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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My son ordered steak at El Bosque.
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.
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.
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 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.
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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Richard Orlinski is one of France’s most famous contemporary artists. I had not heard of him before I saw his works at the Val d’Isere ski resort in the French Alps.
Orlinski mostly works with contemporary materials like resin and aluminium. He is known for creating works that are Pop Art influenced in industrial materials. His works reflect the theme of “Born Wild” – looking at concepts of savagery and civilisation. Born in 1966, he has been a sculptor since 2004. His pieces are very much marked as “price on application” – if you have to ask, you can’t afford it. We were told the Val d’Isere pieces run about €150,000.
He has a sculpture reflecting his theme of Born Wild. This piece shows clearly his love of Pop Art and is an homage to American artist, Robert Indiana, famous for his sculptures of the world “love”. Indiana had the letter “O” in his love statues tilted to show that love could never be perfect. I wonder what the tilted O and backward N and D in this piece means.
image: Richard Orlinski
There are several works of Orlinski at Val d’Isere that we saw – Wild Kong, Panther and Superman. Two works, Wild Kong and Panther, are in the mountains.
Our ski instructor told us that he’d seen Panther go up in a ski lift to where it would eventually be placed. The Panther is sculpted similar to a diamond and the light bounces off the different facets of the carving. I think the faceting highlights the sleek power of the panther’s muscles really effectively.
Wild Kong is, of course, based on the iconic character of King Kong. It’s pretty effective in conveying the born wild concept of the Orlinski – the beast that is capable of love and destruction. My son couldn’t resist mugging with Wild Kong.
I didn’t actually get a photograph of Superman even though I passed it every day. The sculpture is right at the bottom of the slopes where the ski school classes meet. Every day I thought I must get a photo and, of course, never got around to it. Superman was set pointing to the apres ski crowd in the village. I think he would have been more effective in the mountains like the others.
image: Le Dauhine
Orlinski modelled the Superman on Bolshevik art and asks the question what if Superman had landed in the USSR instead of the USA? The “S” symbol on Superman’s chest is replaced by the Communist symbols of a hammer and sickle.
Say what??! It might all be a little high-brow for me because frankly Superman is a fictional character. Superman is also a very American character – friendly, farm boy who goes to the big city and fights for good causes. There’s not nearly enough angst, family dysfunction, repressed sexuality, hopeless causes and death for it to be Russian. My husband says this attitude is the American in me speaking.
Orlinski’s works are also on exhibit also at the nearby ski resort of Courcheval, such as this bear.
Image from Instagram @RichardOrlinski
Cool isn’t it?
I think it is a fabulous idea bringing art to the French Alps. I find it amusing thought that both French resorts chosen (Val d’Isere and Courcheval) are known to have well-heeled clients. Art for the masses is good, but art that brings in wealthy clients for the artist is even better.
As a general rule, we don’t stay in the same hotel more than once because we like to try new places and experiences. The only time we have broken this rule is sking in Val D’Isere and the Hotel Christiana. So you figure the Hotel Christiana has to be something special for us to keep going back there!
front of hotel
We returned for our third year in a row to the Hotel Christiana a couple of weeks ago for a week of skiing during half-term. In fact we stayed in the same room as previous rooms as well. It’s a family suite with a separate bedroom/bath for the children. Our friends’ rooms are on the same floor and it’s easy for the children to run across the hall to each other’s rooms.
The hotel staff greeted us warmly and remembered our preferences. Pretty amazing considering we are only back for 1 week every year! The bartender makes this grog for me every year because invariably I have a sore throat at some point. The grog is a mix of rum, honey, cinnamon, lemon and hot water with an Earl Gray infusion. Yum!
I also like that the hotel seems to have a regular clientele which return every year. We meet the same families and our children play together. The hotel guests are a mix of European and English with no clear majority of any nationality.
The food is superb. There is an extensive breakfast buffet. We’ve never been around for lunch because we like to try out the restaurants in Val d’Isere. We always take half-board at the hotel because dinner is also excellent. In fact, we sometimes go out for drinks but return to the hotel restaurant for dinner.
