Skiing in the Pyrenees

Flo and Ali were in Paris with Ali working while Flo was visiting friends. I was back in Lisbon with a car full of ski equipment and luggage, about to begin a long drive to the Pyrenees. Our plan was to rendezvous in Pau France – me driving and them arriving from Paris by train.

I made my way through central Portugal into Spain, and then crossed the flatlands above Madrid, passing through the towns of Salamanca, Valladolid and Burgos. It’s a place of big sky and land that flows on forever – you see the steeple of the church of the next town from many miles away. 

I’d decided to spend the night in Logroño, which was slightly off my route and meant enduring a snow and hail storm just outside of Burgos. But we’d stayed there some years back and enjoyed the Laurel Street area with all its tapa bars. So I booked a hotel near to it and after a shower to clear my head, went out for a stroll to find a cold beer and dinner. But it was so cold that no one was outside, the only people were those that could fit into the tiny tapas bars. A very different scene from when we were there last and everyone was out on the streets, holding a glass of wine in one hand and a tapa snack in the other. I ended up having a burger and a beer at Berty’s Burgers, which claimed to have the 2nd best burger in Spain (and it was good!).

Laruns, in the Ossau Valley

The next day I drove on to Pau, arriving just as Flo and Ali were coming in from Paris. Together we drove up to Laruns, a small village at the base of the Pyrenees in the Ossau Valley. We’d rented a three bedroom apartment, just steps from the main town square. 

Gourette Ski Hill

We were there to ski and the closest hill was Gourette, about 20 minutes from Laruns. For the second year in a row we’d gotten lucky and fresh snow had been dumped just before our arrival. So we had three great days of skiing with mostly blue skies and good snow conditions. 

The Gourette ski station is not big – there’s just 12 lifts with 37 runs, most of them red and blue. It accommodates mostly people from the region. We didn’t hear any English, and just a bit of Spanish during our time there. It’s situated between two massive rock bluffs with one separating the area into two skiing regions. So with that many runs we got to know the best runs quite quickly. And the snow was so good that what you found at the top (2,450 meters), was pretty much the same as what you found at the bottom in the village. 

We finished off our third day at a spa. It started with a soak in a cedar hot tub in the backyard of the spa, surrounded by mountains (and chickens running around in the yard next door!). From there we showered and were scrubbed down, followed by another shower, and then a full-body massage. And they knew how to find the sore muscles of skiers after a hard day on the slopes!

We returned home to cook up some local lamb chops on the plancha – a very full day.

Benou Plateau

On the fourth day we met up with friends Pasquale and Alain for a walk up on the Benou plateau. Pasquale is an old friend from our Vallarta days, who also had returned to Europe. It was a beautiful walk, surrounded by mountains ladened with snow. Afterwards we drove back down and had a picnic alongside the Ossau river. Alain and Pasquale had packed a lunch with homemade pâté, cheese and smoked hams. 

The next day we drove down to the city of Pau to spend a few of days exploring the city. Pau is lovely, perched on a long narrow hill that has a boardwalk that runs along the Blvd. de Pyrenees, with amazing views looking southwards towards the Pyrenees, stretched out like a chain of peaks from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, also serving as a natural border between France and Spain. 

Most of the old town is pedestrian only, lined with shops and boutiques on the ground floors of buildings from 17th century on. We enjoyed walking the city and a visit to the Pau Chateau, where King Henri IV was born.

That night we had dinner at Alain’s house with Pasquale, a wonderful meal of duck straight from the farm, followed by an early night as we had a busy day to follow.

The next day we dropped Alison off at the train station and headed south, crossing the Pyrenees into the Aragón Valley. We were supposed to be heading back to Portugal but the conditions on the hills was so good we decided to take in a few days at the Spanish Candanchu ski station. We had lunch at the hotel, rented skis, bought afternoon passes and hit the slopes. Candanchu sits on the border of France and Spain, although mostly in Spain. Again, we hardly heard any English, and not even that much French. Great snow conditions, mostly red runs, and clear deep-blue skies. Again, we lucked out.

From there we continued our drive home, stopping in Extremadura to pick up my paddle board that had been confiscated during our trip there the year previously. Long story short, after many courts documents and a few fines, I got my board back. From there it was a few hours drive to Lisbon, where we enjoyed a long soak in the hot tub.