Why There’s More To Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Than Gaudi

Why There’s More To Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Than Gaudi

You think you have seen all the major Catalan modernist sites in Barcelona? Think again. Chances are you have only seen all of the major works by Gaudi. Catalan Modernism was so much more than Gaudi sort of like Impressionism was so much more than Monet. The Hospital de Sant Pau is an example of art nouveau Barcelona architecture beyond the usual Gaudi stuff.

Why There’s More To Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Than Gaudi

Why There’s More To Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Than Gaudi

The Hospital de Sant Pau

The Hospital de la Santa Creu and Sant Pau was opened in 1930 on the site of an older hospital dating back to the Middle Ages created by the Counts of Barcelona. In order for this medieval hospital to maintain itself, the Spanish kings allowed the Hospital the right to money from theatrical performances in Barcelona.

When Catalan banker Pau Gil died in Paris in 1896 he wanted to do something special for his homeland.  He ordered his bank dissolved and the proceeds used to construct a new hospital in Barcelona, the Hospital of Sant Pau.  He had envisioned that the entire building complex would be funded through his generosity. The original plan called for 48 buildings in this hospital complex. Of course, there were cost overruns so a revised plan called for 27 buildings.

Why There’s More To Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Than Gaudi

Some of the flamboyant Catalan Modernisme style.

Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture In Practice

The architect, Lluis Domenech i Montaner, was hired to build a hospital complex which was effectively a city within a city.  The hospital would have different buildings for each medical speciality and landscaped grounds.  The buildings were connected to each by a kilometre of underground tunnels.

The Hospital de Sant Pau, Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Beyond Gaudi

The underground tunnels which were used to shuttle the patients around. The walls were tiled for easy cleaning.

Decorative Style

Of course, building in a Catalan modernist style is labor and work intensive with all of its extra decorative flourishes. The original money ran out after the first 10 buildings of the complex.  Montaner (and his son who took over the project from him) was able to cobble together enough funding for another 6 buildings. So only 16 of the buildings on the site are in the Catalan Modernism style.

The Hospital de Sant Pau, Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Beyond Gaudi

The surgical ward at the Hospital. You can see the ramps from which the sick would be wheeled up.

Catalan modernist was very intricate – you had decorative detail in reliefs, sculptures, ceramics, mosaic, wood, marble, glass, metal and iron. The buildings were all made from brick. The little domes on top of the roofs were the water towers. Along with the landscaped grounds, each patient would have a significant amount of space to themselves which far surpassed the best hospitals in Europe at the time.

The Hospital de Sant Pau, Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Beyond Gaudi

An old photo showing the hospital in use.

Practical Style

There was a liberal use of ceramics throughout the site. Not only could you make ceramics look pretty but they were hygienic and easy to wash down. You had large windows, lots of color, landscaped grounds – when you think about how terrible early 20th century hospitals were – this Barcelona Hospital was really ahead of its time.

The Hospital de Sant Pau, Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Beyond Gaudi

The decorative pillar hides the water tank for the building.

The Administrative Pavilion is the biggest building on site. It was built between 1905 and 1910 and was meant to be the main entrance to the hospital complex. The highly decorative ceiling is filled with ornamentation, for example, referring to Saint Jordi (George) the patron saint of Catalonia, and the seal of Banca Gil (Pau Gil’s bank). If Pau Gil wanted immortality – he definitely got it. His initials are everywhere on this site.  In a time when banks come and go, get merged etc, Pau Gil’s legacy is more than any simple regional bank could have been.

The Hospital de Sant Pau, Art Nouveau Barcelona Architecture Beyond Gaudi

The decorative details were on the inside and the outside of the buildings.

UNESCO World Heritage Designation

The hospital was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997. It was reopened after a refurbishment in 2014 to be a centre for global knowledge.  Whatever that means. When we wandered around the site, you could tell there had been extensive refurbishment and the buildings were gorgeous. It was like a ghost town, however. There were a handful of tourists but it didn’t look like there were many people who actually worked there.

Good To Know

You really can’t miss the Hospital of Sant Pau if you are near the Sagrada Familia.


The Hospital of Sant Pau is located on Sant Antoni M. Claret, 167.  When the Sagrada Familia gets overrun with visitors in the summer weekends, the Hospital de Sant Pau will not be crowded. I would strongly encourage you to check out this beautiful little oasis which will give you an example of art nouveau Barcelona architecture that hasn’t been done by Gaudi . You can get there on the Metro (L5 Sant Pau) or on the bus.

Where To Stay

We stayed by the seaside Barcelona at the 5 star Hotel Arts. This famous hotel is justifiably lauded – the service is great, the location convenient and the views fantastic. On previous trips we have stayed at the 4 star Hotel Royal Ramblas located conveniently on the Ramblas. My children really enjoyed the lounge with its huge windows where you can watch all the action on Las Ramblas. We have also stayed at the Grand Hotel Central, a 5 star hotel, with an incredibly convenient location. The hotel is a 5 minute walk from the Cathedral, sandwiched between the Gothic Quarter and the trendy Born District and an easy walk to the beach.

Context Travel Tour

I discovered this Hospital on a Sagrada Family in Context Travel. I’ve been to Barcelona several times and never knew about this beautiful hospital! It’s so worth it to take a good tour. I paid full price for my Context Tour which I was happy to do so because I think they are worth it.

