A change in season gives Natalie Marchant the rare opportunity to combine a ski and sun holiday in southern Spain.
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’s less familiar is the journey up 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.
And by choosing to take a ski trip late in the season, I’m treating myself to the best of both worlds - a spring beach holiday and a ski break.
While sun and ski are traditionally the reserves of separate summer and winter holidays, in southern Spain, it’s not be the case.
By combining a stay at the luxurious ski hotel El Lodge and its sister property Marbella Club, I’m able to 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.
As a guest of their Ski & Sun package, I start my trip at El Lodge in the mountains. When I arrive, I’m surprised to discover that the Sierra Nevada ski area is more impressive than I’d imagined.
It looks more like the purpose-built ski resorts of France than the chocolate-box villages of the Austrian Alps, with the highest runs reaching 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.
With just 20 rooms all decked out in Finnish timber and interiors designed by Andrew Martin, El Lodge retains the intimate feel of a private chalet, while pairing it with the trendy opulence the better known Marbella Club is renowned for.
And with a heated outdoor pool, spa facilities and a very welcoming lounge - apres ski almost proves to be as important as skiing itself.
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 I 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. An extravagance, yes, but a very tasty one.
All in all, El Lodge provides a luxury hotel experience in a beautiful setting.
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 may also 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.
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 international 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’s 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. 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.
After a few days skiing, the Marbella Club gives me a much needed opportunity to relax - either enjoying the sun by the pool or in the hotel’s extensive gardens.
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 have the opportunity to try my hand at Spanish racquet game padel. I can only describe it as like playing a combination of tennis and squash, with a small swingball bat. It’s good fun, but takes some getting used to.
My friends choose the more conservative option of playing tennis and even golf.
The nearby nine-hole resort stretches up the hillside and offers spectacular scenes of the coast.
Teeing off with views of Gibraltar in the distance, it seems somewhat ludicrous that merely 48 hours ago we were hitting the ski slopes.
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.
Natalie Marchant was a guest of Marbella Club (www.marbellaclub.com; 0034 95 282 2211). Marbella Club Golf Resort & Spa offers rooms from £300 per night based on two people sharing.
El Lodge is currently closed due to a fire but bookings are being taken for 2015. Visit www.ellodge.com or call 0034 958 480 600.
British Airways offer flights to Malaga from £78 return including taxes and charges. To book visit ba.com or call 0844 4930 787.