I’ve been to Barcelona on several occasions, but spent most of my time sitting on the beach rather than seeking snow.
So I’m surprised to learn that just a four-hour drive away in the centre of the Pyrenees is the little-known ski resort of Val d’Aran.
Promising a peaceful and slightly more luxurious skiing or snowboarding experience than nearby Andorra, the resort has been attracting Spanish visitors for many years. As far as the British market is concerned though, this is virgin snow.
After flying into Barcelona with Monarch, we pick up a hire car and drive the four-hour journey through the sleepy villages of Sopeira and Montanuy.
Finally, we wind our way up through the mountain tunnels and hairpin bends to the ancient town of Vielha, and a little further on to the resort of Val d’Aran.
Our base, the five-star Hotel Le Pleta, is popular with the Spanish royal family, and as we walk into a lobby filled with burning candles and roaring fires, I can see why.
The hotel itself is quite large but still retains the feel of a cosy country ski lodge with wood-panelled ceilings and lovely stone and slate floors.
After a heavenly night’s sleep, we head out to the piste. The resort is made up of three areas – Beret, Baqueira and Bonaigua – with an intricate system of chair lifts and cable cars to bring you to the top of your chosen run.
In total there are 170km of skiable slopes – making it deceptively bigger than the resort actually feels.
There’s no queue at the bottom of the lifts, and as we rise higher into the Pyrenees, it’s surprising to see such vast and open slopes. There’s very little ski traffic, and no caterpillars of children wearing coloured bibs in ski school – just the quiet serenity of the mountains.
Bonaigua is for the more experienced extreme snow sports enthusiast and is made up of terrifyingly steep black runs, as well as a number of cross skiing routes and some pretty spectacular walking paths.
Beret and Baqueira offer easier runs as well as plenty of cafes, but there are also black and red runs too.
After a fun day on the slopes, the sun is setting, the last few adrenaline seekers are departing the beautifully manicured pistes and it’s time to return to the hotel.
A mini bus takes us right to the doorstep of Hotel la Pleta where a porter awaits to take our equipment.
Walking through reception, we’re drawn to the swimming pool on the floor below.
Lovely smelling salts, high ceilings and a multitude of flickering candles help to ease the day’s knocks and many falls.
Afterwards, we venture out to Vielha for a bit of apres ski. The town dates to Roman times and is filled with historical mansions, mountain houses and 12th century churches. There are also cosy bars dotted along the river, perfect for a few drinks before dinner.
We dine at the Corner Eth restaurant in the old part of the town and sample local beer and French-influenced cuisine.
I’m amazed so few people know about Val d’Aran. This is one secret the Spaniards should definitely be sharing with the Brits.
Beth Littler was a guest of the Catalonia tourist board. Visit catalunya.com
Neilson (neilson.co.uk; 0845 070 3460) offers a seven-night break from £955 per person, including half-board accommodation at a three-star hotel, flights from Gatwick, transfers and the services of a resort representative. Departs February 23, 2014.
Rooms at Hotel La Pleta (lapleta.com) in Baqueira start from 180 euros.
For more information on Refugi Montgarri, visit montgarri.com