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Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia

Artists do not need monuments erected for them because their works are their monuments.

– Antonio Gaudi

When I went to check out the most famous church in Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia, exactly 20 years ago this year, my visit was very different from my recent trip. Unlike today only the Nativity facade was finished back then. There was no line to get inside the church because there really wasn’t much of an interior. I climbed part of a tower and surveyed the construction site. Even then, the grand proportions of the Sagrada Familia made the church a cool, if empty, space. Antonio Gaudi’s final masterpiece would far outlive him and skyrocket his name into the echelons of history. When we visited Barcelona with the kids a couple of years ago, I did not anticipate the huge lines. On this recent visit, though, I was smart and booked tickets ahead of time.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

What makes La Sagrada Familia Special

Barcelona is the most visited city in Spain. Many of its millions of visitors make two obligatory stops –  La Boqueria, the famous market of the Ramblas for food, and La Sagrada Familia for some culture. La Sagrada Familia gets some 3 million visitors annually.

The expiatory church of La Sagrada Família is made by the people and is mirrored in them. It is a work that is in the hands of God and the will of the people.

– Antonio Gaudi

Some Fun Sagrada Familia Facts

Timeline for La Sagrada Familia

  • Gaudi accepted that La Sagrada Familia is a long-term project that he would not live to see completed.
  • Gaudi’s masterpiece is an expiatory church which means that it is built with donations from the public. Now that visitor numbers, and related ticket sales, have increased, the church receives about 25 million Euros a year.
  • There are still 4 central towers to be built which will reach 170+ metres and let light into the interior.  The current towers that you see will be dwarfed by these new towers because they are only 98 metres in height.
  • The really tall towers will stand just underneath the height of nearby Montjuic. Gaudi did not want his work to rise taller than that of God.
Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

This model shows how tall the to-be-completed towers will be.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The decorative tops of the existing towers.

The Sagrada Familia Interior

  • The Sagrada Familia interior has a pleasing symmetry because Gaudi created it in multiples of 7.5 metres.
  • As an architect, Gaudi did not want a giant altar piece obstructing the view of his architectural lines. Many people are taken back by the simplicity of the altar piece. You get a giant cathedral and a small altar.
  • The inside of the Sagrada Familia is supposed to be an homage to nature, a garden forest rising up to the skies.
  • The inside is practically bereft of statues except for the Holy Family and the local patron saint. Gaudi really wanted very little distractions inside the church.
Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The four pillars inside are dedicated to the four evangelists.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The pillars inside reach the top to create a treetop canopy.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The afternoon light is stunning through the stained glass.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The stained glass bathed the cathedral in glowing colors.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The East windows with their blue and green stained glass.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

You can see the colors mixing in the purple light cast by the blues from the windows in one side and the reds cast from the other side.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

Yes, I was obsessed with the light through the stained glass.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

Seriously I could not get enough of the afternoon light through the windows. Just wow!

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The stained glass is a secondary glazing technique that goes over the windows. These windows have not been finished with the stained glass topping yet.

The Nativity Facade

  • The Nativity Facade was completed during Gaudi’s lifetime because he wanted to show people his vision in the hopes that they would donate money.
  • Gaudi liked to use real people to model his figures. The soldier in the scene depicting the killing of the innocents was the local butcher. The butcher had 6 toes on one foot, a detail which was faithfully recreated on the sculpture.
  • Check out the bottom of the pillars of the Nativity entrance. One rests on a turtle and another on a tortoise, a land based and a water based animal. This subtle reference to the two sides of life in Barcelona the mountains and the sea was a nod to his benefactors.
  • The Nativity facade overflows with references to birth and nature – such as the Cypress tree used to represent the tree of life.
Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The doors of the Nativity facade show insects and other natural animals.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The Tree of Life with doves rising up to the X on top symbolising Jesus.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

It’s hard to know where to look on the Nativity facade. This bit depicts the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary announcing she is pregnant with Jesus.

The Passion Facade

  • Gaudi himself was the second lead architect.  The church is now on its 9th lead architect who leads a team of 20 architects.  People joke that there could be a 10th architect soon because the current architect is embroiled in a dispute over his mosaic design on the Passion facade. The other architects think the mosaic does not fit in with Gaudi’s mournful vision for the Passion facade.
  • Gaudi’s profile is immortalised in the Passion facade.
  • Architects used the oil painting technique of chiaroscuro which creates light and shadow to convey the sadness of the scene.
  • Catalan sculptor Joseph Subirach created the giant doors with words from the Bible.
Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

Jesus hanging on the cross, or possibly hanging off the cross.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The Passion Facade with Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews written above.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

That’s Gaudi himself to the side of Veronica who wiped Jesus’ face.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The offending coloured mosaic is covered up temporarily.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The doors for the Passion facade done by Subirach

Antonio Gaudi’s Masterpiece

Gaudi’s Vision For La Sagrada Familia

Even though Gaudi had a clear vision for La Sagrada Familia, he accepted that you could not reign in an artist’s creativity. He left instructions that allowed future artists to have a certain amount of leeway in how his vision would be interpreted.

There is no reason to regret that I cannot finish the church. I will grow old but others will come after me. What must always be conserved is the spirit of the work, but its life has to depend on the generations it is handed down to and with whom it lives and is incarnated.

