By Gordon Glyn-Jones
Where are you skiing this season?
Okay, so you’re definitely going to the slopes this season, but you can’t decide where? Worry no more. Of course, we all aspire to carve perfect snakes down a pristine Alpine slope, but in truth, once you add up accommodation, ski-hire, lift passes etc in France or Switzerland, you can easily start creeping into triple figures. In recent years some of our readers have been making trips to the Czech Republic or Bulgaria for much cheaper skiing options, however if you’re looking for the perfect balance of good snow, brilliant facilities, a young sexy crowd and wicked nightlife, Andorra is right up there.
What’s more the Spanish laid back slope attitude and lively aprÃ¨s-ski suits our sunny Antipodean temperaments better than Teutonic intensity. Andorra have been making efforts to buff up the image of the area beyond just a party zone, but in real terms this simply means the lifts and services are better. The nightlife in places like Pas de la Casa in the Grandvalira Valley is still excellent. Another great thing is that due to relaxed labour laws, at least half of the instructors are English speaking, which can quickly help increase your skills on a short holiday.
No Tax Here
Andorra is an independent co-principality sandwiched between the Spanish and French border in the Pyrenees. cont ..
By all accounts it has become something of a tax haven like Luxembourg or Monaco, but the only impact for the average punter is that the shops stay open late and the prices are tax free; so hold off buying those boarding boots until you arrive.
Andorra has two main ski regions, Grandvalira and Valnord. Grandvalira, Andorra’s biggest ski region, has 193km of skiing and snowboarding at altitudes of up to 2,560m. Valmoord has 83 km of runs and is the slightly more picturesque and family oriented region. Within these two areas, there are a string of resorts all with their own identities: Pas de la Casa on the French border is a party town, Soldeu is more stylish and Arinsal villagey and quiet.
With the weather turning wonky of late, sometimes there is doubt as to how much snow there would be on the slopes. We took our trip at the end of January, which is a good time to go. There was enough snow most of the time, and when there wasn’t, a huge network of snowguns supplemented the natural fall. The advantage of slightly warmer weather is that the sun shines on your face all day. Depending on how adventurous you are, lift passes are available in different combinations for the various valleys. Make sure you grab a map and push yourself beyond your comfort zone, the landscapes vary, as do the diversity of ski runs.
To Board or Ski?
If this is your first or second time, you’ll generally have to decide which discipline you’d like to try. For some people it’s obvious what kind of person they are. Rule of thumb is: boarders are punks with attitude, skiers are more civilised and skilled. However, these are asinine stereotypes (however true). It is easier to get up and do ‘okay’ more quickly on skis, but harder to master in the long run. Boarding hurts a lot more to learn, because you fall off often, but once you learn it can be less finickety. Our advice is take a whole week, and at least try get the basics of both. It’ll be easier to master both if you don’t form an attachment too soon.
Package or Independent?
This is once again down to personal taste. If you get some mates together and go skiing it’ll make for some of the best collective memories of your life. However, at the same time, drinking, learning and falling on your face with a bunch of new people can be a great way to make friends and have a ball. Some good package holiday providers to Andorra: www.crystalski.com www.thomsonski.com and www.nielsonski.com Sometimes, renting self-catering accommodation cuts costs and is great fun.
Get it together
There’s a very good reason why thousands of Europeans flock to the slopes each year. It’s awesome fun. There is absolutely nothing like flying down a mountain terrified out of your wits and then slamming into a tree…only kidding. (Don’t forget insurance BTW). But seriously, it really is one of the most exhilarating, poetic and strenuous action sports available. Nothing is better, except perhaps spacewalking and we haven’t done that so can’t tell you. Andorra is a great place to hang out, party and get piste. For more check out the following websites: wwww.skiandorra.ad www.vallnord.com www.grandvalira.com
Andorra is served by two main airports Toulouse — Blagnac in France (196 km away) and Barcelona in Spain (202 km away). There are minibuses to Andorra available from both airports. There are a number of alternative rail and flight routes, see: www.andorraportal.com
Where to Stay
If you are going as part of a package holiday, your accommodation will obviously be chosen as part of an overall plan. However we recommend something reasonable such as Estudis Turistics Cims Pas, (www.booking.com) which is pretty basic but decent. Remember on a ski trip you’re there to ski and have a good time, not languish in your hotel room.
Nightlife in Andorra is fairly varied, lively and of a generally high standard. On our trip we stayed in Andorra La Fella, which is the largest town centre. We ate at a fantastic old restaurant called El Bon where they served us a traditional leak-type dish called CALÃ‡OTS. The dish is essentially barbequed leaks, but involves an elaborate and messy eating routine…so tasty. See: www.bonraco.com Ask your guides for advice as to find your own favourite local!
Ask a Local
“Make a point to go to the Caldea Spa in La Fella…it may look like a space ship or cathedral, but it has the best Turkish steam rooms and spa fcilities and after skiing, it is so nice to relax sore muscles.
In La Massana there’s the Podium bar, the owner is Cedric Gracia, Top ten in the world ranking for Mountain Biking and very mediatic person, you can probably see them at the bar every night on winter partying with the customers. After that you cango to the Irish Pub in the Htl. Magic also in La Massana, english tourists will feel at home.
A very tiny family restaurant in La Massana called “La Borda Xica” is a place that you can get typical food in a typical ambiance for a very reasonable price. You should call to make a reservation: 00 376 837790.
For the ones who like world’s food you can try the chinese restaurant in the Htl. Palarine in Erts or the Pizzeria Angelo in La Massana.
A place to forget about everything is placed in Arcalis resort, the bar at La Coma will make you feel very close to the sky sorrounded by mountains of snow.
I’m not sure if that’s what you wanted but those are the places I would like to see or go if I was here for vacation.” – Katya Olaf www.caldea.com
Fast Facts – Andorra
Language: French, Spanish, Catalan
Time: 1hr ahead.