I wasn’t even going to write a review of our hotel, the Hotel El Ciervo, here in Vielha, Spain. It was just a place to stay while we explored the Val d’Aran in the Pyrennees and its ski resort, Baqueira Beret. Or rather, while I explored and my husband and son skied. I’m not being sponsored by the hotel, so they’re not expecting a review in any case. We were placed here by the team at travel agency Pyrenees Experience, which sponsored us by giving us a discount on their service of arranging the package of flights, hotel, ski passes, ski equipment, ski lessons, and rental car.
But I just have to write about it. It’s too unusual a place not to!
My first impression on entering the lobby of this family-run hotel was “Well, this décor is a bit over-the-top, but it works.” It’s all flounces and frills and wood and ornaments, often with images of deer (ciervo means “deer”) or flowers. It must be a nightmare to dust. Nevertheless, the lobby is welcoming and warm, clearly intended for guests to linger in, rather than just to pass through as in many hotels.
Our room at Hotel El Ciervo
The room key is attached to a large heart-shaped pillow, daintily embroidered.
Arriving at our room, up a small flight of stairs, my first impression was confirmed: it isn’t just the lobby that’s over-the-top: our room is predominantly pastel pink, with flowers and frills everywhere. Even the scent of the room is some sort of flowery-smelling perfume. I have to say that that perfume is the only really negative thing I can say about Hotel El Ciervo. (I also should add that the rooms aren’t all pink.)
Our room is on the small side for three people, but certainly adequate, with a double and a single bed. There are side tables and reading lamps and a TV. The sheets and mattresses are good quality. It and the bathroom are spotlessly clean.
The bathroom is far better than I would have expected from a two-star. It has a hydrotherapy bathtub, the kind with jets, so I can take a lovely, relaxing spa-type soak, using bathsalts provided by the hotel. A separate shower stall is the fancy kind with a powerful overhead showerhead and additional options for two side jets of water.
The supplied amenities are over-the-top as well, if you look at your standard two-star hotel, which offers, generally, nothing more than soap and perhaps some sort of cheap shower gel and shampoo combination. Set between the two sinks, a basket contains toothbrushes, shoe polishers, soaps, sewing kit, toothpaste, etc. Two separate brands of toiletries are provided as well: shampoo, conditioner, lotion, shower gel, bath gel. It is a better, and better quality, selection than I’ve seen at many four-star hotels I’ve stayed in.
The towels provided are huge and thick and plentiful. In the cupboard under the sink, we even found cotton bathrobes and disposable slippers.
A table in the corner of the room holds a coffee maker and a tray of chocolates and cookies, and we’re talking quantity here, not just one chocolate per person.
Food at Hotel El Ciervo
But what really earns this place the over-the-top award is the breakfast, included in the price. This is the most bizarrely ornate spread of food I have ever seen outside of a wedding. There are small jars of yogurt and jam, clearly homemade. There are baked goods of all shapes and sizes. There are filled crepes, tied into small bundles or folded neatly into square packages. It is overwhelming and difficult to choose.
I asked the owner about the breakfast. She told me that she went to a culinary school to learn how to do these sorts of foods, then taught the person who does them now. The cook works from 11:00 to 7:00 to prepare such a complicated breakfast for this hotel with only 20 rooms. And except for the more basic items like rolls and cold cuts, the offerings change every day. The only negative I can mention here is that some of the items on offer would be better served warm than cold.
The food excess doesn’t end at breakfast, though. At five o’clock every day, the Hotel El Ciervo has a “tasting” in the lobby. This involves a range of sweet and savory finger foods, but calling them “tastes” is significantly understating the situation. The portions of cake, for example, are normal full-sized slices. Guests are offered a drink such as mulled wine, coffee, or extremely thick hot chocolate to go with their “tastes.”
On our first day here, not feeling completely recovered from a bout of the flu, I cut my sightseeing short (Romanesque churches, to be covered in a separate post!) and decided to sit in the hotel lobby and write. I asked the woman at reception for a cup of tea. I didn’t get just a cup of tea, however. She brought me a two-tiered tray containing an array of cookies, chocolates, and small muffins: a ridiculous amount for one person, which, of course, doesn’t mean I didn’t love it!
The quirkiness of Hotel El Ciervo’s focus on food—given that it doesn’t even have a restaurant, unless you count the breakfast room—makes it remarkable and fun for a family visit. People come to Val d’Aran in the winter for skiing, and, not surprisingly, many families with children are staying at Hotel Ciervo this week. My son, generally never a happy traveler, was sold on Hotel Ciervo on learning of the five o’clock “tasting.”
So why is this a two-star hotel? No idea. The owner’s response, if I understood her correctly, is that it was a two-star when her parents ran it and she hasn’t changed it. There is no elevator, and reaching any of the rooms requires climbing stairs. There is no kettle in the room, but there’s a coffee maker and lots of sweets, and tea available for the asking in the lobby. There’s no pool or spa or exercise room or restaurant on-site.
Nevertheless, this two-star hotel surpasses the quality of many four-star hotels I’ve stayed in. Even without the over-the-top food, I’d recommend Hotel El Ciervo, but the food is what makes it really special.
(In case you’re curious, double rooms start at €69 in the low season, €130 in the high season.)