– Antonio Gaudi

  • During the last 10+ years of his life, Gaudi worked feverishly to leave models, drawings etc for how the Sagrada Familia should look. He actually lived in his studio at the Sagrada Familia.
  • Gaudi created clouds in his vision for the 3rd facade, the Glory facade, which is still to be completed. The Glory facade represents the risen Jesus in heaven with clouds floating around.
  • Architects though have no idea how to create floating clouds like he intended. Gaudi assumed technology would have caught up with his vision – they still have 9 years to figure it out if they want to make the 2026 self-imposed deadline.
  • The door at the Glory facade is the only part that is finished. Created by Catalan sculptor, Josep Subirach, the door depicts the Lord’s Prayer in 50 different languages.

During the Spanish Civil War happened, the Spanish Catholic Church had a vested interesting in protecting its own wealth and influence. They sided with Franco’s Fascists against the Republicans. In response, Republican rioters destroyed churches including Gaudi’s workshop at the Sagrada Familia. Post-destruction, architects were left to piece together what Gaudi had wanted to do from the rubble.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

The doors to the gloria facade created by Subirach

How did Gaudi die?

Gaudi is buried in a crypt which can be seen in the museum adjoining La Sagrada Familia. The crypt is actually in the basement equivalent of the church which was completed by the first architect. So, ironically, the area where Gaudi is buried is not his creation although the structure above his tomb is.

Gaudi had an unfortunate and accidental death.  He was run over by a street car on the way to church on a Sunday.  When his workers arrived at La Sagrada Familia on the Monday, no body could find him.  When they searched for him, they discovered his unidentified body.

Everyone is working at top speed to finish La Sagrada Familia so that it is finished in 2026, the centenary of Antonio Gaudi’s death.  Considering the middle towers aren’t even built yet, and they are building with crowds of tourists all around, the most famous church in Barcelona has plenty of work left.

The Most Famous Church in Barcelona

I’m just going to assume that if you go to Barcelona you will visit La Sagrada Familia. Everyone does for good reason. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your visit.

La Sagrada Familia Tickets

Keep in mind the time of day.

Keep in mind that the best light for the church occurs at the extremes of the day. The morning sun lights up the cooler blues and greens of the stained glass East windows. The afternoon sun sets off the fiery oranges and reds of the the west windows. When the afternoon sun is low enough, the light reaches across the entire cathedral mixes with the blues and greens to create shades of purple.

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

Fun Facts About The Most Famous Church in Barcelona, La Familia Sagrada

Buy tickets ahead of time.

I highly recommend that you buy tickets ahead of time for visiting La Sagrada Familia. In low season, the tickets are easy to book a day or so ahead of time.

You need to allow longer in peak season especially on a Saturday or Sunday. During the summer season, the cruise ships come into Barcelona port depositing 14,000 visitors at a time. The most famous church in Barcelona is also one of its most visited sites. You really don’t want to stand in line for an hour or two in the scorching summer heat.

You will need to pick between types of tickets etc.

There are a handful of different types of Sagrada Familia tickets. They range from the basic €15 ticket to the church to the €29 ticket which includes a trip up a tower to get panoramic views of the city. I bought only the basic ticket and regretted it. You can also get tickets that have an audio tour or a guided tour.  I have heard the audio tour is excellent – enough information without going into too much detail.

Practical Info To Know Before You Go

We stayed by the seaside Barcelona at the 5 star Hotel Arts. This famous hotel is justifiably lauded – the service is great, the location convenient and the views fantastic. On previous trips we have stayed at the 4 star Hotel Royal Ramblas located conveniently on the Ramblas. My children really enjoyed the lounge with its huge windows where you can watch all the action on Las Ramblas. We have also stayed at the Grand Hotel Central, a 5 star hotel, with an incredibly convenient location. The hotel is a 5 minute walk from the Cathedral, sandwiched between the Gothic Quarter and the trendy Born District and an easy walk to the beach.

I chose to take a guided tour (not through the Sagrada Familia website) but with Context Travel.  Whenever I can fit in a tour, I try to use Context Travel. I paid full price for my Sagrada Familia Context Tour which I was happy to do so because I think they are worth it.

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A Must-Visit Gastromarket For Foodies – Mercado Merced in Malaga

A Must-Visit Gastromarket For Foodies – Mercado Merced in Malaga

Recently opened in the fall of 2015, the Mercado Merced in Malaga is another star in the constellation that is the city’s recently burgeoning foodie scene.  The best known of the Malaga food markets is the Mercado de Atarazanas located in the old Moorish arsenal building close to the harbour.  The Mercado Merced is a smaller and more curated affair.  Based on the world-famous markets in Barcelona and Madrid, the Mercado Merced straddles the line between upscale deli, local convenience and tourist attraction.

The mercado merced in Malaga is a recently refurbished gastromarket in the centre of town

The Mercado Merced is incredibly convenient for tourists because it is located just across the street from the birthplace of the city’s most famous son, Pablo Picasso.  The Mercado Merced is also located off the Plaza de la Merced (market square) which is one of the city’s main squares. It is a short walk from the city’s pedestrianised centre which has attractions such as the old colosseum ruins, the Picasso museum and the Cathedral of Malaga.

