The Spanish Pyrenees offer solitude and stunning views
By Manuel Meyer Jan 10, 2012, 3:06 GMT
Tavascan/Baqueira, Spain - They came in search of peace and quiet and that is why Erika, Raquel and Gerardo chose this compact valley on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees mountains in Catalonia.
The three pals from Madrid wanted to hike around the snow-covered peaks far away from the tourist clamour of the nearby ski slopes. What better way to do so than on snowshoes?
They started off at La Pleta del Prat ski station near Tavascan which has only five slopes to its name. That makes it one of the smallest resorts in the Pyrenees and although visitors come for the attractive cross-country ski circuits and the chance to ski in deep snow, trekking on snowshoes is growing in popularity.
It is tranquil up here although being so far from the madding crowd does take some getting used to. Erika, Raquel and Gerardo may be only a threesome but they make enough noise for ten.
Ski guide Pau Gomez looks on impassively as the trio chatters away incessantly while donning their snowshoes. He knows that visitors from the Spanish capital are sometimes 'a little nervous' when they arrive here. 'That will soon change,' he says, cryptically.
The group settles down within 100 metres of setting off, a transformation which surprises even Pau. 'Phew, this is heavy going,' says Erika, the first to break the silence. Her remark prompts titters of confirmation. Until now, none of the visitors wanted to admit that walking on snowshoes is a much more arduous way of getting around than they expected.
A half an hour later the travellers pause for the first time. 'Right, take your jackets off and rub in some sun lotion,' says the guide. The Pyrenees are blessed with a great deal of bright sunshine throughout the winter and the sky is usually devoid of clouds.
Such weather conditions are ideal for skiers but it is easy to work up a sweat while trying to get around on snowshoes. Soon the pals resume their trek to the remote Lake Estany del Diable which lies 2,320 metres aloft. The pristine landscape with stunning views compensates for the calorie-burning climb.
When evening comes the hikers are all tucking into venison goulash at the restaurant Civet de Jabali and it's time to look back on the day's activities. Erika and Raquel want to turn in early since they know that day two is set to be exhausting.
The agenda includes a trek through the Aigueestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici national park. This territory is known for its wealth of shimmering lakes. There are 200 in all surrounded by snow-clad pine forests and majestic peaks which stand up to 3,000 metres tall. The outlook is captivating enough to take the walkers' minds off the grating sounds of spikes crunching paths paved with slabs of ice.
The national park is only 30 minutes away from Boi Tauell, the highest of 11 ski regions in the Catalonia Pyrenees. The slopes between 2,020 and 2,751 metres are guaranteed to thrill the sporting since they promise skiing with grand views as well as some of the finest and most reliable snow conditions.
The neighbouring ski slopes of Baqueira-Beret can boast the chocolate box-setting of the Aran Valley in the heart of the Pyrenees and are regarded as the ultimate Spanish wintersports Eldorado.
Visitors might be overtaken on the piste by Formula One ace Fernando Alonso or rub shoulders at the ski lift with film stars Penelope Cruz or Javier Bardem. The Spanish royal family also has a soft spot for the resort in winter.
Baqueira-Beret is home to ski fans who delight in the challenging steep slopes branded in red or black to indicate that they are off limits to rookies.
The Vall d'Aran, which translates roughly as 'the valley of the valley' is one of the most attractive locations in the Pyrenees. It used to be cut off from the outside world in wintertime. As a result, the locals grew up speaking a dialect of Gascon French, with their own customs and a delicious local culinary tradition.