've tried all 3-you won't be disappointed!
While Vielha is the capital of the valley where you'll find most shops, the tourist office, ice rink, bars, supermarkets, pizzerias, fast food and nightlife, the other villages mentioned above are actually closer, not further, from the slopes. Viehla is next to the Tuca-Betren slopes but Arties-Salardu-Tredos (in that order) are closer to Baqueira. Both the church in Viehla and those in Arties and Salardu should have midnight mass on Christmas Eve (but most likely said in catalan or aranes rather than Spanish, but knowing French and Spanish you shouldn't have any problem).
If you feel that you should stay in the capital, Viehla, I would not choose the Parador outside of town towards the tunnel because you'll have to drive back and forth and then hassle with parking-stay at the family run Hotel Fonfreda in the town center (973 64 04 86) and walk to the best restaurant in town for dinner, "Era Mola Maria Jose y Gustavo" (in a renovated stable). The "Frankfurt Aran", a hole-in-the-wall, downtown on the main highway has fantastic sandwiches. We ate all our brks/lunches there.
As Cova wisely suggests, reserve your hotel ASAP and have them make restaurant reservs. for you, particularly in the Vall D'Aran.
You can see pics of the Vall D'Aran villages at www.aranweb.com/PUEBLOS/
Click on the Arties-Garos section of the map, then the Pujolo section and view each village. Scenery is spectacular.

I highly recommend the Rough Guide-Pyrennes as a helpful guidebook to take with you for either resort.

If you can't secure lodging, I'll be glad to share with you my list of small guesthouses (casas de pages) if you email me directly.

Good luck and have a great trip!


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