“You’re going skiing where? Andorra? Where is that? Never heard of it.”
That was the general reaction when I told people I had booked a ski trip to Andorra – the sixth smallest country in Europe. For those of you who have never heard of it, Andorra is a tiny little dot on the map squished between France and Spain. Despite its miniscule size, it is indeed a fully self-governing country! It is surrounded by the Pyrenees Mountains, making it an awesome destination for skiing.
Europe is known for having some of the best skiing in the world – France, Switzerland, and Austria being some of the most popular destinations. But I’m here to tell you why I chose to forgo skiing in one of the hotspots (or perhaps “coldspots” would be a more fitting term), and venture to tiny Andorra instead!
Location Location Location!
Andorra is conveniently located between Spain and France, making it accessible from a few different airports: Barcelona, Girona, and Toulouse. This made booking flights a lot more flexible, as I was able to choose based on which airport had the cheapest flights. In general, you can find pretty reasonable flights with all of the budget airlines Europe has to offer. For us, Barcelona ended up being the winner. From Barcelona airport, there is as coach bus you can take to Andorra La Vella (the main town), as well as the various Andorra ski villages located in the mountains. The journey takes about three hours.
Save Some Money
Andorra has two main ski resorts – Grandvalira and Vallnord. Both are significantly cheaper than ski resorts in the Alps, but still have top skiing/snowboarding conditions. I bought a four-day ski pass in Grandvalira for 174 Euros (approx $240 CAD), and this included lunch each day. A four-day pass in Meribel (France), for example, would cost around 229 Euros (approx $320 CAD). That is a huge saving right there! Accommodation in Andorra is very reasonable as well. All in favour of saving money raise your hands!
Squeeze in an Adjoining Holiday
Because of Andorra’s proximity to both France and Spain, it is easy to extend your holiday beyond just a ski vacation. Why not attach a cheeky little Barcelona trip to your ski trip, or a relaxing few days in Toulouse? It sure would be a nice way to warm up after spending some quality time on the slopes! Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to extend our holiday as work was beckoning (sigh), but it is definitely an feasible option if you have more time to spend.
Shop Til You Drop
Andorra is home to the largest shopping centre in Europe – pretty remarkable for the sixth smallest country in the Europe! If you need a break from skiing and snowboarding, shopping is always a great alternative.
Tick Andorra Off Your List!
Let’s be honest, not many people you encounter will be able to say that they’ve been to Andorra! People are usually quite intrigued when I tell them I’ve been there.
Tips for Visiting Andorra
Where to Stay
There are many different options of where to stay in Andorra, depending on which resort you are planning to go to.
Andorra La Vella is the capital of Andorra, and is the biggest city. There are lots of shops and cafes in Andorra la Vella. It is a bit further from the ski slopes, so it requires transportation to get to the hills.
Pas De La Casa is one of the larger towns with lots of budget accommodation available. It is not the most shall we say “picturesque” of towns, but it is probably the cheapest town to stay in. We decided to stay in Pas De La Casa for this reason. The hotel we stayed at was called Cal Ruiz. It was right beside the stop where the coach bus dropped us off, and was also walking distance to the slopes. The runs near Pas De La Casa were more advanced than some of the other areas, so it would be good to take this into account based on your level of skiing/snowboarding. Pas De La Casa is also popular among younger crowds due to the abundance of pubs and bars.
Soldeu is a pretty town with more upscale resorts. It is therefore a pricier, but more luxurious option if that is what you’re after. The runs near Soldeu are more beginner/intermediate-level runs, making it a good destination for families. There are lots of spas and restaurants in Soldeau, as well as a gondola you can take up to the mountains.
El Tarter is a smaller town close to Soldeau. It has some nice hotels as well, but it is a bit further from the gondola.
Pal is a quiet mountain village. It is less developed than some of the other Andorra resort areas, making it quite picturesque. From here, you can catch a gondola to the slopes. The ski hills are surrounded by tall trees, which adds to the overall beauty of the area.
Arinsal is another little village that is more built up than its neighbour, Pal. Unlike Pal, Arinsal is much more open with no trees. From Arinsal, you can also catch the Gondola to the ski hills. Arinsal is suitable for beginners/intermediates. It is great for families and there are lots of restaurants to enjoy.
Arcalis is a beautiful area of Andorra known for its landscapes, steep hills, and valleys. It a great area to stay if you like more challenging hills. It is a very remote area, so it is best to have a car if you stay here.
Where/What to Eat
Since we were staying in Pas De La Casa and our lazy butts couldn’t be bothered to venture to another town, we mostly ate here. There are heaps of restaurants along the main Pas De La Casa strip, so you shouldn’t have troubles finding a place to eat. Most of them are open quite late, so if you arrive in Andorra at night, there should still be some restaurants open. When you are in Andorra, make sure to indulge in some cheese fondue! If you are a cheese-lover like me, it will literally be the meal of your dreams.
Fun fact: Alcohol in Andorra is insanely cheap! (Although skiing with a hangover is rather painful).
I went to the supermarket to buy some snacks one day, and I was amazed at what I saw. First of all, they had the most GIGANTIC bottles of spirits I have ever seen – like big enough for a few Hagrids! Secondly, I was amazed at the hoards of shoppers pushing overflowing carts of liquor, as if they would never find a booze shop again for the rest of their lives. It was quite hilarious, actually!
So, if you’re looking to book a European ski getaway on a budget, look no further than Andorra! Besides, it’s so tiny that if you look any further, you will probably be in France.