The Plaza de la Merced was a public market place in the 15th century so it’s only fitting that the Mercado Merced is located nearby. In recent years though the Mercado had hit a slump in trade and was rejuvenated to attract local foodies. With a giant obelisk honouring some forgotten politician in the middle, the Plaza de la Merced is surrounded by cafes perfect for people watching.  For good food though I suggest you hit the Mercado Merced itself.

a family-friendly gastromarket in the centre of Malaga on the costa del Sol in Spain

The market has a mix of traditional vendors selling meat, fish and groceries as well as tapas-style places where you can sit to eat and to drink.  The tall tables are arranged with high chairs so you can either stand around or sit down.  We arrived during siesta time so we had no problem finding a table (and plenty of vendors that were open).  I can imagine it is busy though during regular trading hours just by the quality of the food and the hipster ambience.

the gastromarket mercado merced in Malaga

The place is somewhat hipster cool.

the gastromarket mercado merced in Malaga

very fresh fish

The tapas range from traditional favourites like tortilla to international fusion like Korean BBQ salmon.  My daughter loved the chicken sate.  Although delicious, it didn’t really taste like sate as I know it – not much peanut flavour and heavier on the white mayonnaise-type sauce.

the Mercado Merced in Malaga

Chicken sate but not as you know it from Indonesia

There are many family-friendly choices from the croquettes at La Croqueteria Gourmet to the mini-burgers.  You will find something that will make everyone happy (even the fussy ones!) as well as keeping the foodies in ecstasy.

the gastromarket mercado merced in Malaga

Mini burgers selection included bull and goat meat

the gastromarket mercado merced in Malaga

The mini crepes (or as they bill themselves, culinary pancakes) from POF with dulce de leche were a nice way to finish off the meal.

This stall belongs to a local city bar, Antigua Casa de Guardia which sells the sweet wine that the area is known for.  Established in the mid-19th century, the bar is the oldest in Malaga and produces its stock from its own vineyard.  If you aren’t into sweet wine, fear not, there are lots of beer and wine sold at other stalls.

the gastromarket mercado merced in Malaga

A perfect glass of muscatel

the gastromarket mercado merced in Malaga

Iberico ham croquetas, freshly deep fried, with wine and cheese – delicious!

the gastromarket mercado merced in Malaga

There was an entire stall dedicated to all things octopus.

the gastromarket mercado merced in Malaga

Spanish home sold by the handful. Very more-ish if not Moorish.

The Mercado Merced in Malaga is located at Calle Merced 1 on a corner off the Plaza de la Merced.  It is open 6 days a week (closed Sundays) from 11AM.  I highly recommend it as a good place to stop off for a bite to eat and to people-watch.  It is a less intense setting also than the Central Market at Sao Paolo in Brasil. The Spanish laid-back attitude means no one is trying to sell you their wares while you are simply browsing.

The smaller more intimate setting also meant it did not turn off fussy-eaters like my daughter.  She ran like a bat out of hell from the Boqueria in Barcelona (meat everywhere! the smell!!) and we all had to trudge grudgingly after her.  At Mercado Merced in Malaga at least all of us were able to sit down and eat well.

This post is linked up with City Tripping.




The Hotel Val de Neu in Baqueira, A Family-Friendly Design Hotel

The Hotel Val de Neu in Baqueira, A Family-Friendly Design Hotel

When I saw that our hotel was set in a Spanish mini-mall, I was not exactly thrilled.  After all, I was expecting a 5-star design hotel. Once we were through the revolving doors, however, the Hotel Val de Neu in Baqueira was full of surprises.  A luxury hotel that was a design hotel and also very family-friendly? Now, if only more hotels could achieve that balance, I would be a happy family traveller.

Hotel Val de Neu in Baqueira

The Hotel Val de Neu in Baqueira

We chose Val de Neu because of its location and its amenities. OK, those reasons were what attracted my husband. As for me, I also liked having a contemporary design hotel after years of traditional ski lodges.  A member of a small group of Spanish hotels, the Hotel Val de Neu ticked most of our boxes.  We really liked it!

The Hotel Val de Neu in Baqueira

The entrance to the Val de Neu inside the mini-mall threw us for a loop.

I’ve created a story on Steller about the Hotel Val de Neu in Baqueira which has proved pretty popular with over 9000 views.  Check out how gorgeous this hotel is!


Hotel Val de Neu is part of a small complex on the Val de Ruda in the Baqueira section located at 1500 meters.  There are two other hotels, a Haagen-Daz store, a little supermarket, a handful of ski rental stores and boutiques and an apres-ski joint. The whole bit was covered and heated like a little mini-mall which was why I was surprised when I first saw it.

Basically Val de Ruda is only this little complex and a group of apartment-style ski lodges on the other side of the street.

The great part about the apres ski?  Parents could hang out with a drink while the children were messing around in the mini-mall nearby.  No  need to hire a babysitter.  On Saturday night, the bar had live music as well.

après ski in baqueira in Spain

I have to admit that ordinarily I would find this many children hellish. Spanish kids tend to be better behaved than their English counterparts though.

The hotel is located right near the ski gondola and the place where you buy your ski pass. The hotel Val de Neu has lockers near the gondola as well.  You don’t need to cart your skis and boots on the 5 minutes it talks to walk the 50 yards to the gondola.  If you have children, you know that 5 minute walk can feel like an eternity when they are tired and whiny.  At the lockers, the staff hand out cereal bars for snacks which I found a thoughtful touch.

If you drive (and I strongly urge you to do so), there is a hotel car park right underneath the building.


