High life in the Hautes-Pyrenees

High life in the Hautes-Pyrenees

It’s a dream for those of us who love sun, ski and saunas.

The Hautes-Pyrénées form the mountains of the south, between France and Spain, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Regular visitors told me the region’s hot baths are ‘the’ reason they have their ski holiday here.

I could see why relaxing and unwinding is important, but picking a ski vacation on this basis? I needed to know more, so decided to check out four of the many ski and spa options … and to take in a little skiing too!

Combining ski time with spa time is a lush holiday, and this region has also been careful to retain its cultural integrity, so each resort is either part of, or closely linked to a local community, with its own character and traditions, which adds to the charm.

Le Grand Tourmalet

The largest ski area in the French Pyrenees (70 ski runs) includes authentic Bareges village, and purpose built party central La Mongie, with plenty of hire shops and reasonably priced restaurants.

It’s on many advanced skiers ‘to do lists’, as you can ski and snowboard from the top of the Pic du Midi.

Just looking at the descent made my intermediate knees shake, so I took the safe option and checked in to the observatory.

It sits on an isolated summit, separating France from Spain, and at an altitude of 2,890 metres, you can imagine, the views – awesome, and an overnight gives you the chance to know more of its incredible astronomy work.

After tackling the blues and reds I’d promised myself I was very happy to visit the Spa Aquensis in Bagnères de Bigorre, and wallow in the thermal waters, where panoramic views can be enjoyed from the roof’s spa bubble baths.

Cauterets

Bordering the Pyrenese National Park, with beautiful belle-époque buildings, this place oozes village for character and charm.

The Pont d’Espagne cross-country ski area lies in the park, and the downhill ski area (36kms), Le Cirque du Lys is accessed by cable car from the village.

We dined, and stayed at the boutique hotel, Le Lion d’Or, which celebrated all the good things about a family-run hotel. Fine food, friendly service and fantastic attention to detail.

The treatments at Les Bains du Rocher, were also impressive, and the outside thermal pool ideal for a good soak with fine views, especially after I’d finally mastered the faith in myself to venture down a few black runs!

Saint-Lary

This pretty, traditional Pyrenéan resort has 100kms of great, varied skiing. The longer runs include the 3.6km Mirabelle pistes, and there’s also a mogul and slalom stadium, a snow park and a half pipe here.

But Saint-Lary had a claim to fame before skiing came along, as its healing waters contain sulphur and sodium, and its thermal baths, now named the Sensoria Spa, offers special programmes so you can tailor your time to include massage, thermal waters, spa, beauty treatments and more…

Its latest restaurant, Le Grenier, in Vignec, is a fine example of traditional food and a chance to meet the locals eating it!

Peyragudes

Smaller on the slope front (60kms), Peryagudes gives intermediates the chance to improve their skiing with wide slopes ideal for big turns, and plenty of blues to cruise on.

There’s two beginners areas, and a freeride area, but the biggest treat for me was the chance to hitch a night ride on a piste basher and to see the slopes from a totally different perspective.

And the Balnéa spa in the nearby Loudenvielle valley, has the lot – from areas to relax, to personalised treatments, calm and tranquil settings and family fun, all with lovely views over the surrounding summits.

So, with body and mind soothed, muscles relaxed, and feeling much calmer, I can definitely recommend the ski and spa lift passes that allow you to try different resorts each day.

There are regular flights from London to Toulouse and Lourdes and transfer services are available to the resorts.

Prices start from £99pp for seven nights – www.skicollection.co.uk or 0844 576 0175.

Top tip – the Stansted flight to Lourdes leaves very early (check), so I opted for a night at the Radisson Blu Hotel. It ‘s adjoins the airport by corridor, and makes getting up that little bit easier. There’s a nice pool, gym and spa, plus a choice of two restaurants and the quirky Wine Angels Tower and Bar, where acrobatic wine angels select your chosen tipple from the 13m high tower. www.radissonblu.co.uk/hotel-stanstedairport

Briony Key has worked for the Scotsman and Travel Weekly and currently writes for Time and Leisure, planetski and Family Ski News. She loves action sports and is this year taking on a Ben Nevis challenge for the British Heart Foundation. Her hobbies include travel, restoring old furniture and working in theatre wardrobes.

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