PUBLISHED: 17:05 14 April 2014
Conrad Sutcliffe explores a ski destination which is a little off the piste map but great value for money. Here he explains the virtues of a skiing holiday in Andorra
It doesn’t take more than a couple of hours in Andorra for the first-time visitor to realise their preconceptions are hopelessly wide of the mark.
The Andorran’s now have a spread of accommodation to suit most budgets, from the functional to the five-star. And their domains offer something for most types of winter sports enthusiast.
Pas de la Casa, the first village over the border from France, remains a young persons’ hang-out. If you want to learn to ski the nursery slopes are right outside the front door, literally if you are staying in Crystal’s Hotel des la Pistes. There is a lot of nursery acreage there and, for novices, no worries about having to go high into the mountains.
Soldeu, where I stayed in the Montana hotel, is a snowball-throw away from the main gondola and is a bit quieter. The hotels are more up-market and you are as likely to hear Russian spoken as English.
Further along the valley is El Tarter − modest in size but worth skiing to for a lunch − then Canillo. Canillo is a proper town with shops as well as bars and restaurants and well worth a day out.
You ski round to mid-mountain hamlet El Forn, which is as far as you can go under your own steam, then take the gondola down into town.
A €30 taxi ride first thing away from Soldeu is La Massana and the gondola up to the Caubella station and the entry point to the Pal sector of the Vallnord domain. Vallnord is about a third of the size of Grandvalaria in piste kilometers.
There are three sectors − Pal, Arninsal and Arcalis − all pointing towards different markets. Pal, which has the biggest ski area, is aimed fairly and squarely at the family market. Arinsal, which is linked by cable car to Pal, is a great place to start your ski career. As with Pas De La Casa, the nursery slopes are extensive.
Arcalis, which is a bus ride away, is where instructors go to play on their days off. Huge it isn’t, but it is where the snowparks are and where the slopes have a steeper pitch. One lift pass can cover both domains. When you buy your six-day pass in Grandvalira tell the kiosk attendant you want a day in Vallnord thrown in and they will give you a voucher to exchange when you get there. It works the other way round too.
So what will you find at the end of the lift ride? Grandvalira claims 210km of slopes served by 118 lifts. It would take a while to get bored with that little lot. There is off-piste too, not just the tracked out areas under chair lifts but real off-piste with trees and rocks to test your nerve and skill. Look for it by the Llosada and Les Perdes Soldeu chairs. There are also enjoyable reds and blues down from the top of each sector that will challenge the thighs if you go non-stop. And with seven sectors on the lift map, there is always somewhere to ski to for morning coffee, lunch or afternoon tea.
Skiers used to the prices in France and Austria will be pleasantly surprised when the bill arrives. A large beer is around €4 and a sizeable burger can be had for not a lot more. My first-day lunch cost less than €10.
Andorra is no more difficult to get to than most of the Aosta Valley, anywhere in the Dolomites or some of the French resorts in the Haute Savoy. So if it’s a value-for-money destination you are looking for, it is well worth adding Andorra to your ski experiences.
For details of Crystal Ski Holidays in Andorra go to www.crystalski.co.uk