There is a kids’ club at the Hotel Val de Neu. It’s got a climbing frame, some PS3 games and lots of arts and crafts. There is also a small pool (more like a giant bathtub) which was pretty crowded with crazy kids jumping in the water.  My son also complained that the water was not heated.  I know, I know.  We were there for Easter and the kids’ club organised a Easter Egg Hunt in which many of the kids at the hotel participated.  The language of chocolate spoke to all kids, even my too-cool-for-kids-clubs kids.

The Spa at the hotel is available for over-16’s only and has treatment rooms, soaking areas and relaxing areas. As you would expect from my spa-loving self, I had a massage which was pretty good.

The Hotel Val de Neu in Baqueira

A hot tub with a view.

You have to pay €40 extra to enter the Spa area which I thought was annoying.  On the other hand, the Spa had a great selection of whirlpool baths, including an outdoor one, which was perfect for soothing away aching muscles.  I’ve read that many of the hotels in the area charge for using their spa even for their hotel guests.

There is a tiny gym which I did see people using.  If you are skiing, however, I would have thought it was exercise enough!


Our room was a duplex.  The downstairs area has a sofa which turned into a large bed for the children.  Upstairs is the open-plan bedroom and bathroom.  When the sofa bed is opened though, you don’t have much room to navigate the downstairs area.  As you would expect from a luxury hotel, both beds were very comfortable.

We noted that there is a connecting door to the next room.  Larger families would find the layout very convenient.  While we only had a large walk-in shower, I know there are bathrooms with bathtubs so if your children need a bathtub you should specifically request it.

The upstairs roof was pitched with dormer windows (and blackout blinds which would be necessary because the Spanish sleep late).  You really got the sense of being in a little chalet which presumably was the idea of dormer windows.


The hotel has four restaurants – El Bistro for casual  meals, El Bosque for fine dining, La Fondue if you miss your Alps melted cheese experience and a restaurant for children.

The Hotel Val de Neu in Baqueira

A quick lunch at the casual bistro.

My children felt the kiddie buffet was beneath their dignity but I stopped by for a look.   It was basically a converted conference room with a buffet of usual children’s favourites.  What did I find funny?  The kiddie buffet was served early as per the usual custom.  Early in Spanish dinner time meant 8pm-10pm.    The children were pretty young – 7 and under – I would say.  When my kids were aged 7 and under they were in bed fast asleep by 8pm.

The Hotel Val de Neu in Baqueira

Yes, you can have sweets for the kids laid out stylishly.

We had lunch at El Bistro and dinner at El Bosque both of which were excellent. El Bosque let us have a kiddie menu at our table for my daughter.

The Hotel Val de Neu in Baqueira

My son ordered steak at El Bosque.

Overall Assessment

Service at the hotel was excellent.  All the staff spoke English ranging from excellent to passable.  We don’t speak Spanish but had no problems communicating.

The Hotel Val de Neu in Baqueira

You don’t have to crane your neck trying to flag down a waiter!

The WiFi was excellent.  It reached the rooms, the spa and restaurants well.  Ironically?  The one place we did not have good WiFi was our upstairs loft bedroom.  Very annoying but it did stop us from playing with our electronics late into the night.

There were lots of thoughtful little touches.  For example, when our taxi service didn’t show up a couple of times, the hotel driver took us to our destinations.  Every afternoon, bottles of water and little sweet treats were left in our room.  When we left, they gave us bottles of water and snacks for the kids for the transfer to the airport.

Other Hotel Options in Baqueira

There were two other hotels that were part of this complex on the Val de Ruda.  The AC Baqueira is part of the Marriott chain and is likewise 5-star.  It doesn’t have the same large spa complex though that Val de Neu does. The 4-star Himalaia, the third hotel, is likewise contemporary in style.  I personally would not pick either hotel over the Hotel Val de Neu.

A look at family-friendly ski hotels in Baqueira Spain

Tanau, another part of Baqueira, is higher up the mountain.  Located at 1700 meters, Tanau peers over the Val de Ruda hotels and the rest of the valley.  Although Tanau has its own set of villas and a couple of hotels, restaurants and stores,  this hamlet is equally tiny and has its own ski lift.  It is marginally famous for having the villa of the Spanish royal family.  The Melia Royal Tanau is the 5-star family-friendly hotel.  Ironically, I don’t find it as convenient because of it’s lack of mini-mall setting.

The Hotel Val de Neu in Baqueira

The road that runs through Tanau. Yeah, that’s it.

Chalet Eira is owned by a British couple and is popular with English-speakers.  They also have their own ski school located on the premises, the Baqueira British Ski School.  A quick look in the hotel convinced us that it was a little piece of Britain transplanted into the Spanish Pyrenees.

Other hotels in Val de Neu in Baqueira

The Eira calls itself a style-hotel. Not sure how that is different from a design hotel.

The Chalet Eira rates are half-board so you don’t actually need to have any interaction with the locals if you so wish. When we went next door to the fabulous little restaurant, Tanau Sabor, we found lots of English people having their Chicken Tikka Masala curry fix.  In addition to the hotel rooms, they have several self-catering 2 and 3 bedroom apartments.

Our Opinion of the Hotels in Baqueira

We didn’t know much about the Baqueira-Beret resort before we went skiing there over Easter. We loved the resort, however, and plan on returning next year.  So, we made a point of checking out all of our hotel options for a future trip.

