Barèges is an old Roman spa town famous for its thermal springs. Napoleon III built a military hospital here so that his battle weary troops could benefit from the healing waters. Barèges Thermes are still open today and are kept busy in winter by skiers who go there to have their muscles soothed by the hot sulphuric water after a hard day on the slopes. Due to the thermal springs and its altitude (its the highest spa town in France), Barèges is a year round resort with crowds coming here to enjoy the natural healing spas which can soothe many ailments, especially arthritis and rheumatism. The village itself has a quaint medieval feel - it has one main street which lengthens each year as the village develops. The skiing is made up mainly of wooded trails and valleys making it one of the prettier resorts in the Pyrenees.
Barèges was one of the first ski resorts to open in the area, becoming popular in the early 1900's for its cross country trails. It was only in the 1920's that ski lifts were installed and the resort really got started. Situated at the foot of the Pic du Midi de Bigorre, Barèges is connected to La Mongie by the Col du Tourmalet which makes this one of the largest skiing areas in the Pyrénées with over 120km of piste. During the summer the Col du Tourmalet, and the steep climb up from Barèges and over to La Mongie is one of the most challenging sections in the Tour de France, the world famous cycle race. The route they use is the same track which makes such a good downhill piste in winter.
The 2 villages could'nt be more different, La Mongie is a concrete purpose-built resort with wide, fairly steep treeless slopes, its name translates as 'the eating place' - in the summer it is used as pastureland for sheep and cattle. Lourdes, famous for its modern day Catholic shrine to Our Lady, is one of the closest major towns. At Easter time the airport is filled with a mixture of skiers heading for the Pyreneen resorts and religious groups making the annual pilgrimage to the healing waters.
Barèges links with neigbouring La Mongie to make up one of the biggest skiing areas in the Pyrenees and just as the villages are in complete contrast, so is the skiing. La Mongie has steep, wide open treeless slopes while Barèges is very typically Pyreneen with its picturesque wooded trails. There is a good variety of terrain in Barèges which has skiing for every level. Its nursery area at La Laquette is easily accessible - only a short gondola ride up from the top of the main street. There is a weekly torchlight descent from here down into the village. This area has everything you could want, its wide and very gently sloping in a naturally sunny spot with restaurant nearby. Once beginners are turning and feeling more confident they are spoilt for choice with so many easy greens and gently blues. When snow conditions allow, the long, very easy green through the trees back to Bareges from Tournaboup makes a brilliant last run of the day and is something beginners aim to achieve within the first week. Le Lienz is a small valley at the top of the Lienz chairlift where there is a gently green slope surrounded by attractive wooded slopes. More experienced skiers should take the lift up from here to the Pic d'Ayre where the Lienz forest has some challenging reds as well as a long black run. The La Mongie side has some challenging runs with the Prade Berde, a steep black being the most difficult. Skiers who enjoy off-piste and powder shouldn't be disappointed with this area although to find the best skiing its worth booking a guide. Ecoloski do about 80% of their lessons on off-piste and powder and its probably worth booking yourself in with them to get the most from your skiing.
Both the Ecole du Ski Francais and Ecoloski have well equipped ski kindergartens for children from 3 to 8 years old where children are supervised by specially trained instructors. There are also 2 non skiing kindergartens, one in Barèges and one in La Mongie, both of these organise activities for the children and will provide lunch if required. Les Ourson have a snow garden with skiing and activities for children from 2 to 6 years, all staff are qualified in child care.
Barèges has many restaurants where you can sample traditional French cuisine. Chez Louisette, on the mountain at La Lienz is a popular spot for traditional dishes, they have a sunny terrace which is perfect to enjoy the views. La Rozelle are well recommended for their fondus while La Bohème are praised for their range of pizzas. Several creperies serving delicious, freshly-made crepes.
The apres ski in Bareges can be as quiet or lively as you want to make it. If you do choose to go for the lively option theres the Pub l'Oncet, L'Isba and the Cafe Richelieu. The Show Time club Jonathan is probably the most popular night spot, it opens to 3am in the week, 5am at weekends. One of the main events of a holiday in Barèges has to be a torchlight descent organised by Ecoloski from one of the mountain restaurants. At the end of the day you ski to the restaurant for drinks and then enjoy a 5 course dinner of local specialities after which comes the torchlit descent back to the village. This involves being lead by an instructor through forest trails back down to the village - whilst carrying a flaming torch. There are dog sledding excursions and these can be at night as well as during the day.
The Tourmalet has a long association with snowboarding and regularly hosts major competitions such as the Quiksilver Cup which is held here in March every year. The competition involves the 2 disciplines of surfing both on snow and water with the water section held in the gigantic surf of the nearby Atlantic coast. La Mongie has a boardercross course and there is a snowpark with half-pipe at the top of the Bernais chairlift - thats on the right looking up from the village towards the Col du Tourmalet. Getting around is no problem for boarders with chairlifts all the way from Barèges over to La Mongie. There are good beginner areas around La Laquette although the long green back to to Barèges from Tournaboup is very flat and best avoided by boarders. There is open cruising all around the area and plenty off-piste. Excellent powder and off-piste on the north facing slopes at La Mongie.