The hotel run a play/crafts room near the dining room during school holidays. Our children like to hang out with their friends there while we eat dinner.
The location, likewise, is excellent. It’s a short few minutes to the main ski lifts and to the main street in town. There is a garage under the building should you chose to drive. Across the street is the very popular night spot, Dick’s Tea Bar. We, however, have heard no noise from Dick’s because the hotel closes its metal shutters at night.
Although traditionally decorated with its dark wood, velvet curtains and sofas, I noticed touches towards modern decor such as the Tom Dixon tea lights scattered around. This hotel, however, is comfortable in itself and isn’t trying to reinvent itself as anything. One night we were there, the King and Queen of Norway was having dinner in the restaurant as well. With a fairly staid clientele, changes to the hotel are never going to be radical.
This hotel, however, is not stuffy. My children regularly pad about downstairs in their socks. I’ve noticed some children coming down to the children’s dinner in pyjamas. When I hurt my knee skiing, I limped down to dinner in my complimentary spa slippers.
The spa, by the way, is very good. I’ve eased away the ski aches and pains with an excellent massage. There is also a pool which our children use most evenings and they have made friends with some of the other guests’ children playing in the pool.
Why do we return? The convenient location, nice family rooms, impeccable service and great food are all important. Most important, however, our children think of the Christiana as a ski home away from home. You can’t place a price on warm, fuzzy feelings!
We’ve been skiing in Val d’Isere in France for several years now. The slopes are a good mix of easy and hard, the instructors are excellent and the cuisine is superb. We have had enough meals over the course of the years to recommend several family-friendly restaurants in Val d’sere.
As you know, I like my food. These are my 6 of my favourite establishments – five that are child-friendly and one that is a date night special. Frankly, the Michelin-starred L’Atelier d’Edmond would just be wasted on children anyway because all my children want to do is wolf their food down and get back on their skis. Their idea of a French treat involves hitting up the supermarket for fancy French candy.
Restaurants in Val d’Isere
One of the best things about restaurants in Val d’Isere is the variety. You can chose from a range that includes simple pizzas, trendy burger joints and formal Michelin-starred restaurants.
La Fruitiere is a converted dairy near the La Daille gondola, so hip it hurts. Blackboard menus? check. Zinc bar? check. artistically arranged memorabilia? check. The food and service are pretty good despite being packed with people.
La Folie Douce, next door and part of the same establishment as La Fruitiere, is THE place to apres-ski. One of my abiding memories of La Folie is a saxophonist belting out music on a balcony while the snow fell around him. You can send the children back to ski school and join the after-lunch party!
Michelin-starred L’atelier d’Edmond is truly fabulous and a good parents-only option. Although charmingly decorated like a carpenter’s shop, the food is elegantly served and delicious. Last year, we were in Val d’Isere for Valentine’s Day and we had lunch at this restaurant. Needless to say, we didn’t take the children!
Sur La Montagne
We like Sur La Montagne for an easy lunch. It’s reasonably priced and an easy choice with children. Downstairs, there are cozy sofas to lounge in.
La Peau de Vache
La Peau de Vache is also on the mountain. You can hang outside having drinks on the hay bales or go inside to try their ginormous burgers and salads.
In town, at the back of the Quicksilver/Roxy store, there is an American-style diner our children love. It’s got good burgers and milkshakes.
We take the option of half-board at the Hotel Christiana because the food is actually excellent. The restaurant staff serve dinner for the children early. There is a good selection of freshly-cooked fish, steak, chicken, spaghetti bolognese and side orders of steamed vegetables.
Usually the dessert table for the adults’ dinner is in the process of being stocked while the children eat and they have a choice of treats. The restaurant fare for the adults has specials that change every night. Both the food and wine choices are superb.
We will be skiing again this year at Val d’Isere and I am looking forward to trying some new options! If you have any recommendations, I’d love to hear from you!