So often overlooked by skiers who can't see beyond the end of the Alps, Baqueira Beret is a cracker of a ski resort, with 167km of pistes. The largest of Spain's ski resorts, it lies at the head of the beautiful Val d'Aran, near Vielha, in the Spanish Pyrenees. The village, tastefully purpose-built in wood and stone rather than concrete, is on the main road leading up to the high Bonaigua Pass.
Developed by Luis Arias, a Spanish National Ski Champion, Baqueira first opened in 1964 and is a favourite with the Spanish Royal family who regularly holiday here. Its location provides a unique Atlantic climate guaranteeing high quality snow, just the right amount of sunshine and, due to its southerly latitude, an hour's more daylight than the Alps.
Baqueira Beret is well laid out, has a modern lift infrastructure and a lively and varied après ski scene. The skiing is spread over three main areas, Baqueira, Beret and Argulls and there is a fourth area at La Bonaigua. Baqueira's claim of 'Alpine Scale' is further strengthened with lifts on the Cap de Baqueria. This huge area, the Argulls, has always had snow at Christmas, so the basin strengthens Baqueira's reputation for pre-Christmas to post-Easter skiing with the height of the new runs ensuring the snow will always be in peak condition.
Baqueira Beret - Ski Map & Pistes:
Baqueira's skiing is as extensive as it is varied, offering a wide range of different runs for every level and some serious distance from one end of the resort to the other. There are easy greens, difficult black runs, superb off-piste powder, near vertical couloirs and mogul runs to test even the best. Everything is very easily accessible - no need to hike for ages to find good off-piste. Queues, if any, are kept to a minimum thanks to the ultra modern and efficient lift system which can carry more than 30,000 people per hour. Even early morning weekend skier and snowboarder traffic is moved quickly and efficiently, thanks to the installation of the quad chair up from the village.
Baqueira Beret likes to look after its skiers - there's even a tractor pulling seats to transport you if you don't feel like making the short walk from the village to the lifts. The three green runs are in Baqueira and Beret areas - many prefer the Pla de Beret for starting off because it's so wide and usually crowd-free. The other two greens, Pastores and Rabada are at the top of the main chairlift up from Baqueira 1500. The ski school with over 200 instructors is famed as one of the best in Spain, they have English and French speaking instructors and it is worth joining a class so you can find your way around the resort as it does cover a huge area.
Intermediates will enjoy the long winding blue runs here and should be ready for the challenge of one of the 22 reds in no time. The Pla de Baqueira, one of the blues in the main Baqueira bowl, is a gentle one to progress to, and from there intermediates can access the Argulls area and the recent Bonaigua red run. Due to the height of these runs, the snow always seems to be in good condition.
There are plenty of mountain restaurants for refreshment stops and international visitors will appreciate the relatively low prices. The efficient lift system serves terrain generally regarded as some of the most challenging in the Pyrenees and includes five tough blacks, including the renowned 'Escornacrabes' - which translates as 'the place where the goats die!' The Louis Arias and Tubo Nere runs are famed as steep mogul trails. There are 2 slalom stadiums, so it's not surprising that the Spanish National Team are often seen training here. The 7km (4 mile) cross-country circuit is located at Orri 1850 just between Baqueira and Beret.
Snow conditions are usually excellent as this area has a good snow record. Adequate snow cover is ensured, with more than 720 snow cannons covering the north and north west facing slopes.
Baqueira Beret - Off-Piste, Backcountry & Ski Touring:
On a good powder day, the resort's upper bowls of Baqueira Beret ski resort provide some extensive and challenging off-piste. There are some lovely lines to be had off the Tuc de Llança and the Cap de Baciver, plus further fun to be had if you drop off looker's left of the Blanhibar chair. Experts seeking untouched snow should try the heli-sking, which is relatively cheap here - check out Pyrenees Heliski for the prices.
For tourers, there are five mountain ski touring circuits of varying levels of difficulty spread over the resort, with the Tuc del Rosari and the Tuc de Baciver circuits providing the biggest test of skiers' skills.
Baqueira Beret - Restaurants, Bars & The Town:
There's a wide choice of restaurants serving the best of Spanish, French, Catalan, Basque and Aranes food (Aranes is the local cuisine from this corner of the Pyrenees). La Borda Lobató, La Ticolet and Tamarro are all recommended, as is the wine and tapas menu at the Wine Bar by Viña Pomal. For a real treat of traditional local dishes at good prices try the Bar Saburedo in Tredós, about 2km from Baqueira. They serve a lot of game, and delicious delicacies like rabbit in snail sauce.
For regulars there is usually a free aguardiente (liquor/brandy) with the dessert. A Catalan drink worth trying is Cremat, a hot brandy which resembles rocket fuel, in its effects, if not its taste. Tapas are served in most Spanish bars when you get a drink - order enough rounds, and you might not have to worry about dinner!
Baqueira has a lively nightlife, especially at weekends when regular Spanish skiers make the trip from Barcelona and Madrid. Many of them have their own apartments in the village. Don't expect the nightlife to start early - even when skiing, the Spanish like to eat late and party 'til the morning. The resort has a club, Tiffany's (formerly Pacha), which gets busiest in the small hours, as well as a host of pubs and bars.
Baqueira Beret - Ski Hire:
For ski hire in Baqueira Beret, the official resort ski service is the best option, with outlets spread across the resort. There are also a couple of options if you're down in the town of Vielha, including Moga Sports.
Baqueira Beret - Ski School:
Barcelona (3hrs 45mins)