Family Skiing at Boi-Taull, in Spain’s Vall de Boi

Susan in shadow with mountainsA while back I wrote a piece giving advice about taking ski holidays with kids, and after my wife reminded me of this I reread my own advice, abandoned the over-elaborate and absurdly ambitious plans I’d been making, and booked us into a week near the little family-oriented resort of Boi-Taull in the Pyrenees.

The Vall de Boi is a narrow valley on the edge of Aigüestortes (“twisting water” in Catalan) National Park, an area of soaring peaks, glacial lakes (over 200), and waterfalls.

The Boi valley itself is best known for its picturesque villages, most of which are clustered around Romanesque churches dating from the 11th and 12 centuries. The whole lot have been declared UNESCO World Heritage sites.

The Boi-Taull ski resort is quite small, making it easy to negotiate and an excellent choice for families with small children. Over 6,600 feet (2012 meters) at the base and rising to 9,025 feet (2751 meters), its north-facing slopes have reliable snow cover from December to April. Car parks are immediately adjacent to the slopes, meaning that you don’t have to take a bus or slog very far with all your gear, but there’s no accommodation on or immediately near the mountain, so skiers have to stay in one of the nearby villages. Which is no great hardship – they’re absolutely charming.

G skiing

Start ’em early

There’s an excellent ski school, as well as a kid’s outdoor fun park and an indoor creche for the very wee ones. After the first day we whacked the kids in lessons for 3 hours a day, which allowed us to go off and enjoy the mountain. Yeah, about that first day.

In Tips for Taking Kids Skiing I sagely advised parents to “get the kids in lessons from the get-go.” Well, that first day we figured we’d just check the mountain out, get the kids into a class if we could, but if not, no big deal. Well.

We take the lift to the top of a long beginner’s run, and I set off with our youngest between my legs. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. We get to the bottom and wait. And wait. Two and a half hours it took for my wife to get our 7 year-old down the mountain, and when they finally appeared, both looked traumatized.

“That was one of the worst experiences of my life,” she moaned. My wife is not a woman prone to hyperbole – she meant that with every molecule in her body. If they’re new to the sport, don’t try to teach your kids to ski yourself. Just don’t. Ever.

One of the best things about Boi-Taull is that it’s completely uncrowded. Our longest wait in a lift line was maybe two minutes – most of the time we’d just ski straight onto the lift. One of the worst things, ironically enough in this culinary cornucopia, is the range of food available at the two restaurants. Options ran from hot dogs to pre-made sandwiches, with pommes frites in between. Being used to sitting down to amazing meals at lovely little slope-side hütten in Austria, this was something of a disappointment.

Where to Stay:

sunset from our balcony

Sunset from our apartment

As there’s no accommodation on the mountain, most skiers stay in Boi, Erill la Vall, or Taull, all of which are delightful little towns, or closer to the ski area in Pla de l’Ermita, which is a development of extremely attractive hotels and condominiums, but not a true town.

We rented a 3-bedroom apartment in Boi which was perfect – nice facilities, great views of the mountains from the terrace and dining room, and a huge games room downstairs for the kids. Booking.com has extensive listings for the area, or go to the Vall Boi tourist site for more.

Where to Eat: 

Casa Higinio, which is the restaurant that’s associated with the apartments where we stayed, is run by a fantastic family (you’ll meet all three generations while you’re there). They specialize in grilled meats and sausages, which are cooked on an enormous fire right in the middle of the dining room. Nothing fancy, but really tasty. Recommended.

Ca La Pepa, just up the road, has dozens of varieties of crepes, both sweet and savory, which are cheap and delicious. They also have, according to my son D, “the best burgers” he’s ever tasted. They were, indeed, fabulous, and made with local organic beef to boot. The decor is warm and homey – have the kids try to find all of the gnomes peeking out from every nook and cranny. I know, sounds tacky, but it’s really not. Highly recommended.

Both Pizzaria Casos in Boi, and Cerveseria Tribulosi, in Taull, had good reviews but were somewhat disappointing. Not terrible, and Tribulosi has amazing views and an extensive beer selection, but nothing special. Recommended, but you could do better.

And better indeed is El Caliu. Upscalish but unpretentious, this place does traditional Catalan dishes and does them very well. Try the wild stewed wild boar or any of the duck dishes, but do yourself a favor and save room for the cheese flan. Not only the best flan I’ve ever had, quite simply one of the best desserts I’ve had period. Amaaaaazing. Highly recommended. beefcheek

The best restaurant find of the trip was at the Hotel Pey. It had an interesting, innovative menu that was flawlessly executed, and prices that were about 1/3 less than other places in the area. My caramelized beef cheek with honeyed apples was perfection, and everyone else’s dishes were equally fantastic. Might sound a bit upscale for kids but it’s not – every other table in the place was occupied by families with children. Very, very highly recommended.

A note: Many restaurants in Spain don’t open until 8 or 8:30, which is pretty late to be just sitting down to dinner with young children, especially after a day of skiing. Of the listings here, only Ca La Pepa is open all day.

What to do besides ski: 

Unlike some ski destinations, the Vall de Boi has a lot to offer off the slopes as well. Don’t expect night life, because there isn’t any, but if you’re with kids, who cares?

late afternoon peaks

Beautiful hiking right outside your door

There’s excellent hiking throughout the Boi valley. A great hike with kids is the ‘Cami dels Enamorats‘ (Way of Love), that follows a rushing mountain river up through a steep-sided valley.

If there’s deep snow, you can rent snowshoes cheaply at any of the ski rental shops (each town has one), or from the tourist information center in Boi which, by the way, is an indispensable resource and has fun displays for the kids.

You can’t visit the Vall de Boi without taking at least one day to tour the famous churches.  They’re all lovely, but Santa Eualia in Erill la Vall, Sant Climent in Taull, and Sant Joan in Boi are perhaps the most stunning. Don’t miss the audio/visual presentation at the church of Sant Climent. There are entry fees, but you can buy a pass that allows access to all churches for 6 Euro. You could certainly do several of the churches in a day, and still have time to wander around the splendid stone villages.

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I’d rate the overall skiing at Boi-Taull as good, but not great. There’s just not enough diversity of terrain to achieve greatness. With young kids, though, it’s friendly, fun, and hassle free, and the Vall de Boi is certainly a lot more than just skiing – it’s an immensely worthwhile destination in its own right. Will we go back? Definitely.

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