Snow Enthusiast’s Rob Stewart takes a family February half-term break in Southern Spain – combining sightseeing, Spanish culture, skiing and even a little beach time.
I’d known about Spain’s southern ski resort, Sierra Nevada, for many years and had always had it on the list of ‘must do places’, so when I spotted an opportunity during the February half term week for a multi-activity holiday that didn’t look too price sensitive for a school holiday week, I had to go for it.
The itinerary, more enticing (and varied) than a spread of evening tapas served up with a fine sherry, took in the city of Grenada – along with its famous Alhambra palace – four days skiing in the Sierra Nevada ski resort and then two days in the city of Malaga.
The Grenada experience
It’s a couple of hours drive from Malaga Airport to the city of Grenada and although it’s possible to fly to Grenada itself, it made more sense to fly into Malaga as it was easier for the return leg of the journey. We hired a vehicle and got an upgrade to a 4×4 and although it wasn’t needed, it’s a good option to have, as despite being in Southern Spain, it does snow in the mountains – fortunately.
Arriving in Grenada at 10pm at night is an interesting experience, especially when our hotel was right in the middle of the old city. Tightly twisting cobbled streets – only just wide enough for the Jeep – and that are barricaded off for residents only, create a genuine challenge for even the most hardy of drivers. The city was alive with people out on the town, eating, drinking – this was a Sunday night in February, yet the streets were buzzing. Our family of three (myself, my wife and eight year old daughter), needed to get our heads down for the night.
The hotel recommended a taxi to get up to the Alhambra (or one of the very efficient buses that runs from the town centre). But we opted for the thirty or so minute walk that meanders up the steeply winding streets. Being mid-February, we expected cold weather, but it was pleasantly mild and a light fleece was enough – although they can experience snow here during the winter. Spending a morning wandering around the fascinating, historic and atmospheric Moorish fortress was fun, even with an eight year old, who finally lost interest only when hunger took over, not boredom. It really is a special place and despite the huge volume of tourists coming through, you get a genuine feel of history.
The Museum of the Sacromonte Cave Dwellings is worth a visit too, famous for its history of culture through the ages, where the dwellings housed gypsies up until a relatively recent period.
That evening we experienced the famous Andalusian dance – the Flamenco. Seeking out the genuine version of this isn’t easy, as it’s ingrained in gypsy culture. The restaurant was a special Flamenco experience set up, a bit touristy but done very well. The show was mesmerising and we forgot about eating, my daughter instantly wanting to become a Flamenco dancer, more troubling.
Grenada is a much larger city than I had imagined it to be, with a considerable student population. The back streets in the old centre are buzzing and the bars are flowing – I ducked into an old traditional cantina, the walls lined with hams, hanging to entice the drinker to order tapas. No need, because with a small beer comes complimentary food, a simple but tasty Paella – all for the total sum of €1.40.
The Resort of Sierra Nevada
Grenada is just forty minutes’ drive from the world class ski resort of Sierra Nevada and although a daily commute is possible, we had decided to base ourselves in resort for our four night stay.
It’s a sensible option if you’re planning to ski, especially with a family. The resort of Sierra Nevada is modern and extends up one side of the mountain, at an altitude of 2,100 metres – making it one of the highest ski resorts in Europe. Unlike the Alps though, views extend for miles across the flat plains of Andalucía. Whilst the area records over 80% of the days as being sunny, the resort does have a great snow record, with its high altitude, mostly northern and western facing slopes. This week was no exception, we had sunshine and good snow on-piste all week long.
Two gondola style cable cars and a chairlift provide the main access to the ski area from the town’s central hub – which has a slightly North American feel due to its architecture and design, with most of the resorts shops, bars and restaurants focused around a large square. The gondola’s whisk skiers and snowboarders of all levels up to the mid-station of Borreguiles. Here, a number of large mountain restaurants form the main hub of the ski area, ski school meeting point and extensive beginner’s slopes.
It’s an ideal nursery ground for first timers and anyone looking to build their confidence.
