THE last time I’d luxuriated in Alpine-style bliss in the Sierra Nevada was a decade ago, and right next door.
When El Lodge reopened after a stunning refit in 2012 I was lucky enough to take my family – including two young children – as the season kicked off.
It had gone swimmingly, even despite our bairns stripping off and bombing into the outdoor heated pool completely naked, quickly followed by my wife in a bra and knickers!
Something of a test run to sample the exclusive hotel’s offering, its well-travelled manager insisted I needn’t ‘worry’ and explained the sort of guests who stayed here could pretty much do what they wanted. Almost nothing was off limits.
The Lodge has proven to be one of Andalucia’s resounding success stories over the last decade enticing up an extremely mixed international crowd, half of whom just come to relax, with no intention of skiing.
Seeing the super rich at play is always something to behold and the Lodge has completely nailed their needs, its terrace the very definition of privilege, glasses of champagne (not Cava) clinking, as the sun’s rays start to drop and the shadows lengthen.
So, I suppose, with occupation rates often nudging into the 90s, it was little surprise that the celebrated luxury hotel group behind Marbella’s five-star Marbella Club and Puente Romano would look for a further addition to its Pradollano portfolio.
And, as it turns out, they have now acquired two new properties right next to the Lodge… the Monachil Hotel, and Maribel Hotel, which has just reopened with 29 rooms, all geared towards the luxury end.
There is something undeniably comforting about the Maribel, which immediately feels like a home on arrival, not a grand showy hotel, except, of course, for the doorman, who quickly whisks away your car and speeds your luggage up to your room, while you check in.
Billing itself as a chalet, this is very much the feel as the subtly-lit reception area doubles up as an open-plan snug, pool room and bar area and the sheer variety of sumptuous furnishings and faux fur is impressive.
Everything is geared towards comfort and nature and its pick-and-mix wooden furniture further adds to the homely feel, while the smell of natural oils is immediately calming.
There is a real focus on wood, sustainable Finnish wood, from the beams and pillars to the panelling and floors, while a series of drinks tables are made from original oak.
On one wall a false bookshelf gives way leading to the rooms, which are all remarkably well-appointed, each with their own balcony, looking through a thin stand of pines into the snowy mountains behind.
Nothing is lacking from the smart entertainment system to intelligent lighting and the coffee machine to electric loos (be careful of the automatic bidet button, though, unless you want to cool down).
The theme is geared towards travel and, in particular, leather suitcases, all edges sealed in brown leather, including the side tables, desk and even cupboards. The scene is completed with plenty of faux fur throws and a series of original stone and shell sculptures, all with circular centres, while a circular wooden chip tells you to ‘leave me’ on the bed if you don’t need the sheets changing.
A giant ski resort photo from the 1980s holds court on one wall and is a continuous theme throughout the hotel, in particular in the impressive restaurant downstairs.
It is here that I felt most at home, despite the warmth of the bar upstairs.
Billing itself as a ‘gastronomic club’, it is a wonderful wide open space with acres of glass offering the most amazing views and a true sense of escape.
Its focus (apart from the views) are the elegant bar at one end and the giant Grand Tour circular lights, which are tempered depending on the mood and time of day.
It’s very much a stand alone restaurant, encouraging diners in from outside, and with input from well-known local DJs it has a distinct buzz about the place in the evenings, particularly at weekends and in the holidays, I’m told.
I was really impressed with the dinner menu, which was striking in its length with 13 starters alone, including caviar and oysters.
The stand-out dishes include the celebrated Motril shrimp croquettes with cane honey alioli and the marinated beef carpaccio with artichoke and truffle dressing.
I fancied something a bit different and went for the ‘shaved cauliflower salad’ with apple and smoked almonds, which was delicious and, as one of the chefs later admitted, was a real ballache to prepare.
I also tried the classic French onion soup with Gruyere croutons, a brilliant winter warmer after a day on the slopes.
For those looking for nostalgia, the ‘Alpine specialities’ section naturally included a Raclette and a separate cheese fondue, as well as an artichoke flower, served with foie and burrata cheese.
But first I should mention the amazing giant crusty warm roll that comes out with the very best olive oil, either from the organic Belvis mill in Istan, or the award-winning Castillo de Canela of Jaen.
For mains I wasn’t looking for anything too heavy, so a simple plate of spaghetti with Boletus mushrooms, from northern Spain, was splendid.
For lunch the following day I ordered in room service, having come down with a touch of the flu, and was seriously cheered up by the most delicious buffalo mozzarella I have eaten, alongside some of the sweetest cherry tomatoes one can possibly imagine.
A remarkable baked aubergine, with olive, tomato and basil sauce, recommended by the kitchen for a dickie tummy, couldn’t have been a better recommendation. The sweetness of the tomatoes (again) really cheered me up.
The wine list would be hard to beat with dozens by the glass and a particularly exciting top end, exclusive section, where you can grab an amazing glass of white Chassagne Montrachet (Domaine Bader Mimeur) for €29 a glass, or an Italian Barolo (‘Cannubi’) for €23.
Aside from that, there were plenty of Spanish wines from around the country, many in most readers’ price range.
And on that front…OK, while many of the mains were over €30, there were plenty of plates for just over €20, which for such a high quality joint isn’t bad at all.
So, all in all, the Maribel more than matches up to the amazing opulence of El Lodge next door, while being considerably more accessible and less fussy and certainly better for families.
Aside from the fact you can also ski right from the door (snow willing) and there is a ski shop renting and selling equipment, you also have the impressive spa too AND a heated outdoor pool to boot, plus a hot tub and jacuzzi.
Now I finally understand why so many of the guests of these two wonderful hotels don’t even consider strapping on a plank or two of wood to their feet. Marvellous Maribel it certainly is!
More info on Maribel Ski & Après Ski can be found at www.maribels.com
For El Lodge Ski & Spa visit www.ellodge.com