Looking for Spanish ski resorts in the Pyrenees? Read our foodie guide to Baqueira Beret ski resort and the Val d’Aran for skiing in Spain and the Pyrenees…
Some people eat so they have the energy to ski, others ski simply to work up an appetite. If you veer more towards the latter there can be few better destinations to buy a lift pass for than Baqueira Beret, in Spain’s Val d’Aran (whose definitively circular name translates as “valley of the valley”). High in the Catalan Pyrenees, this purpose-built resort (actually a cluster of three linked ski areas – Baqueira, Beret and Bonaigua) also has one of the best food scenes of any ski resort in the world. After all, who wouldn’t like to end a day on the slopes with a glass of cava, and a plate of sliced-to-order Iberico ham? Or, later in the evening, a dinner of slow-cooked local lamb with a bottle of inky Priorat?
Opened in 1964, the core of Baqueira is largely purpose-built and sits at 1,500m. Regularly re-invested in, the surrounding ski area now extends to 157km of pistes and 35 lifts spread over 2,166 hectares. Long patronised by the Spanish royal family, Baqueira genuinely caters for all: book into one of its five-star hotels and spend your evenings hopping between upmarket wine bars and elegant restaurants. Or, book a cheap self-catering apartment 10 or 20 minutes’ easy drive away, down in the valley, and treat yourself to the odd night out in Vielha indulging in Spanish beers and tapas (check out the top places to eat tapas in the UK here) at bargain prices (when you want to ski there’s free parking in the centre of Baqueira, then a free little train to shuttle you up the road to the main gondola, and the resort’s tourist information office and ski hire/ lift pass shops).
Better still, prices are much more affordable in this corner of Spain than in the more ostentatiously gastronomic Alpine resorts. If you’re seeking fine dining you will find it here but the richest pickings among Baqueira’s bars, cafes and restaurants are its rustic local pintxos spots and cosy, timber-hewn restaurants, places serving bowls of rich, unreconstructed Aranese stew and elegant modern presentations of mei i mato (mató cheese drizzled with honey) to a hungry, post-piste crowd.
The resort’s kitchens are also still closely in touch with the valley’s farmers, cheesemakers and gardeners so produce really shines here in a way that it doesn’t in some other resorts; as you’re sitting down to eat at the places highlighted below, keep an eye out on menus for wild mushrooms and berries, trout, caviar, black pudding, beer, cider, yoghurt, cured sausage, cheeses, yoghurt and honey.
Mist mingles with snow over the rooftops of Baqueira Beret
Rafaelhoteles by La Pleta, La Pleta
If you want to base yourself right by the slopes, the five-star Rafaelhotel La Pleta, in the La Pleta area, just outside the resort’s centre, is a comfortable option. The La Pleta area was built in the 1970s and its architecture was designed to mimic local Aranese villages so it’s prettier than the towering hotels and apartment blocks in the heart of the resort. As with so many of the area’s hotels your fellow guests will be overwhelmingly Spanish: if you’re looking to escape British accents on the slopes, this is the place. Most guests hire a car so that they can make their own way around the valley but the hotel does run a free shuttle to the ski lift and back if you don’t have your own wheels (there is also a chair lift 300m from the hotel, from the top of which you can ski down various pistes to connect in with the rest of the resort).
The hotel itself is quirkier than some five-star hotels (don’t expect a greeting as you pass the reception desk in the lobby), and has a brown colour scheme that won’t appeal to the Instagram crowd but is in keeping with the local architecture. Some elements could be improved (order a room service breakfast and the yoghurt will be a pot of Danone). However, the hotel is soothingly comfortable after a day on the slopes and has a welcome homeliness about it (every afternoon, a little home-baked treat is delivered to each room, from a gourmet take on chocolate crispies to tiny little almond cakes). It also wins points for being the only hotel we’ve stayed in where the mini bar includes a box of Iberico ham.
Food-wise, the breakfasts are a highlight. Choose from a vast buffet laden with homemade banana bread, proper hot chocolate, freshly squeezed orange juice, a range of pastries that even stretches to wholemeal croissants peppered with linseeds and vast platters of Iberico.
In the evenings, there’s a choice of four restaurants; Del gel Al Foc is the hotel’s fine-dining champion (it also occasionally plays host to special dinners cooked by visiting Michelin-starred chefs) while La Pleta Sushi serves sashimi, sushi (discover our step-by-step guide to making sushi here) and tempura prepared by a specialist chef, and Petit Borda serves more casual Spanish and Italian classics to an all-ages crowd.