But what the resort excels in is the amount of intermediate piste terrain on offer. On paper, the resort doesn’t look huge (around 100km’s of pisted slopes), but the wide-open terrain provides lots of choice and the lifts open up multiple options, especially on the quieter Laguna de las Yeguas side, served by a long chairlift that opens up a huge area that also has some good off-piste options in the right snow conditions.
Family skiing in Sierra Nevada
We decided to ski as a family – my eight year old competent enough to handle all the blues and most of the red runs. As a family orientated ski area, it’s hard to beat – the central hub of Borreguiles providing a reliable (if not sometimes bustling) meeting place for coffee or lunch.
Sierra Nevada has one of the largest snowparks in Europe, and it’s impressive. But they also have an entry level (suitable for children over the age of 6) park area too and we played in that – and although I’m way passed the sell by date for snow parks, this one is friendly enough to build our confidence, with a series of easy boxes at various levels that ease us in.
I decided we should ski from the highest point of the ski area (a little short of 3398 on the Veleta peak) at least once. The steep T-Bar lift to the top is the only one of its kind in the resort, but it’s a challenge with an eight year old. Still, we make it and the views are spectacular – spreading across what feels like the whole of Southern Spain, a million olive groves blanketing the landscape. There’s a steep but wide red run down and it feels quite exposed, but the sense of achievement for us was well worth the effort.
Sierra Nevada is a great family ski resort and an ideal destination for beginners and intermediate skiers or snowboarders, with some good off-piste potential thrown in too. It’s a world class winter sports destination stuck down in one of the most southern parts of Europe within view of the Mediterranean Sea. The people are incredibly friendly and welcoming, the food is good and inexpensive, the resort has good infrastructure and is well organised and the town has a wide selection of accommodation to suit all budgets from self-catered apartments to five star hotels and residences.
There’s a bit of a myth that you can ski in the morning and swim in the Mediterranean Sea during the afternoon, technically it’s possible, but the logistical challenges might outweigh the actual enjoyment. But the novelty of spending time down on the coast on a February half-term ski holiday was too good to miss, so we spent two days (one night) in the city of Malaga.
Malaga’s history includes Roman occupation and the old town still retains some of the ancient brickwork (and a Roman theatre only re-discovered seventy years ago) dating back two thousand years. The city is dominated by the Alcazaba, a royal palace founded by the Moorish rulers in the 11th century. The old cobbled streets of the centre provide excellent shopping and eating opportunities and we discovered one of its most famous eateries, El Pimpi, part owned by Malaga born actor Antonia Banderas.
We made a visit to the city’s Centre Pompidou Málaga – an outpost of the famous Paris art gallery. It’s well worth a visit, although despite being the end of February, the sun came out and it was pushing twenty degrees centigrade. The beach beckoned and who couldn’t resit the short drive out to Torremolinos? The Costa del Sol’s most famous beach resort, well known for its nightlife, but also for the long and sandy beach that stretches for miles beside the strip of bars and restaurants.
As we sat watching the sun set over the Med, we reflected on a ski holiday with a difference, sun, sand, snow and a bit of Spanish culture thrown in too.
Rob and his family stayed at the 4* Hotel Melia Sierra Nevada on a half-board basis in a family room, including access to the spa and pool and daily kids club from 4 to 10pm. www.melia.com
They travelled with Ski Weekends who operate short and longer breaks to Sierra Nevada.
Packages for the 2018-19 winter January departure: from £489 per person including return flights, airport transfers, 3 nights bed and breakfast accommodation in the 4* Melia Sol Y Nieve, Sierra Nevada.
February Half-Term week: from £900 per person including return flights, airport transfers, 3 nights bed and breakfast accommodation in the 4* Melia Sol Y Nieve, Sierra Nevada. www.skiweekends.com. For a bespoke itinerary, call the Ski Weekends office on 023 8098 4262
For a detailed snow forecast and live weather report for this region, click here.
This story was originally published in Snow Enthusiast magazine. Read the full issue free at http://magazine.snow-forecast.com/snow-enthusiast-sf-2018#!page1