This week’s dream
Skiing the Spanish Pyrenees
“After three decades on the slopes, I felt I had pretty much seen it all,” said Tom Robbins in Travel + Leisure. But that was before I learned about Val d’Aran. The remote valley in Catalonia, located right on the Spanish-French border, is a place like no other. “Centuries of isolation have kept the culture distinct and the landscapes unspoiled,” and though both Toulouse and Barcelona lie less than 200 miles away, the people speak Aranese, a language you may have never heard of. Insularity still defines the region. The first road connecting Val d’Aran to the rest of Spain didn’t arrive until 1924, and the only ski resort, now known as Baqueira Beret, didn’t open until ’64. For me, the valley “promised an altogether different ski experience.”
Rising slightly late on my first morning, I expected the restaurant in my five-star hotel to be already deserted. Instead, it was packed with French and Spanish families feasting on cheeses, cakes, and hams. There was even a chocolate fountain, and a whole honeycomb fresh from the hive. In Spain, it became clear, “skiers adhere to a unique timetable”: After banquet-size breakfasts, they ski a few hours, enjoy a leisurely lunch, happily allow the lifts to close before 5, then indulge in a post-piste siesta before taking dinner at 10 p.m. Not that you won’t find serious skiers. Peru Ortiz de Zarate, a 20-year-old who was working for the valley’s leading guide outfit, led me to a treacherous chute known as Escornacrabes, meaning “where the goats tumble.” Fortunately, he raced down it before I had time to think, and I followed, “adrenaline pumping hard.”
“The joy of Val d’Aran” is that its newer luxury trappings haven’t obscured “its less polished side.” At Eth Bot, a restaurant housed in a 400-year-old farmhouse, the owner himself joined me over a hearty beef stew while we sat in what once had been a cattle stall. Later, in the humble town of Arties, Casa Irene served me “the best meal I’ve eaten on a ski trip,” a verdict that delighted the nervous older chef. “Such surprises are part of the valley’s magic.”
At Hotel Val de Neu (hotelbaqueiravaldeneu.com), doubles start at $340.
Baqueira Beret, Jail Hill Inn