We tried the fourth option, La Racletterie, where diners sitting on sheepskin-covered benches are offered a simple set menu based around either pierrade (a meat grill), raclette or a combination of both. After a creamy chicken and vegetable soup, our raclette came with three different types of Iberico plus a squidgy, sobrassada-style sausage (cultural links between parts of Catalonia and the Balearic islands mean this mountain version of sobrassada can be found in the Spanish Pyrenees too), waxy little steamed potatoes and a crunchy mix of gherkins and pickled onions. Our dessert was just right after such a rich main course, too: a simple, plain, cow’s milk yoghurt made traditionally at the Hormatgeria Dera Irissa just down the valley.
A breakfast of local ham, cheese, yoghurt, fresh-from-the-oven pastries and fruit at La Pleta hotel
- San Sebastian
Borda Lobato, Baqueira
The oldest building in the resort, La Borda Lobato takes its name from the ‘bordes’, small stone shelters for animals built throughout the valley years ago. When the ski resort was built, this one was turned into a restaurant. Right from the outset it championed Aranese cooking and, despite its elegantly renovated interior, that’s what it’s still best known for today.
If you want to try Òlha Aranesa (the signature dish of the region – a traditional meaty broth made with beans, potatoes, noodles, vegetables, pork, beef, chicken and black sausage) this is one of the best places in the valley to try it. This local staple makes ideal ski food, which has helped to keep it on local menus (another classic to look out for is wild boar stew). Here, beneath the restaurant’s soaring vaulted timber ceiling, within a stone, wood and glass dining space, it is finessed to restaurant standards. Òlha Aranesa comes in a tureen for you to ladle yourself into white and gold bowls, its salty broth bobbing with blood sausage, chickpeas, cabbage and noodles. Pair it with a smooth glass of local Priorat.
A Val d’Aran speciality – hearty Olha Aranese – at Borda Lobato
Ski season happily overlaps with calçot season in Catalonia and Borda Lobato is also a good place to try this regional speciality. Slippery, soft, sweet alliums, like Brobdingnagian spring onions, they’re served, traditionally, on a tile, to be stripped, dunked in romesco sauce and sucked (eating the things is so messy a job that diners are given aprons to wear).
Pa amb tomàquet (toasted bread spread with olive oil, garlic and crushed tomato) is on the menu too, as are regional cured meats and sausages, lamb chops, gourmet burgers, steaks cooked over charcoal on a vast open grill and, for dessert, a winning crema Catalana, its tooth-sticking caramelised brittle topping a light, creamy custard.
Núcleo 1500 Baqueira; 00 34 973 645 708
Borda Lobato’s finessed version of Crema Catalana
Make your own charcuterie with our recipes:
Cinco Jotas, Baqueira
Baqueira’s slopeside restaurants serve some of the best on-piste food we’ve come across – and best value – with freshly made bocadillos (baguettes stuffed with tortilla, ham or cheese), thick hot chocolate, salads, smoked salmon platters, fruit, yoghurts and local wines all widely available at reasonable prices.
Olives, local wine, a swirl of Iberico and pan con tomate at Cinco Jotas
For a late lunch, or some more indulgent après-ski, Moët sponsors the slopeside Winter Lounge, by the Orri lift station, where you can sit out on its sunny terrace – or inside by the fire – and toast your snowplough with a glass of fizz. Why would you want to sip French fizz in Spain, though? Especially when you’re in the heart of Cava country. For our money, there’s only one place to slalom down to: Restaurant Cinco Jotas (5 Js), near the top of the Baqueira gondola station.
Operated by one of the best-known Iberico ham producers in Spain, Cinco Jotas, a visit here is a must-do, whether you go to team a glass of Cava with a plate of salt-sweet sliced-to-order acorn-fed Iberico cut by the in-house master carver (and served so that its marbling lines up like a porcine Catherine Wheel), a smattering of ham croquettas and a skewer of grilled vegetables, or you stay on for a full meal (anyone for suckling lamb, grilled pork sirloin or grilled squid with ratatouille?). The wine list is exemplary, too: choose from an oaky Rioja or peachy Raimat Chardonnay and you’ll pay well under €20 for a bottle.
