To the Americans, the Sierra Nevada is a mountain range in California, but for us it is the Alps-come-to-Marbella – complete with snowy peaks, ski resorts, kilometres of pistes, cosy hotels and après ski. And it’s all just over two hours from the beaches of the Costa del Sol.

Words Michel Cruz, Photography Shutterstock, El Lodge & Maribel

To the Americans, the Sierra Nevada is a mountain range in California, but for us it is the Alps-come-to-Marbella – complete with snowy peaks, ski resorts, kilometres of pistes, cosy hotels and après ski. And it’s all just over two hours from the beaches of the Costa del Sol.

Words Michel Cruz, Photography Shutterstock, El Lodge & Maribel

It is the mighty Sierra Nevada mountain range that you see towering behind Granada, its icy peaks forming a spectacular backdrop to the equally impressive Alhambra palace complex of that city. Those snowy ranges can also be seen glistening in the sun from our coastline, and indeed, it’s under two hours by car from Málaga to the alpine wilderness of this vast range, which is home to Mulhacén, at 3,481 metres the highest peak in mainland Spain. These mountains can be seen from large parts of Andalucía, including by fishermen well out at sea on the Mediterranean, and besides endless peaks and valleys dotted with villages and housing fauna such as wild mountain goats, eagles and vultures, this is also the domain of winter sports enthusiasts – the Alps come to southern Spain. In fact, the ski station at the village of Pradollano is the most southerly resort of its kind in Europe, known for an exceptionally long season. This southern latitude, combined with high altitude, produces conditions that can make a November to May season possible, and for this reason the Sierra Nevada is popular not only with ski and snowboarding fans, but also with organisers of international competitions, such as the 1996 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, the 2015 Winter Universiade and the 2017 FIS Freestyle Ski and Snowboarding World Championships.

Sierra Nevada Ski Station

Located on the slopes of the Veleta Mountain, around 200 kilometres from Marbella, are 115 kilometres of alpine ski runs that flow from a high of 3,300 metres down to 2,100 metres at the level of the main ski station in Pradollano. The runs are classified green (18km), blue (40km), red (50km) and black (9km), according to the degree of difficulty, with green ideal for beginners and black best left to the pros.

Two cable cars, 17 chairlifts and two T-bar lifts, as well as two magic carpets and one ski tow take enthusiasts to the top of the pistes, with a mid-station at Borreguiles. At a height of 2,675 metres, it features a collection of restaurants, cafés, shops and a ski school, but the real resort is Pradollano, which bustles with a surprising degree of alpine charm. In fact, with its hotels, inns, apartments, restaurants, bars, shops and panoramic terraces surrounded by snowy peaks, it very much feels like the Alps too.

Getting Around

For centuries, the winter wonderland was an underpopulated wilderness that drew scarce attention from the local populace, but alpine leisure activities spread to this part of Andalucía after the war, with a small station inspired by those of the Alps and Pyrenees. As the coastal region developed and prosperity grew in Spain, so did the demand for a full-grown ski resort near the Costa del Sol, and the result is Pradollano, a very complete example of the genre. At 2,100 metres altitude, it is a relatively easy drive away from the major centres of the region, and well worth the trip.

Though it’s the highest-lying ski resort in Spain, the drive to Pradollano is normally straightforward, however it is advisable to take snow chains with you and be well-practised in putting them on. You can otherwise also use so-called ‘tyre socks’, as long as it improves traction in slippery conditions. For the rest, read up on the best way to drive in snow and stay calm, thousands have done it before you. In fact, you may find yourself in a bit of a traffic jam on the way there if you go at the height of the season, which includes public holidays, weekends and much of the period between December and March.

Parking is well organised at the ski resort, complete with a bus station that links the village with Granada. There are also minibus shuttle services between the top and bottom parts of Pradollano, as well as a chair lift that you can hop off where you like. Pradollano is pretty, and lined with apartments, hotels and spa resorts that offer a choice of accommodation. They vary according to budgetary and practical requirements, and range from simple for people who just want to get on with it and ski to super luxurious and cosy.

From Accommodation To Super Resort Experience

Perhaps the most iconic and luxurious of all is the renowned El Lodge hotel, the Sierra Nevada sibling of Marbella’s Marbella Club hotel, celebrating it’s 10th season. Here you can enjoy richly cosy and ambient alpine luxury in what feels like a five-star chalet lodge nestled in-between the snowy mountains. Expect Champagne bubbles and warm bubbles as you toast the spectacular view from your terrace Jacuzzi. The rooftop and penthouse suites take the cake in terms of opulence, but El Lodge is also famous for its restaurant, The Grill, its bar and panoramic terrace.

Its new sister hotel in the Sierra Nevada is Maribel, a spectacular new luxury destination situated at the foot of the slope, with direct access to the Maribel and Águila runs. Its ambience and spa remind one of the Norwegian mountains, while the ski-in/ski-out bar and terrace offer après ski with style. The fine dining restaurant, meanwhile, has a distinctly alpine flavour, with Maribel adding lustre to the popular ski resort.

Most of the large hotel chains are also represented, as are smaller inn-style hotels, boutique venues, spa resorts, aparthotels and private apartments. Imagine looking out over the valley from the warm cosseting water of a wellness centre, or tucked into warm clothes from the comfort of a terrace chair, glass of mulled wine in hand? Pradollano is pretty and pleasant by day, but above all focused on the ‘serious’ business of skiing and snowboarding, yet at night it becomes a fairy tale setting and gets down to the business of après ski fun.

Après Ski

Ask any winter sports enthusiast (be it aspiring or expert), what they really, really enjoy about ski resorts and they will tell you it’s the après ski. Beginners coming off the green runs at the Sierra Nevada Ski Resort, more experienced skiers taking on the blue rides and experts daring the reds will all converge on the same scene when the day’s action on the slopes is done, and this is where the party begins. Usually, the evening starts off easily enough, with a drink on a terrace and a meal, but it’s into the early morning hours that revellers party at bars and other night spots. A good choice of quality restaurants and more traditional eateries is followed by such popular evening haunts as La Bodeguita Bar, Grandvalira and the rather exclusive Baqueira Beret, while day-time revellers flock to Marchica, near the Aramón Formigal station. Whether you come primarily for the winter sports, resort relaxation or to party, the Sierra Nevada brings the alpine experience to within a two and a half hour drive from downtown Marbella, adding greatly to the variety and quality of life on the Costa del Sol.