Andorra may be a tiny Pyrenean Principality with a terrible football team but it punches above its’ weight when it comes to ski resorts. A relative newcomer to the ski market it commands a high position with Brits looking to ski on a budget. The resort charm isn’t exactly oozing but this is more than made up for with its’ duty free status and cheap prices.
Where once the ski areas were relatively small they have now been expanded with new lifts being installed and existing lifts being upgraded. New installations have married the once feuding resorts of Pas de la Casa and Soldeu to form the impressively sized Grandvalira with over 195kms of piste, which challges some of the French premier league resorts in terms of size of terrain. Arinsal, La Massana, Pal, El Tarter all have their appeal too as modern ski resorts.
All of the skiing in Andorra is at high altitude and the season is still pretty strong from the middle of December, right through to Easter and often beyond. Most of the skiing is suited to beginners and intermediates. It is true to say that the black runs are not as challenging as those located in the Alps but nonetheless they are blacks and do provide a decent challenge for aspiring intermediates. For advanced skiers there are pockets of decent off-piste and both guided skiing and heli-skiing are available at a fraction of the price as one would pay in say Switzerland. The off-piste in Andorra does not get tracked out too quickly at all and so for early risers after a night of snowfall a full day can be enjoyed in the powder.
There exists a range of accommodation in Andorra with many of the French styled self-catering apartments being favoured owing to the inexpense of shopping and eating out in this tax free haven. Hotels range from two stars to four stars with very impressive facilities at a fraction of the cost of the French resorts. There are also a handful of catered ski chalets dotted around Andorra but these do get booked quickly owing to their rarity.
Andorran cuisine takes on a truly international flair with a mixture of the French, Spanish, and Catalan dishes being served; seafood being widely available. Many of the mountain restaurants offer a bland and ubiquitous supply of burgers, chips, and pizzas etc. One trick is to ask for the huge vats of casserole that the restaurants prepare for the “lefties” and piste maintenance workers. These vats are kept to one side and sold to the workers at a subsidised rate. The restauranteurs are happy though to sell it to us “punters”.
The après ski in Andorra is legendary with Pas de la Casa being a trailblazer for out and out drinking into the small hours. Bars, pubs and clubs dominate with an atmosphere similar to many Mediterranean beach resorts. For those of you looking to escape that revelling it is best to head for the quieter areas of the ski villages. The more upmarket hotels with facilities also have a more chilled atmosphere and none suffer from rowdy behaviour. Overall skiing in Andorra takes a little bit more of a laid back approach with many of the late night revellers not surfacing until mid-morning, which is ideal for those early bird powder-hounds!
Literally a few of these exist in Andorra and because of this they get fully booked very quickly. As the principality is cheap and easy to both wine and dine Snowfinders have never really understood why you would choose this type of holiday though here.
Hotels range from cheap and cheerful 2 star residences to luxury 4 star properties with a wealth of facilities such as heated pools, saunas, hamams, hot tubs, massage facilities and treatment rooms. The cheaper accommodation (including the plethora of self-catering units) makes an ideal base for those on a budget but looking to explore the fantastic nightlife that is on offer. Conversely, the upmarket options suit those looking for pampering and wanting to escape the masses. Groups with non skiers tend to favour the beautiful Hotel St Gotard in Arinsal. The Hotel Cal Ruiz in Pas de la Casa is a good value option. In Soldeu Snowfinders have had excellent feedback about the Hotel Piolet.
Generally the Andorran ski season lasts reliably from the mid December point to the end of March, however, often the snow is still excellent well into April. The principalities height ensures that temperatures are suitable for a winter sports vacation but it will often have a very separate weather pattern to those that affect the Alps.
Fly, fly or fly….In reality driving to Andorra is not an option for a one week holiday owing to the length of the drive. The rails options too are not too clever so we would anticipate that 99% of UK guests choose to fly. Airports that can be used are Toulouse, Barcelona or Lleida, The latter being a small airport in Catalunya.