The art of slicing Iberico ham
Pintxo Pote, Vielha
Vielha is the local administrative town, an easy 30-minute drive down the valley. It also happens to have a photogenic Old Town and a raft of tapas (or, rather, pintxos) bars, an especially happy combination on Tuesday evenings when Pintxo Pote takes place. During this weekly pintxo trail around the town each participating bar serves a special pintxo of the day plus a zurito (a tiny glass of beer) for around €3. You can bar hop that way all evening, or just stake out your favourite counter and fill your plate, paying the standard price for any additional pintxos.
A feast of local pintxos at Tauerna Urtau
The best known participating bar in Vielha is Tauernes Urtau, whose 10 metre-long bar heaves under the weight of 70 or so different bite-sized dishes, and was continually refreshed as the crowds ebbed and flowed throughout the hour or so that we were there (but mainly flowed – prepare to elbow your way to the counter). The pintxo of the evening was a miniature slice of lasagne, its pesto-laced bechamel served on the side, while standard pintxos included a prawn-topped cream and fish mixture mashed together on toast (a bit like a deconstructed prawn cocktail), roast duck in a sweet, nutty sauce, fried squid, salty, singed padron peppers, crisp ham croquettas and, best of all, a local sheep’s cheese arranged like a star around the plate, its leaves interspersed with cubes of quince jelly and candied walnuts.
Local sheep’s cheese with cubes of quince jelly and candied walnuts
If you’re not there on a Tuesday, Vielha is still a lovely place for an evening stroll, and you can stop off at any number of sidrerias or wine bars as you stroll past ancient stone buildings and the town’s river. De Vins gets our vote for its blazing wood-burner and its huge windows looking out onto the river rushing past below (facebook.com/bardevins). Vielhitos is another favourite, with its cosy, wood-lined surroundings and towering collection of popped corks (Passeg dera Libertat 5, 00 34 626 54 56 97).
One of the most recent additions to the food scene in the Val d’Aran, Wellbourne has filled a gap in the local market for an unpretentious but decadent dining experience that’s resolutely modern. A Pyrenean sister restaurant to the Bristol (check out our restaurant review of Wellbourne, Bristol) and White City Wellbournes, it’s suited to long lunches and group gatherings as well as slopeside date nights. Surprisingly, it also caters brilliantly for families, with a huge basement space turned into a play den for children of all ages, packed with everything from beanbags to toy kitchens, colouring tables, film screenings and racing simulators.
On the ground floor the airy dining area is decorated in smokey blues, greens and golds. Start with a glass of Clos Pons Flocs Cava in the chic fireside bar then move on to one of the Scandinavian-style dining tables. The large windows in the dining area frame some spectacular mountain views, and make for a relaxing, breezy space that also manages to be cosy despite the clean lines and pale blonde wood.
Monkfish with a shitake, seaweed and mushroom dashi
The food lives up to the setting. We went for the eight-course Charles Packe tasting menu – named after the first Englishman to visit the Val d’Aran – and worked our way through a series of manageably small, exquisitely put-together dishes that started with fried sourdough with an emulsion of smoked cod’s roe and English tea and ended with a dessert of caramelised milk skin with quince infused with vanilla and fresh curd. The milk skin was a revelation, like a very light, biscuity wafer shielding little nuggets of honeycomb perched on the yoghurt-like curd.
In between we caught glimpses of head chef James Goodyear (ex-Dabbous) in the open kitchen perfecting each course: first barbecued celeriac in a creamy little puddle punctured by apple and hazelnuts; next, tiny pickled, burnt onions topped by dainty purple petals, served in a broth scented with pine needles picked from the forest opposite the restaurant; then miso-glazed king crab, the gutsy white fish counterbalanced by sharp, candied lemon and a rich fish sauce; a mouthful of monkfish with a shitake, seaweed and mushroom dashi – light and wholesome, and a total change of pace from the previous course.
Miso glazed king crab with candied lemon
The only dish that didn’t quite hit the mark was a main of Basque pork, served with braised calçots in a grape mustard emulsion. Served on a plate with the texture of a blackboard, the perfectly pink pork was delicious, but a cold, fiery little pile of sticky fermented grains on the side less so. The cheese course, however, was a triumph – a wodge of cow’s cheese, its rind washed with Armagnac, made for the restaurant specially by a maker in nearby Bagergue and served with a rough-hewn salty almond praline, like a homespun almond butter, and a gooey splodge of fresh honeycomb.
This was fun, imaginative, carefully crafted cooking in a seriously stylish setting, well worth the short drive out of Baqueira.
