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Our Ski Expert Charlie Robbins discovers Awesome Andorra...

09 November 2019

Introduction and Arrival

Awesome fresh snow all week giving way to three bluebird powder days…  The first thing that struck me on our trip to Andorra was the accessibility.  I think like most people, I held the pre-conception that one of the reasons it’s cheap is because it’s a long, long way away.  We flew into a tiny airport in the middle of nowhere and the transfer time was about three hours but if you fly into Toulouse it’s only two and a half hours; the scenery is drastically different from driving to the alps but just as spectacular and the journey flies by.  One thing to note is that data roaming charges apply as soon as you cross the border so make sure you turn off data on your mobile!

The main Grandvalira ski resorts are el Tartar, Soldeu and the infamous Pas de la Casa.  We stayed in Soldeu which is a delightful mesh of Catalan and French style.  The village is an array of mainly stone and wood buildings and the new gondola station and 5-star hotels have been built in the same tradition, giving the village an alpine charm. There were hen’s pecking around in a small holding we could see from our room and the local cheese and cured ham shop has been passed down through the generations resulting in an eccentric but friendly cheese enthusiast at the helm.  There are all the shops you would expect to find in any ski resort, a pharmacy, cash point, convenience store and ski gear shops.  The main gondola station has been recently renovated and has ski lockers which are very convenient, but most of the hotels that aren’t right next to it offer a shuttle service anyway.




Charlie - Andorra Pic 1

The Ski Area

The biggest and best shocker for me was the Grandvalira ski area.  It comprises six areas or bowls (Encamp, Canillo, el Tartar, Soldeu, Grau roig (apparently pronounced “roche”), and Pas de la Casa) which allow for skiing on all aspects so you can follow the sun or follow the shade depending on your style!  We were lucky with a massive dump of snow just as we arrived and, not knowing the area so well we stuck to the easily accessible off piste which was still untracked out after three days.  Another surprise – although it’s well known as a family resort it’s also a bit of a freeride meeca so most of the locals were hiking further afield, perhaps to the nearby Freeride Word Tour stop of Arcalis – it’s worth knowing that you get a free day here with your Grandvalira lift pass. 

Charlie - Andorra Pic 3

Charlie showing us how it is done! 

 

Some tasty Andorran powder!


Pistes and Parks

The pistes themselves are a good mix of wide rolling blues which are great fun, long beautiful winding paths back down to resort, wide empty reds and a couple of steeper blacks.  If you want o practise your carving skills, there’s no better place!  There are a couple of World Cup black runs to tick off as well;  the aptly named “Avet” back down to Soldeu -you’ve got to be sure you can nail this as it’s overlooked by the gondola and several après bars at the bottom!; the leg burning Àliga; and if you can hang on up the drag lift and through the red rocks to the Granota (Grau roig) the views and descent into the trees are well worth the effort to practise your technical turns.  There’s also a good selection of shorter steep blacks where you can see and plan your escape route, great if you’re progressing as an intermediate and want to give the steep a go!

The lift system works well and pistes are maintained to a good standard.  You won’t find heated seats or covered chairlifts as you would in the bigger resorts in the French alps, but we went in peak school holiday time and there were no queues.  That’s right NO QUEUES.  Literally none, all week.  Amazing. 


 

ahh...empty chairlifts!

ahh...empty pistes!

Family Friendly Vibes

The resort caters superbly for families and beginner skiers -it’s easy to navigate and the pistes are pretty quiet (see picture below).  The Pi de Migdia beginner’s area in the El Tarter secteur and Espiolet in the Soldeu secteur are easily accessed and near restaurants with sun terraces.  If there are mixed abilities (or enthusiasms) in your group, it’s possible to grab a hot chocolate or a beer and watch the more exuberant riders lap the park.  There are some impressive tricks being thrown off the triple line (Snowpark el tartar), definitely worth stopping by to be amazed/inspired.  You may also catch a spot of mushing or the odd skier picking a line through the trees to the right.  If you want to try your hand at some freestyle Grandvalira ski school has many friendly English-speaking instructors and there is generally a lovely vibe on the hill.   The Snowpark Xavi in Grau roig is a good place to start. The Grandvalira is also home to Henrick Harlaut and the Henrick Harlaut sunset Park open until 9pm. The Olympic freestyle skier (of trouser dropping fame in the Olympics!) moved here for the chilled vibe, well maintained parks and easily accessible freeride.  Another inspiring spectacle on the opposite side of the area is the speed skiing track.  Blink and you’ll miss it!  My top tip for piste adventures is to register with the ski school for the first tracks experience, there’s nothing like it, if you get the chance do it!


Pit Stops On The Hill

There are plenty and varied food stops on the hill ranging from self-service to a la carte.  If you pre-book your lift pass there’s an option to add lunch on the hill which is great for the budget conscious.  Not to be missed is the Coll Blanc with 360 degree views at 2600m!  The Piolet in Grau Roig situated in the middle of the forest just off a blue run is a must for a fondue treat.


Aprés and Eating Out

Things were winding down as we went at Easter but there was still enough going on in terms of après.  We frequented Bar Code (at the bottom of the Avet, next to the gondola station)  for a swift après half and spot of live music before dinner, watching the sun set and the last skiers ‘aving it on the Avet.  We were even lucky enough to catch the local  ski instructor band The Shambles.  There are a few bars in Soldeu, Fat Alberts up the back of the main street is very popular.  There’s a fancy looking tapas bar next door if you fancy something a little more sophisticated.  There are a couple of Pub type bars where you can shoot some pool and watch sport and apparently there’s a Pussycat Disco but we didn’t make it that far.  Maybe it was already shut for the in-between season.  For eating out the Hotel Bruxelles is very popular with a good selection and reasonably priced.  There are a few snack bars and you can get paninis etc in the pubs.  Food and drink is a lot cheaper than in the alps.


Hotel Bruxelles, Soldeu

Pas de la Casa - not quite as pretty as Soldeu but has a great pizzeria at the bottom of the slope on the right.


However the view up the hill is stunning though! 

We went for a duty-free shopping expedition down to the capitol Andorra La Vella.  It’s really simple and easy on the bus and only 3.30€ each way.  Buses run every 20minutes until 9pm.  There’s also the humongous Caldea spa housed in a church like building, worth a visit if the weather’s bad.

Andorra was indeed awesome!




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