Pick the Pyrenees for this year's ski holiday!
The Pyrenees Mountains lie on the border shared by France, Spain and Andorra, in the region of Catalonia. The Pyrenees are often overshadowed by the French Alps both figuratively, in that the Alps are the first port of call for most skiers and snowboarders, and literally, as the peaks of the Alps are much higher than those of the Pyrenees. However, the resorts of the Pyrenees deserve more attention than they get, boasting not only great skiing opportunities but a great atmosphere and non-skiing attractions. In this article we introduce you to the Pyrenees and the resorts it is home to, including Bareges, La Mongie, Cauterets, St Lary, Les Angles and Font Romeu.
Skiing in the Pyrenees. The ski areas of the Pyrenees Mountains have a well-justified reputation as a great place for beginner and intermediate skiers. If you’re looking to learn to ski in the Pyrenees then there’s a choice of ski schools, offering private and group tuition, and a number of nursery slopes served by magic carpets. For intermediates there are gentle, cruising runs alongside more challenging reds that allow skiers to progress. But the appeal of the Pyrenees extends to what it offers more experienced skiers, too: black runs can be very difficult, and there’s off-piste that can be very special in the right conditions (the descent from the Pic du Midi Observatory above La Mongie/Bareges is a case in point). Snowboarders tend to populate the snowparks in the Pyrenees, but can also be seen floating over the fresh powder off the piste. Cross-country skiing is a favourite of many locals, and the extensive trails in the Pyrenees take in some stunning scenery (think frozen waterfalls).
Snow in the Pyrenees. The Pyrenees Mountains do not reach the dizzy heights reached by some of the peaks in the Alps, and this lack of high-altitude has made holidaymakers wary of the snow conditions. But really the resorts in the Pyrenees are subject to the same snow uncertainty that affects ski resorts the world over, and they are better than averagely prepared in terms of snowmaking for any problems that might materialise. For instance, Les Angles has 363 snow-guns covering 50km of piste; that’s an impressive 7 snow guns per km of piste!
Alternative activities in the Pyrenees. One thing that sets Pyrenean resorts apart from manicured resorts elsewhere in France is that the local culture is still dominant. This means that your holiday feels like a holiday, rather than an extension of home, and you should not be surprised to encounter non-English speakers and other aspects of the Catalonian way of life. The Pyrenees has also long been known for its health resorts, and there are many thermal spas in the mountainous settlements. Napoleon III even built a hospital in Bareges so his soldiers could benefit!
Getting to the Pyrenees. There are a myriad of ways of getting to the Pyrenees, and which is quickest and cheapest will depend on which resort you’re staying in. Thankfully, with airlines now doing regular services to smaller airports, such as Perpignan and Lourdes, it’s easy to get to an airport less than 2 hour’s drive from resort. In some instances there are great public transport services to make your journey effortless – in the case of traveling between Perpignan and Les Angles there is a bus for 1 euro! Other airports with quick transfers to the Pyrenees include Barcelona and Toulouse.
Great value holidays in the Pyrenees. As it’s off the beaten path (in the south of France rather than in the east), less commercialised and lesser known, prices are correspondingly lower. This means you can enjoy a luxury, catered chalet at a great discount to prices in the Alps, or look for a self-catered option to give you a budget ski holiday. And this extends to food too: the ‘gastronomie francaise’ needn’t break the bank here, and eating on the mountain needn’t either. So you can truly enjoy the Catalonian food, with its French and Spanish influences, on your ski holiday!
Accommodation in the Pyrenees. There’s everything from traditional old towns to functional, purpose-built apartment blocks in the Pyrenees. Some resorts, such as Les Angles (a charming stone village) and La Mongie (modern and purpose-built) can clearly be classified as one or the other, whilst others combine both aspects (Font Romeu, for example). What this means is that there’s something for everyone, and depending on which resort you choose you’re sure to get what you want. Quaint old buildings have been turned into the perfect retreat for a luxury ski holiday. Elsewhere, apartment blocks are ski-in/ski-out with close proximity to slopes and lifts. Note that if you’re on a family ski holiday it’s worth considering how close your accommodation is to ski-school meeting points.