A change in season gives Natalie Marchant the rare opportunity to combine a ski-ing holiday in Spain’s Sierra Nevada with a sunshine break on the Costa del Sol

AS the slopes of the Sierra Nevada come into view, I have that familiar excited feeling in the pit of my stomach that I’ll soon be on the piste.

What is less familiar is the journey into the mountains from the southern Spanish coast, driving past arid fields and olive groves before reaching snowy peaks 2,100m above sea level.

What makes the Sierra Nevada so special is its proximity to sun-splashed holiday resorts – the Costa del Sol is just a two-hour drive away By choosing to take a ski trip late in the season, I am treating myself to the best of both worlds – a spring beach holiday and a ski break.

I combine a stay at the luxurious ski hotel El Lodge and its sister property Marbella Club, so I can put on my skis and salopettes long after other many other European resorts have closed for the season, and also soak up the first rays of Mediterranean sunshine.

At El Lodge, in the mountains, I discover that the Sierra Nevada ski area is more impressive than I had imagined. It looks more like the purpose-built ski resorts of France than the chocolate-box villages of the Austrian Alps. The highest runs reach more than 3,000m, and with 29 lifts and more than 100km of slopes, it’s expansive enough to satisfy even the most experienced skier.

The 20-rooms lodge, all decked out in Finnish timber, has the intimate feel of a private chalet, but paired with the trendy opulence for which Marbella Club is better known.

And with a heated outdoor pool, spa facilities and a very welcoming lounge, apres ski proves to be almost as important as the skiing.

What sets El Lodge apart from its rivals is the top quality food and drink. Inspired by the Alpine surroundings, I develop a real taste for cheese fondue, and can also testify that both the grilled veal chop and scallops with sea urchin puree are sublime. For the ultimate indulgence, I treat myself to Riofrio caviar – a delicacy from nearby Granada – with a glass of champagne.

My days on the slopes are fun, although I do find myself hankering after the comforts of El Lodge. They’re just too good to leave. Experienced skiers would probably expect more information on skiing and snow conditions, but this should improve over time.

WHEN I travel down the coast to the more established Marbella Club, it soon becomes clear that El Lodge has a lot to live up to.

The Northern Echo:
The snow-covered landscape of the Sierra Nevada

Enjoying a gin and tonic in the Champagne Room, the scene feels very different to the Costa del Sol I remember from my holidays as a teenager. Established by Spain’s Prince Alfonso von Hohenlohe nearly 60 years ago, this boutique hotel was once nothing more than an old farmhouse before it became a prime location for the jet-set.

Now offering more than 120 luxury rooms and suites, all decorated in a traditional Andalusian style on a site by the sea, it’s still as much a place to see and be seen in as it ever was. It is a reputation the hotel is very proud of.

Among the regular faces is Count Rudi, who started working with the hotel in 1956. He’s clearly something of a legend in these parts and was even honoured with a star on Marbella’s Boulevard of Fame in 2012.

‘‘We keep up the place for people who like atmosphere,’’ he says. ‘‘It’s disappointing if you’re in the bar and there’s no one there you know.

The Northern Echo:
A view of the golf course at Marbella Club

It says something.’’ Like El Lodge, the food at the MC Grill is outstanding and the beauty of going between the two hotels is that, with similar menus, you can sample a fair selection. The other dining options at the site include the relaxed MC Cafe and the fabulous Beach Club.

Even in March, we are able to sit by the pool in the sun while enjoying the extensive lunchtime buffet, which offers everything from paella, to lobster and a fantastic salad bar. The hotel’s Thalasso Spa overlooks the sea, so if the temperature drops a little, you can still relax in its dynamic indoor seawater pool while enjoying views of the Mediterranean. There are also hammams, relaxation rooms and treatments on offer for a more traditional spa experience.

After indulging myself with several treatments, I decide it’s time to get a little active again. Muscles now recovered, I head to the nearby Puente Romano hotel’s sports facilities. Here I try my hand at Spanish racquet game padel – like playing a combination of tennis and squash, with a small swingball bat. My friends choose the more conservative option of playing tennis or golf.

The nearby nine-hole course stretches up the hillside and offers spectacular scenes of the coast. Teeing off with views of Gibraltar in the distance, it seems incredible that 48 hours ago we were hitting the ski slopes.

The Northern Echo:
A room at El Lodge in Sierra Nevada

Yes, packing a suitcase for this trip was tricky – I never thought I’d be squeezing flip-flops and a big down jacket into the same bag – but the satisfaction of rolling two holidays into one is unbeatable.