You can stay elsewhere in the Val d’Aran and still ski at Baqueira-Beret.  With children in tow, I am not a fan of this idea.  When my kids get tired, it’s like when the battery on my iPhone dies. It goes red for a few minutes, you can quickly plug it in or it’s kaput in short order.  My kids seem to have a very little gap from tired to cranky annoying dead-tired. I need to order downtime for them quickly for all of our sanities.

We’ve decided that we love the Hotel Val de Neu in Baqueira for all the reasons that we first picked – a luxury, family-friendly design ski hotel in a great location.  We also love the hotel for some more reasons that we did not know until we got to experience it – excellent and friendly service, the churros, and, yes, the convenience of a mini-mall.  The American is strong within me, I fear.

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10 Reasons Why You Should Take The Family Skiing in Spain

10 Reasons Why You Should Take The Family Skiing in Spain

Skiing in Spain?  Yes, Spain.  Not only does the country have miles of beautiful beaches along its coastline, the Pyrenees border with France has a world-class ski resort, Baqueira-Beret.  Throw in the great food and wine, could I love this country more?!  Here are my top 10 reasons for why you should take the family skiing in Spain.

10 reasons to take your kids skiing in Spain

I have to admit that I did not think about skiing in Spain either.  My husband has been to Andorra skiing but wouldn’t consider trading in the Alps for it.  At a travel bloggers’ conference in Costa Brava last year though, I met a fellow American who lived in the Val d’Aran and raved about its ski slopes.  Intrigued we did some research and found that indeed Baqueira Beret may be a hidden gem.  After all, if the very British Telegraph newspaper name-checked Baqueira Beret along with Alps stalwarts such as Verbier, than my husband was willing to give it a try.  We are so glad we did!!

Why Take The Family Skiing in Spain?

Less Crowded Slopes

The Spanish have a fairly relaxed attitude towards skiing.  Unlike places I’ve skied in the Alps, the line for the ski lifts is not ridiculously long at 9AM.  In Val d’Isere, for example, there is a ‘ski big or go home’ mentality where everyone skis from the time the lifts open.  In Baqueira, breakfast was still being served at 11 AM (and people were still lingering over their coffee).

This early morning lack of hustle is probably because the Spanish like to dine and to drink late into the night.  The Spanish trickle onto the slopes by 10-11 AM.  If you don’t keep Spanish hours like our family, this timetable means a more relaxed entry onto the slopes.

skiing in Spain

An afternoon siesta in the sunshine post-lunch.

The resort is fairly snow-sure.  When we went at the end of March for Easter, there was still a base layer of 2 meters of snow.  In addition, they have plenty of artificial snow cannons.

More Skiers than Snowboarders

There are also a lot more skiers than snowboarders at Bacqueira.  Our instructor told us that only about 10% of the snow sports lovers in Baqueira are snowboarders.

If you have had more than one-run with snowboarders like us, you know it is a good thing.  One of the children we went with last year to Val d’Isere broke her leg when she was was run over by a snowboarder.  And, the ludicrous part?  She was merely standing at the side of the slope with the ski instructor waiting for her ski class to catch up with them.

Plenty of Skiing Options

Baqueira Beret is actually strung along their own version of the 3 valleys similar to France – Bacqueira, Beret and Bonaigua. You will have plenty of choice on ski runs.  Having said that, for complete beginners there are only a handful of green runs.  There are, however, plenty of blue runs for an easy progression for those people with a bit more skiing experience.  There are also a good number of red runs for intermediates.

family skiing in Baqueira Spain

My kids did their first black run this trip! (And fell over only once). They are officially better skiers than me.

For the more expert skiers, Baqueira Beret has lots of heli-skiing options because really only about 10% of the slopes that are black runs.  Once again, they are reasonably priced and cheaper than the Alps.  My son is determined to be good enough to heliski now that he knows its an option.  If a family is skiing together, then children can go heliskiing, too.

Family-Friendly Resort

There were lots of families at the resort. We went during Semana Santa (the week before Easter) during which Spanish children have a holiday from school.  Baqueira is known for being a family resort.  We saw plenty of multi-generational families who were skiing with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins in tow.

We chose Marta, an owner and instructor with The Ski Lab skiing school, to ski with our kids because she was a friend of our former nanny.  Marta spoke excellent English which was handy because our children learned very little useful Spanish from the 2 1/2 years spent with our former nanny.

taking the kids skiing in Spain

Marta, our ski instructor

If you really want native English speaking instruction, there is a Baqueira British Ski School which is associated with Eira Hotel (a British-owned 4 star hotel) in Tanau. Like pretty much most of the area, Tanau is a tiny sleepy hamlet.

family skiing in Baqueira

This is the main drag of Tanau

As for après-ski, the Spanish kids were just milling around playing while their parents enjoyed a drink.  We didn’t have a nanny with us and (as ever) our kids refused to go to the kids club, but we were still able to enjoy a (non-quiet) drink after skiing.

Spanish Service

We had excellent service with friendly locals.  From my years in France, I know that ski resorts think of their clientele more as a necessarily evil. There are plenty of ski hire options, restaurants, bars and other services that cater to skiers.

Most of the skiers are French and Spanish.  We heard a smattering of English and Japanese as well.  If you stay in Tanau at Eira Hotel, it is pretty much all English-speaking people from what we could tell.

