It’s a fact that not many people know: Andorra is the fourth biggest market for British skiers after France, Austria and Italy. The country boasts the best skiing in the Pyrenees and in the last five years its resorts have invested more than €50 million in mountain cafés, restaurants, chairlifts, gondolas, car parks and snow canons.
This winter there’s even more reason to choose Andorra for your ski holiday: the Post Office Ski Report 2014 names Soldeu, Andorra as having the biggest drop in prices – a massive 23% since last year. A week’s ski holiday in Soldeu now costs £331.17 (including a six-day ski pass, skis/boot hire, ski school, lunch and drinks).
And you’re not getting second-rate skiing for your buck either – the resorts of Soldeu, El Tarter and Pas de la Casa have merged to create the largest ski area in the country: Grandvalira.
Grandvalira ski area has undergone signficant investment, Andorra
Copyright: Grandvalira Tourism
Grandvalira is now one of the world's 30 biggest ski resorts with more than 200km of piste and the first resort outside the Alps to officially offer more than 200km of ski runs, moving it into the global big league. Its 66 lifts, which include 20 high-speed detachable quad and six-seater chairlifts, along with three gondolas, give a combined uplift of more than 100,000 skiers per hour – a combination of speed and capacity matched by less than a dozen resorts worldwide. Grandvalira is now one of the planet’s biggest and most modern snow-makers with more than half of its terrain covered by 1,000 snow cannons.
Along with Grandvalira, Vallnord is made up of three former smaller areas: Pal and Arinsal (connected by a gondola) and Ordino (Arcalis) which remains a separate centre, although it too offers a host of high-speed detachable four- and six-seater chairs and boasts the best snowfall record in the principality. It offers a smaller ski area to Grandvalira, but its 90km is nothing to sniff at and with it comes 500 snow cannons.
A beautiful day on the slopes of Vallnord, Andorra
Copyright: OT Vallnord
Andorran resorts have been spending on 'alternative facilities' besides skiing and shopping, particularly high-class swimming and leisure complexes. These include the most dramatic building in the capital La Vella, only a few minutes from both ski areas, the spectacular Caldea 'Thermoludic Centre' where mirrored glass crystal spires cut the skyline. A serious health centre, it features a vast array of luxurious pools as well as health and beauty treatments. In addition the village of Canillo, linked by gondola in to Grandvalira, is home to an excellent indoor sports centre, Andorra's national facility, including a swimming pool and ice rink.
While you can still find low-priced apartments, the range of quality accommodation on offer is a rather new thing. The best of the slope-side hotels is the five-star Hermitage and nearby Sporthotel in central Soldeu. In La Vella the five-star Hotel Plaza is arguably the pick of the bunch for the best quality.
Five-star Hotel Hermitage spa in Soldeu, Andorra
Copyright: Sport Hotels Resort And Spa
Along with their expansion on the mountains, both ski areas have been increasingly aware of their environmental responsibilities. They were quick to adopt international environmental standards certification such as ISO 14001, which surprised many in the ski industry as they became pioneers in green skiing ahead of resorts better-known for having a green ethos.
Shop till you drop
The duty-free shopping, centred on capital Andorra La Vella, the main shopper's paradise reputed to be home to 1,000 shops, continues to be a major draw. Indeed the Russian market has boomed here as Russians flood in looking for bargains.
Andorra continues to retain a hardcore party reputation, particularly at the resorts of Arinsal and Pas de la Casa.
Both have compact centres with a dozen or so small-to-medium sized bars in each. Service by English or Antipodean bar staff is the order of the day, with prices equivalent to those 'back home' or better, so they're lively as soon as the lifts close.
By plane: Andorra doesn’t have its own airport. The biggest airport is Barcelona (210 Km) and the nearest is l’Alguaire de Lleida (158 Km). Girona (250 Km) and Reus (210 Km) are two other options. From here you can get to Andorra by car or bus. From France, the main airports are Rivesaltes airport (170 Km) in Perpignan and Blagnac airport in Toulouse, (196 Km).
By bus: Eurolines, Novatel and Montmantell provide transport from El Prat airport. Nadal has its own bus stop in the Sants bus station, Barcelona and you can also get here from the airport. Novatel operates from Girona airport. Alsa, Montmantell and Viatges Soldevila depart from the AVE train stations in Lleida. Novatel and Montmantell operate from Toulouse.
By train: The nearest train stations are Barcelona-Sants and Lleida-Pirineus in Spain and l’Hospitalet-près-l’Andorre and Matabiau (Toulouse) in France. From the station you can choose to come by car or bus.
For more infomation visit: visitandorra.com