Your clients may have hiked the Rockies, trekked the Andes and
skied in Whistler. But have they visited Spain’s Val d’Aran?
Located near the French border in the northwestern part of
Catalonia, the high valley is surrounded by the Pyrenees’ highest
peaks and is a favorite among wealthy Spaniards for world-class
winter sports. But with its crystal lakes, rushing waterfalls and
hundreds of miles of trails, the area is an ideal year-round
destination as well.
As a non-skier, I was delighted to visit in July when the weather
had warmed, crowds had dispersed and wildflowers covered
green-carpeted fields. The small villages looked like they came out
of the pages of a fairy tale: Tidy homes had steeply slanted slate
roofs, honey-colored stone walls and balconies spilling over with
red geraniums. The Romanesque-style churches, some 10 or more
centuries old with distinctive pointed bell towers, contributed to
the charming picture.
The village of Arties has the area’s best nightlife and the most
restaurants, including Casa Irene,
reputed to be the valley’s finest. Vielha, the capital, is the
largest town with a population of about 4,000. The resort village
of Baqueira is the most upscale and boasts the best winter skiing,
with 57 runs, an average snowfall of 32 feet and a top elevation of
8,234 feet across a terrain of 4,749 acres. But though the area is
a winter playground for Europe’s elite, the entire valley seemed
relaxed, casual and laidback wholly lacking the self-absorbed scene
of say, Aspen or Vail. I didn’t see a single designer boutique.
I did, however, see plenty of borda small, family-style
restaurants, where huge, hearty portions are served on platters and
everyone just digs in. With the emphasis on stews, game and blood
sausage, the local tipico cuisine was too heavy for my
California-honed vegetarian tastes, but I adored the fresh
vegetables, wild mushrooms, pan y tomate (toast rubbed with garlic,
smeared with raw tomato and drizzled with olive oil), tortilla
espanola (a potato omelette) and of course rioja, Spain’s delicious
red wine. And the cassis a sweet aperitif made from wild mountain
berries was reason enough to visit.
Clients traveling to Val d’Aran can fly to either France or Spain.
The nearest airports are Toulouse, (about 100 miles away), Zaragoza
(180 miles away) and Barcelona (220 miles away).
|WHERE TO STAY|
La Pleta: Baqueria’s Boutique Luxury Hotel
“You like cigars and cognac? I don’t, really,” the young Spaniard
We were in the lobby of La Pleta Hotel in the resort town of
Baqueira, Spain. Mellow jazz filled the air, cozy sofas and chilled
champagne awaited us, cabinets were stocked with Cuban stogies and
fine liquor, and the Pyrenees’ peaks loomed just outside the
“This cognac costs 5,200 euro,” the Spaniard added. “I’d rather
have a cup of coffee after dinner.”
Well, at that price, I prefer coffee too. But for the wealthy
guests of this new boutique luxury hotel, fancy cigars and pricey
liquor fit right in.
La Pleta, part of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, nestles so
snugly against the imposing mountain range that I felt like I could
reach out the window and touch the slope. Just steps to the ski
lifts, the 71-room hotel is often solidly booked in winter. Last
winter, Posh Spice was one of many celebrity guests, and the staff
here still gossips about her all-Chanel outfit including matching
Chanel skis. (For the record, Ms. Beckham chose the two-level
presidential suite with the bed facing the mountain and a
large-screen television that drops from the ceiling.)
Val d’Aran is spectacular in summer, but the message hasn’t quite
gotten out to the masses. The area was quiet, pristine and serene
during my short stay. The resort hopes to entice warm-weather
travelers with an array of summer adventures, including horseback
riding, kayaking, whitewater rafting, canoeing, helicopter
sightseeing or mountain biking (the Tour de France passed in front
of the hotel during my visit). As part of the hotel’s partnership
with the nearby Jeep Academy, guests can learn to navigate ditches,
creeks and narrow mountain trails.
Rates for standard rooms start at about $130 in summer; adventure
packages start at $235 for three nights. Winter daily rates start
at $213, four-night minimum.
Commission: 10 percent