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Ski Sierra Nevada

chairliftThe Sierra Nevada with its high altitude, but warm climate, provides many slopes of all levels, excluding blacks.  On our recent visit the 2 small black runs were closed. Overall we were impressed with the extent of the resort, preferring it to some Andorran destinations, especially enjoying La Laguna which is a whole section of the mountain with reds all the way, nicely tucked away from beginners.  From here, we were told, you can see the sea whilst skiing, but it seemed just out of my eye's reach despite the clear blue skies. There hadn't been a snowfall for some time before our trip so the pistas were boosted by snow-makers. But despite this the skiing was of a good standard - better than we had expected, and the Spanish sunshine made it all the more enjoyable. The ski village is centred around a buzzy square, Plaza de Andalucia, making the apres-ski on a warm terrace a welcome bonus after a long day on the ski runs. 

I always find the first morning in a ski resort frustrating.  We, along with many others, were taking advantage of a long weekend in Spain which meant it was a busy time to be there. There is the queuing for passes and being piled high with ski's and poles for children who want to save their energy for the slopes and the potential for making time-wasting errors as you work out the best way to do things.  Of course its worth it in the end, but initially it hardly plazadeandaluciafeels like a holiday.  So I wish to suggest some tips for how to manage a Sierra Nevada ski trip with minimal stress.  These things are especially useful if you have children in tow, or if you like to do things the easy way.

WHERE TO STAY - If you can afford the prices of rooms in the Plaza de Andalucia itself, from where the gondalas leave, that would be ideal, but of course they don't come cheap.  It may be a compromise to stay one layer up the hillside, but within walking distance. Remember when booking your accommodation that the best location would be in Zona Baja, while Zona Alta is the furthest from the plaza. Our apartments were on the Zona Media (mid-level) which was a walk from a chair-lift and some queuing before we got to the village centre.  Thankfully they did allow us on the lift before we had bought our ski passes on the first morning! Whilst there are advantages in the pricing of these apartments and a parking space is included (which would cost €23 a day closer to the gondalas) you do need to be organised to help this location be enjoyable.  When you return from the slopes at the end of the day there may be a huge winding queue for the return ride in the chair-lift to go back up the hillside to your room.  We found a system to make this work for us. We would happily have our hour of apres-ski, whilst vaguely keeping an eye on the queue, before becoming one of the last passengers. But it is restricting and be warned, once the queue has gone they stop running the lift.

lockerSKI HIRE AND LOCKER - As we were staying someway up from the square we needed to walk and then come down the mountainside on a chair-lift.  For this reason I recommend that you only hire your gear once you have organised everything else, possibly from the same shop as your ski school (if you are doing that) - not the night before as we mistakenly did.  At the end of your first day, hire a locker at the top (Borraguiles) and keep everything stored there when not skiing. At €16 a day this felt like money well spent, especially as we managed to squeeze about 6 people's stuff in it. This way you walk in your regular shoes until the last moment.  The lockers can be hired from the shop at the top of the stairs once you get off the Borreguiles Gondala, on the left.  You could hire everything from here actually but you may pay a little more than in the square for the priviledge. Once you are fully 'geared up' its just a few steps to the snow and ski lifts, and the ski school collection points.  You can expect to hire equipment in the square for about €10 a day per person.

If, however, you are staying in the main square, Plaza de Andalucia, it is possible to ski right down to the village at the end of each day and a short stroll will take you back to your accommodation.

SKI PASSES - This was easy enough, if you have a card with a pin.  There are machines which issue the passes quickly and easily.  For those that need to sign or pay cash the queues were longer.

tunnelSKI SCHOOL - I did pre-book ski classes for the children, but I'm not sure how helpful that was.  There are numerous options around the square, so it may be better to arrange it on the spot. When we arrived, after several confirmation emails, credit card details taken and calls, I was told to wait while further calls were made to see if it was actually going to be possible.  It worked out in the end, and their classes were small, but I can't recommend the process we took. You can ask for english-speaking instructors, and there is one school called the British Ski Center, although I haven't used this myself. We paid €78 per child for a weekend course - 6 hours in total.  Times were - Saturday 12-3 / Sunday 10-1.

FOOD - If you are staying in an apartment I would recommend doing a shop before you arrive and prepare at least packed lunches to take up the mountain with you.  Remember that ski and board enthusiasts work in ski resorts and the food from restaurants is pretty horrible - and expensive.  However, if you need to warm up on an overcast day visit the Restaurant Borreguiles by the ski lifts which is toasty and warm.  A Menu del Dia (€15) is 3 courses and can feed two. Many bars around the main square, at the end of the day, provide tapas with each round of drinks in typical Andalucian style.

Have a look on this website - www.go-sierra-nevada.com - for more information including about transport options.

And if you want to combine your ski holiday with the beach (at unspoilt Cabo de Gata National Park), or the city of Granada with its wonderful Alhambra and cerveza and tapas culture, or a cave hotel stay in Baza or Guadix, all are within a reasonable drive.  Think about tying in a Granada visit with the tango festival there in March. Of course you need to pack carefully but there is something special about a holiday that gives you a little of a lot of experiences.  This can work very well at Easter especially when the temperatures are warming up.

While ski accommodation is often just a base, and rarely seems particularly inspirational, there are plenty of unusual places to stay in the surrounding areas.  Here are some suggestions.

Palacio de Los Navas - Is a small hotel close to the Alhambra in the heart of the old town of Granada.

alhambraLa Joya de Cabo de Gata - A beautiful getaway, near Agua Amarga, with 2 farmhouse cottages and a bedouin tent plus a roman bath style pool and Arabian Pavilion to relax in.  Interesting activities are available nearby - horse riding, camel or 4x4 desert safaris and sailing and diving.

Cuevas la Granja - At this interesting place you can get fully immersed in the culture with spanish, cooking, wine and flamenco courses.

Cuevas Pedro de Alarcon - From this group of caves you can experience various fiestas, including Semana Santa (Easter) - see previous blog.

Altiplano Tipis - Close to Baza, this small tipi and cave hideaway was actually the inspiration for QuirkyAccom.  After our stop here we realised what an inspirational addition to a holiday interesting accommodation can be.

Caves al Jatib - Down the road from the above tipis, near Baza, these caves apartments also offer a restaurant, pool and hamman, in a lovely setting.  We watched the sunset, over dinner, while the children played in a mini maze of cave tunnels.