On the whole though, I found our lack of Spanish knowledge was not a hindrance.  Most people spoke English well enough to provide all necessary services, such as ski rental or ordering food.

Cheaper than the Alps

Baqueira-Beret is the Spanish answer to Gstaad with the Spanish royal family having a villa at Tanau (which is another part of Baqueira at 1700 meters elevation). The resort is definitely posh. Yet, it is remarkably cheaper than the resorts we’ve been to in the Alps (e.g., St. Anton in Austria, Val d’Isere and Courcheval in France).

There are other ski resorts which are even cheaper than Baqueira Beret in Spain and, of course, there is skiing in Andorra.  Baqueira Beret, though, gives you the comfort and quality of staying at one of the Alps top resorts without the eye-watering prices (especially a problem in the Alps when all of Europe seems to descend in the area for February half-term holidays).

baqueira beret

For example, we have hired private instructors for the children’s ski lessons in the past.  At Baqueira, our wonderful ski instructor, Marta from Ski Lab, was priced at €50/hour.  They had a full day of private class totalling 6 hours (split between morning and afternoon) during the busy Spanish Semana Santa week for €300.  We paid our equally great ski instructor from Progression Ski at Val d’Isere €480 for the full day during February half-term.

Churros for Breakfast

Can you get churros for breakfast in the French Alps?  I think not.  Along with the usual options such as croissants and crepes, you also get donuts and churros.  Of course, there are yogurts and fruits because, let’s face it, the stick-thin glamorous Spanish women do not remain that way by eating churros for breakfast.  One downside:  we did not see any muesli or oatmeal.

why you should take the family skiing in Spain

Decadent but you figure you can burn those calories away skiing.

To be fair, all the food was excellent.  The food was fairly international.  Our hotel had one restaurant called Le Fondue (what else?) which went with the usual-Alps tradition of melted cheese with everything. Since I’ve had more than my share of melted cheese for lunch and dinner on past ski-holidays, I saw no reason to eat there.  There were great local wines available as well.

taking the kids skiing in Spain

You’re always greeted with olives at a restaurant.

We had a delicious meal at Tanau Sabor which was recommended for its chicken curry.  We were a bit dubious but it was delicious.  Turns out the owner grew up eating Indian food because his mother was born in India when his grandparents worked as a doctor and a nurse in Calcutta many years ago!

Remember what I said about the Spaniards eating late?  Well, on the plus side for us non-Spaniards, the restaurants are pretty empty at 8pm when we like to eat.  The restaurants tend to have 2 seating times – 8pm and 10pm.  You can guess which one is the popular one!

family skiing in spain

My kids were in asleep by 8pm when they were young enough to eat from the kiddie buffet!

Lack of Scandi Yellow Pine Decor

The Spanish resort is blessedly free of reindeer motifs and that horrible yellow pine wood decor that seems a must in many of the Alps hotels.  Even our beloved Hotel Christiania was not immune to its fair share of traditional decor.

Yes, there are uber-cool places like Le Blizzard in Val d’isere.  They are so achingly cool, though, that it’s hard to picture little children at the hotel. People we knew who stayed at Le Blizzard all had teenage children. There were plenty of younger children at our 5 star hotel, Val de Neu, and they were actively welcomed with amenities such as children’s toiletries and bathrooms, children’s menus and a kids club.

family skiing in Spain

Our contemporary hotel, the Val de Neu

Here’s my Steller Story on our hotel, Val de Neu.

Choice of Villages

You don’t need to stay in Baqueira Beret to ski at the resort.  The resort of Baqueira itself is pretty small.  I walked it in about 20 minutes.

There are charming little medieval villages strung along the valley. These villages, too, are tiny but they all seem to have the obligatory Romanesque church.  They have accommodation as well as some restaurants.  My friend Rachel from the blog, Rachel’s Ruminations, did a tour of the Romanesque churches in the Val d’Aran.

We didn’t rent a car and that was a huge mistake.  The taxi service comes to your remote hamlet from the regional centre of Vielha which in our case was 20 minutes away.  In addition, the basic call out rate is €30 for a taxi even if you are going 5 minutes by car to the next village.  Walking is not a good idea though – the road is windy and there is no easy pedestrian byway on the side of the road.

family skiing in Spain

Even in Baqueira itself, the section that is Tanau is not an easy walk.

There is plenty of parking and ice/snow on the roads is not a problem as it is cleared regularly.

Activities for Non-Skiers

There is plenty in the Val d’Aran for non-skiers to be kept busy.  I consider eating and drinking my way through a series of medieval villages very entertaining in the manner of Rachel who did not ski when her family went skiing.

There are the usual horse and sled rides as well as dog-sledding.  The dog-sledding is in the mornings though from 10-1 and my ski-or-die family refused to take a morning off from the slopes to check it out.  For the more active, you can also go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.

Our Opinion of Baqueira Beret

I had to think twice about whether I really wanted to share this little gem of a resort.  Despite great reviews from even The New York Times, this place is still relatively undiscovered.  We will definitely be returning.

skiing in Baqueira Spain

A lone skier in the morning mist.

What do you think of my reasons on why you should take the family skiing in Spain?  Don’t get me wrong – I still like ski holidays in the Alps. I think it’s just an easier/cheaper experience in Spain especially because we are limited to travelling when everyone else is skiing during school holidays.

