Malaga City - There is something wonderfully incongruous about arriving in Malaga for a ski holiday.
One minute you’re skimming over parasols and beach cafes, the next (well, 90 minutes later) you’re climbing the final few hundred feet to Sierra Nevada.
From the top lift station of this hugely underrated resort you can see Africa on a clear day, while Grenada’s Alhambra fortress is only half an hour away if you feel like a day off from the slopes.
It all makes for something different, especially at weekends when families make the short hop here from the nearby valleys and the whole town goes into celebratory mode.
There’s a lot to celebrate. The people are immensely friendly; there’s a complete absence of poseurs (which is to say that the Russians in their swanky all-in-one ski wear haven’t yet colonised the place); the snow canons do a fantastic job in keeping the main pistes up to scratch when there’s a shortage of the real thing; it’s ideal for beginners; and the food is far more interesting and a lot cheaper than in many better-known French resorts.
Prices? Well. A seven-day ski pass here is nearly half what it costs in the Three Valleys or Val D’Isere.
No, you don’t get quite such a huge terrain, but there’s more than enough to keep intermediates happy for a week, with plenty of accessible off-piste.
And there’s another secret to Sierra Nevada. Save on ski passes and equipment and then treat yourself by staying at El Lodge, a sister hotel to the famous Marbella Club.
It’s the ultimate ski-in/ski-out boutique hotel, with only 20 rooms, most of which have hot tubs on their balconies and 40 ft-wide TVs on their walls.
Designed by Andrew Martin, it feels like a proper ski chalet, with lots of wood (from Finland), antler chandeliers, vintage ski posters, a huge terrace that looks down the valley and an outdoor swimming pool heated so generously that any aches and sprains are soon dealt with.
El Lodge used to be owned by the Spanish royal family. It opened as a hotel in 2012, but burnt down in a fire a year later. Now it’s back and in fine fettle.
It sits just above the main village, from where two gondolas head up the mountain. It’s worth remembering that the village itself is 6 900ft high, compared with Meribel, which is a mere 4 600ft high. No wonder the season goes on until the middle of May. There are four main ski areas, but it’s impossible to get lost. Most of the runs are easy reds or greens, but what impresses me is the effort that’s gone into the nursery slopes.
Beginners don’t need acres of pisted runs, they just want a gentle slope and some easy way to pull you up it. That’s what you get here. The man to know in Sierra Nevada is Giles Birch. Originally from Maidstone, Kent, he first came out to work here in 1996 and has pretty much been in Sierra Nevada ever since.
He knows every inch of the mountains and his British Ski Centre team of ten instructors teaches all levels. He has a good working relationship with the Intersport Rio shop, where you should hire all your kit.
Back in town, there’s a huge traffic-free square, with plenty of lively restaurants, and although no one would pretend that Sierra Nevada is the prettiest of resorts, it is certainly one of the most friendly.
I would come here again because of the atmosphere as well as the skiing — and if I could stay at El Lodge, then so much the better.
If You Go...
El Lodge has doubles (ellodge.com, 0034 646 178406) from £295 (about R5 00)) b&b.
For equipment, Intersport Rio (riosport.es). Book Giles Birch (britishskicenter.com, 0034 646 178406).