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Sledding in Catalonia’s Aran Valley

Montgarri

Montgarri

We’re gliding silently through an undulating winter landscape, with the soft padding of paws the only rhythmic accompaniment. Other than the musher’s occasional boisterous commands, all is peaceful. As we settled into the cozy sled – covered only in a thick fleece blanket – we leaned back to discover the Milky Way spread across the night sky.

Here and there, comets add movement to this celestial backdrop.

Thinking back, we didn’t know what to expect of our night dog sledding session in Baqueira-Beret. Upon our arrival at Montgarri Outdoor‘s office, we could hear the dogs before we saw them. It was late in the evening and the light was fading fast, but soon, we were installed into a basic wooden sled and tethered to about a dozen excited hounds.

About 20 minutes into the ride, we emerged from a dark forest – the dogs know their way very well even without light – and a warmly-lit stone building came into view. Known as Montgarri, it’s a little village with nothing more than a rectory and a church.

dog

Montgarri
The cosy rectory offered a very welcoming warmth, which no doubt was provided by the huge hearth in the dining area. The resident dog, plopped next to the fireplace, made this place very welcoming.

Our hearty dinner here consisted of Aranese specialties, which included Olha Aranesa (a meat stew), pâté, and a ridiculously large portion of steak freshly pulled from the fireplace. Dessert was a delicious pot of locally-produced yogurt. Dinner is normally had pretty late (about 10pm) all over Spain, and in the mountains, it’s no different.

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Dinner of pate (left), Olha Aranesa (middle) and liqueurs (right)

No dinner is complete without some sort of digestif; ratafia, a herbal walnut liqueur, is a local favourite.

Sated, stuffed and sleepy, we stumbled our way out into the cold snow. This time, a small portion of the return trip involved a ride on a snowmobile – the hill proved a little too steep for our four-legged friends to negotiate with 4 fully-stuffed adults.

Back on the sled, the evening sky continued to provide us with an amazing backdrop. It’s amazing what a lack of light pollution can do.

Passengers are advised to bring their own headlamps, as the route is totally unlit; however, we were lucky to have a clear night sky lit by stars all the way.

Baqueira-Beret
In winter, Baqueira-Beret gets excellent snow even though it’s technically closer to the Med than to the rest of the Pyrenees. Located in Val d’Aran, a smallish mountain region in Catalonia with just over 10,000 inhabitants, Baqueira-Beret is a world-class ski resort that’s the largest and most prestigious in Spain (it’s patronised by the Spanish royal family and various celebs).

Split into 3 parts – Baqueira, Beret and Bonaigua – the altitude starts at 1,500m in Baqueira, with lower and higher satellites, so you don’t always have to return to base for amenities. Compared to luxury resorts in France and Switzerland, Baqueira is easily more affordable, but no less high end. Five-star accommodation, thermal spas, a Moet winter lounge, and haute cuisine are all easily found here. Even heli-skiing is very affordable.

trineopaseo_1

If you’re not a downhill skier, the surrounding landscape offers opportunities for snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and dog sledding. If you’re a culture lover, then the Romanesque and Gothic art and architecture might be of interest.

By the evening, you can enjoy a thermal spa or massage before tucking into a hearty Aranese dinner.

Practical Info
Languages: Aranese, Catalan, Spanish
Nearest airports: Barcelona (310km); Toulouse, France (165km)
Capital: Vielha (900m)
Websites: Baqueira-Beret, Visit Val d’Aran, Catalonia Tourism

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