Sierra Nevada – ‘ Peak Retreat’ Luxury Ski Hotel
Enjoy a cool Yule of winter sports and après ski in the mountains of Andalucía’s Sierra Nevada
The ground starts to fall away below me, and within a minute the snow clad rooftops of the village shrink within the stunning landscape of rock and snow. The sky is clear with light bouncing off the steep, brilliant white mountainsides. It’s strangely peaceful as I glide through the air, with just the occasional light shudder as the cabin passes over the steel towers bolted onto the rock below.
I’m riding one of the twin gondolas that run from Sierra Nevada’s ski resort of Pradollano to the mid station of Borreguiles. Excited for a day ahead on one of Spain’s highest mountain ranges, I’m impatient to get to the slopes.
14 peaks make up this impressive sierra that is just a few hours from some of the Mediterranean’s finest beaches – the cliché suggests skiing in the morning and a ‘sundowner’ on an Andalusian beach in the evening. So contrary to perceived wisdom, Spain is more than just sun and sea; it is in fact one of Europe’s most mountainous countries with world-class peaks and more than a dozen winter sports resorts.
As I walk out of the lift station I am greeted by dazzling sunshine and the sound of crisp powder beneath my boots. I am above the clouds, in clear, dry, frosty mountain air. It seems a world away from the elegant yet cosy Hotel Rumaykiyya, an alpine 5 star lodge resort nestling in the ski village below. Just an hour before I was tucking into their signature breakfast and enjoying my second double espresso, looking out at the snowscape from the warm dining room; now I’m amongst the energy and excitement of the slopes, surrounded by brightly dressed people with their skis and snowboards.
Andalucía’s Sierra Nevada is southern Europe’s winter wonderland. Its main ski village of Pradollano sits at some 2100 metres, that’s over 700 metres higher than the UK’s loftiest peak of Ben Nevis. Taking the gondolas and lifts to the slopes, takes you even higher. The Laguna lift for example, heads towards the peak of Valeta, bringing you to almost 3000 metres – breathtaking!
This autumn’s November storms dumped tonnes of snow on these slopes, in perfect timing for the beginning of the winter sports season. Already high altitude runs are open for experienced boarders and skiers; whilst beginners can enjoy the ease of the gentle slopes around Borreguiles.
As I prepare to join another lift to higher slopes, I glimpse adults and families on the nursery slopes below, getting the hang of bending those knees and keeping balance! It’s an amiable and lively atmosphere and the great thing about Sierra Nevada is that it has plenty of space for novices, experts and the rest of us in-between. There are over 39 pistes, 100 kilometres of runs and some 44 lifts, and a season that extends until well after Easter.
Sitting on the lift, I turn to look behind me and take in the view; the huge valley below is home to Granada, and the remarkable Moorish citadel of the Alhambra, Spain’s number one visitor attraction. It is certainly true that a winter break here is more than just about the sports. Granada city, just 20 minutes drive below, has a wealth of cultural sites and this university city has a dynamic atmosphere, with plenty of bars and of course those complementary tapas that come with every drink you order.
Traditionally Pradollano has been the ‘cheep and cheerful’ face of Spanish winter sports, but now the village boasts a choice of posh chalets, upscale lodges, 4 star hotels, spas, and also the 5 star Hotel Rumaykiyya which captures the flavour of an Alpine retreat. The hotel offers guests suites, large family rooms and duplexes for those special family holidays and festive celebrations. The rooms and alpine balconies look out onto the sierra, so you can catch the sunrise reflecting off the piste, and at the end of the day enjoy a glass in hand, as the sunsets behind the mountain – it’s a magical spot.
The General Manager Miguel Lijo and his team are experts on the area and together with their onsite winter sports rental company, they can kit you out with everything you need, from boots, skis or board, and safety helmet, to lift pass or ‘forfait’ as it is known. Rumaykiyya also has a spa with relaxing whirlpool, and massage treatment rooms to tend to those aching muscles.
Sierra Nevada attracts visitors well beyond Andalucía, seeking its inimitable combination of ‘sol y nieve’; sun and snow. Even with temperatures approaching freezing, the warming Andalusian sun keeps me comfortable throughout my day boarding.
The slopes are well groomed and I’m impressed to see that the resort has flood lights for weekend night skiing as well as a complete network of snow machines to keep the busy sections in good condition during the days of no snowfall.
The resort is has almost 50 kilometres of fun and easy to navigate runs and another 50 kilometres of compelling intermediate runs. There are also a few steep and challenging slopes for those that have the expert skill and the nerve. Whilst for families there is a dedicated recreational area with toboggan runs and ice rink as well as mountain tours in snow trucks.
As the afternoon sun begins to fade, and the temperature drops, things begin to warm up in the village. By the time I get down to Pradollano music fills the cool air and the bars and restaurants are getting busy. There are relaxed outdoor terraces with funky butterfly chairs offering views of the mountain, making a comfortable spot for a late afternoon drink. To satisfy your appetite there are friendly pizzerias, alpine creperies, and Spanish tapas bars as well as fine dining at hotels such as the Rumaykiyya.
The atmosphere in Pradollano buzzes as friends and families share stories of the day’s action on the slopes. The festive street lights reflect off the icy streets and thoughts turn to Christmas.
©COPYRIGHT ANDREW FORBES