Start your evening at Wellbourne with a chilled glass of local cava by the fire
Restaurant Ticolet, Baqueira
A lunch or dinner at Ticolet is a must-do in Baqueira. Old-fashioned in the best sense, this is not hip, Instagram-friendly food. It is elegant, accomplished cooking from a kitchen whose skills have been hewn by the Espana family over decades. Service, too, is comfortingly old-fashioned with perfectly pressed tablecloths, linen napkins, tables angled for views onto pine trees and an unobtrusive background of mellow jazz.
It isn’t a local restaurant, per se, but there are lots of local ingredients and dishes on the menu, fashioned into refined rather than rustic versions of familiar favourites. On our visit coetas (little sausages), sturgeon and lamb were all from the valley alongside plenty of other classic ingredients from across Spain (grilled pork, seafood in season).
Our meal started with two little canapés – first a nest of tiny shitake mushrooms in a salty puddle of escabeche, served with a poppyseed and sunflower crisp, then a tiny eggshell-shaped bowl of gazpacho with a ‘yolk’ of avocado, a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts, a slick of olive oil and a smattering of pepper.
A main course of local lamb was outstanding: served like a very dainty roast dinner, the meat came in little squares, flaky strands of fall-apart meat beneath, the top an incredibly fine layer of crunchy crackling. With it came grilled vegetables, a light, meaty gravy and a large dot of ambrosial butterbean puree.
For dessert, the restaurant’s gourmet take on mel i mato encompassed a ricotta-like local cheese drizzled with honey and nuts but also ringed by dots of quince puree, scoops of honey ice cream on a biscuity brown bread base and a ball of fine strands of galette-style biscuit batter. In short, just the kind of indulgent end to a meal that you need after a day on the slopes.
Succulent roast lamb with crunchy grilled vegetables and a gourmet take on mel i mato
More places to visit while you’re in the Baqueira Beret area
Deli Baqueira, Baqueira
There is a small supermarket in Baqueira, selling local jams, cheeses, honey and charcuterie among much else, but for upmarket food and wine this little deli is a good place for culinary souvenirs. Items include readymade Olha Aranese, chocolates, cheeses, biscuits, charcuterie, and stacks of Cordoniu Cava and Iberico ham. It also sells fresh bread and pastries.
Plaza del Forum, 00 34 699 73 43 00
Wine bar by Vina Pomal, Baquiera
If you can’t make it down to Vielha for pintxo pote, this is the closest alternative within Baqueira itself. Next door to the deli, this wine bar serves a lunchtime and evening menu of tapas dishes alongside its range of wines (mainly riojas, as you would expect of a bar sponsored by Vina Pomal).
Plaza del Forum, 00 34 690 27 98 99
Casa Irene, Arties
For traditional luxury, this characterful stone and wood hotel and restaurant has been going strong since 1974 and is especially renowned for its upmarket restaurant (if you’re looking for traditional options, there’s also a parador in Arties, plus one in Vielha).
Taberna Eth Bot, Salardu
If you’re looking for Pyrenean atmosphere, this rustic, flagstoned restaurant, set in an early 17th century farmhouse, should suit. Grab one of its tables and order regional dishes from its fixed-price menu (soups, wild boar, steak cooked over charcoal…), or just for a glass of local cassis.
Plaza Mayor 1, Salardú, 00 34 973 64 42 12
Termes Baronia de Les, Les
If a spa was run by grannies this is what it would be like – it’s a lovely, pampering experience, warm and friendly rather than slick or glitzy. Friendly staff greet you, explain the different elements and show you in which order to do a thermal circuit (sauna, steam room and plunge pool, all to a soothing background of Satie’s Gymnopedie). Afterwards you can sit by a vast open fire, go for a dip in the indoor-outdoor swimming pool (outside, watch the sun set over snowy peaks as you wallow). On Tuesday evenings it’s the perfect spot to go and soothe sore, post-ski muscles before hitting Vielha’s pintxo pote.
HOW TO GET TO BAQUEIRA BERET AND THE VAL D’ARAN
Return flights to Barcelona cost from £45 from a range of UK airports (easyjet.com).
Car hire for the 3.5-hour drive to Baqueira Beret costs from around £36 per week (holidayautos.com).
For more information visit baqueira.es, visitvaldaran.com, visitpirineus.com or catalunya.com.
Words and images by Rhiannon Batten