Practicalities of Family Skiing in Spain

We booked our stay ourselves using online resources.  We flew into Toulouse, France on Easy Jet and arranged for a private transfer to Baqueira-Beret.  Toulouse is only a 2 hour drive away through the valley of the Pyrenees.  Barcelona airport is also an option but it is 4 hours away and you will need to drive through the mountains themselves.  We stayed at the Hotel Val de Neu right in Baqueira because it is a 5 minute walk to a ski lift. Our instructor was from The Ski Lab, a small ski instruction company.  We rented ski equipment through a local store.  The resort is open from November to the week after Easter (no matter how early Easter is in the calendar!).

This post is linked up with Monday Escapes, Travel Photo Thursday and Weekend Wanderlust.

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Photo Essay:  Rural Beauty in the Costa Brava Countryside

Photo Essay: Rural Beauty in the Costa Brava Countryside

Sun, sand, sangria.  The Costa Brava is famous (or infamous depending on your view) for all of these things thanks to the influx of mass tourism into coastal towns like Lloret de Mar.  Away from the crowds, however, is the quieter and rural Costa Brava countryside full of charming villages and friendly people.  Although fairly close to the major party towns, the countryside and the little towns of the Emporda region of the Costa Brava feel a world apart.

rural beauty on the Costa Brava countryside of Spain

Emporda is a historical region in the interior of Costa Brava which is full of  medieval architecture. The charming villages are postcard perfect.  Some of the places we visited were the castle-palace of the Bishop Prince of Girona in Bisbal, Gala Dali’s (wife of local hero Salvador) home in Pubol, the charming reconstructed town of Pals and the Iberian ruins of Ullastret dating from 400 B.C..  We didn’t get to it but there is a Dali museum in the town of Figueres.

Known as the Catalan Tuscany, Emporda’s landscape is dotted with rice fields, olive groves, apple groves, vineyards and medieval villages.  This area, nestled between the mountains and the sea, has historically been a fertile and rich land.  Unlike the Italian Tuscany though, Emporda is still off the mainstream tourist path. It’s very easy to escape city life and feel like you’ve settled into the Costa Brava countryside like a local.

You can really get into the bucolic ideal by renting a cottage or doing a farm stay.  Don’t worry, there are also charming boutique hotels if you prefer some luxury for your rustic getaway. For example, Castell d’Emporda is a restored Catalan castle which is now a boutique hotel.  El Moli de Siurana seems a hybrid of the boutique hotel/farmhouse option.  In any event, you will not be lacking for accommodation choices!

The Costa Brava Countryside

As you can see the towns are close to each other.  The best thing to do is to either drive or cycle from town to town.  When you are tired stop off for some simple but delicious cuisine.  Live like the locals on fresh bread, tomatoes, olive oil, aioli and, of course, wine.

The Costa Brava Countryside

Fresh bread which is perfect for an impromptu picnic.

The Costa Brava Countryside

Delicious aioli made with fresh garlic in a stone mortar which looks like it has had lots of use.

Photo Gallery of the Costa Brava Countryside

The Costa Brava Countryside

The bridge over the River Daro built in the early 17th century.

The Costa Brava Countryside

A an idyllic farmhouse stay with a private swimming pool.

costa brava countryside

The view from the turret of a castle.

The Costa Brava Countryside

Beautiful old stone work arches provide shade from the sun.

The Costa Brava Countryside

You almost feel like you have stepped back in time at these beautiful old medieval villages.

The Costa Brava Countryside

My burricleta served me well.

Costa Brava Countryside

Colorful flowers in an old bucket adds to the beauty of the aged stone.

The Costa Brava Countryside

Flowers piling out of a windowsill match the faded colours of the stone.

The Costa Brava Countryside

Every village no matter how small seemed to have a church.

The Costa Brava Countryside

A field of poppies – simply stunning. This reminded me completely of The Wizard of Oz.

The Costa Brava Countryside

Two paths diverged in a field. Which one would be an easier cycle ride??

Costa Brava Countryside

The Catalan flag flies proudly all over the Costa Brava.

The Costa Brava Countryside

I loved the colours of the buildings.

The Costa Brava Countryside

What the photo doesn’t show is that this lane was heavy with the scent of orange blossom.

The Costa Brava Countryside

There are ruins and castles dotted throughout the countryside perfect for active children to explore.

Costa Brava countryside

Many of the farmhouses have these towers where the family could hole up for safety in case of invading marauders.

Getting to the Costa Brava Countryside

The Costa Brava countryside is easily accessible.  Luckily, there are two airports that serve the area (Girona and Barcelona).  The Girona airport is served by many low-cost carriers including Ryanair.  We flew into Barcelona because it has more flight options.  For some of our trip, we had a car rental.  Alternatively, you can use an airport transfer service from either airport, such as Atlas Transfers.

Once you are settled into your accommodation, I would suggest you bike around the countryside.  If that sounds like too much excerise, there are burricletos (bicycles with engines) that will help you cruise the countryside with ease. Warning:  The countryside looks pretty flat from the car but not so flat when you are actually cycling it!!  For suggested itineraries, the Emporda tourism office has handy tour routes of its 250 kilometres of bike paths.

This post is linked up with Photo Friday, Travel Photo Thursday and Weekend Wanderlust.

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