Spain and snow, may seem like an odd combination, especially when there are plenty of areas that have almost never seen the white stuff. But go to the right places, and you’ll see it on a regular basis for at least half the year. The ski resort of Baqueira- Beret is one such place, and you can normally ski there for 5 months of the year. But what this place also offers, is the opportunity to go cross country skiing and to go out on snowshoes, and better still, you can rent them from the resort.
A popular place to trek to at any time of the year, is a tiny settlement called Montgarri. In local guides this place is mentioned quite frequently, but I hadn’t heard much about it until I visited the major town of the area, Vielha. from Beret, the path is marked and you are looking at a 12km round trip more or less. How long it takes you, depends on how good you are with snowshoes. This was my first time and I must admit, it did feel weird to start with, but felt way better on the snow than using boots or crampons. Cross- country skiing is also an option for this route too, but there is some climbing involved, and guides don’t recommend it unless you are Well-versed with them.
This experience wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for the teachers I worked with when I lived in Tarragona, Gerard, Francesc, and Gabi. They planned the trip and I was fortunate and grateful to join them. It’s nearly 4 hours drive to get to Baqueira Beret from the coast, so you would need somewhere to stay the night in the Valley. But the journey is something special once you get to the foothills of the Pyrenees.
The starting point is at the highest point of the route, which is Beret car park, from there, you see two marked paths heading into the valley and away from the skiers. You can start at either one of them, just remember the other path will be the exit. Being December, you are practically guaranteed snow for the whole journey, so there’s no need for anything other than warm clothes and adequate protection for this. We got there at around 9:30, which is just before the resort opened, and we took the path on the right.
Weirdly, you start descending for the first half of this route, and without snowshoes, this would have been a nightmare. You also almost immediately leave the open areas for the first hour when you descend into the forest. Views are limited, and you do need to watch out for the occasional skier or snowmobile that frequent the road. There are also occasional tracks that detour from the main path, Avoid following them as they probably won’t take you to Montgarri. Eventually after perhaps an hour and a half of walking, you will find the paths connect again and you should be out of the trees.
Montgarri should be in full view, and you will have noticed that you would have walked past it, rather than going directly. It’s also worth pointing out that there are some ruins about 200m further down the valley, and there are a few places that provide you with a warm meal in this area. the most famous one, the Refugi de Montgarri, next to the church, is where we had a drink. Upon seeing this place, I totally understood why somebody would attempt to get to this place. A rustic slate house, beautiful church and a mountainous winter wonderland totally out in the wild, is this really Spain?!
When we entered the house, the rush of warmth hit us immediately, and you could hear the fire well in use. The people there were very informative, happy to help, and had a dog that I wanted to take home with me. They also offer a very hearty menu which by anyone’s standards for a place like this, is not going to be met with complaint. But it is expensive, a menu is 30€+ depending on what you order, and even a beer will set you back 3€ minimum. I wouldn’t complain though, given how isolated you are, the nearest supermarket is quite a trek away.
I would have loved to have stayed there all day in the warm, but we had to head back. The way back is more challenging due to the climb, but you are rewarded with more unbroken views of the valley. we set off towards another house where the trail became more visible, and you are greeted with the sun. This path is also the one most at risk of snowmelt because of it being on the south face. We followed the trail marked by numerous skis and snowmobiles uphill towards the next house. from there, there is an additional trail that takes you eventually to Bagergue, a village that was declared a pueblo más bonita de España in 2019. In fact, after you cross a stream, 100m down, there’s another trail to the same place, but it’s 20km away. Best leave that one for the summer eh?
The main path is also safe enough to take shortcuts uphill on certain bends, as snowshoes have an adjustment which makes it easier. We did that a couple of times just for fun, but only because one of my friends knew the route well. Don’t take any unnecessary risks. But before we knew it, the valley opened up again, and we could see skiers making their downhill runs in the distance. The experience was coming to an end, which was also the end of our trip. It takes about an hour to get back to Beret from Montgarri, and it’s worth noting that the way we went back was main route through the valley. Before we knew it, the hike was over.
So there you have it. Beret- Montgarri, the perfect place to go if you want to play in the snow, and try using snowshoes. It takes no time at all to lose yourself in this wilderness and disconnect from everything for a few hours. I loved it so much, that I took my parents there a couple of years later. Baqueira- Beret isn’t the easiest place to get to, but if you can handle a four- hour drive from Barcelona to get there, it is well worth it, trust me.