The Pyrenees is one of the best skiing areas in Europe and Andorra is undoubtedly one of the best ski destinations in the Pyrenees, so it's no surprise that Andorra ski holidays have long been popular with British skiers.
Andorran ski resorts are snow sure from December to April, and the large, modern lift network links the major resorts, such as Pas de la Casa, Soldeu and Arinsal into two massive ski areas, Grandvalira and Pal Arinsal, with exploration easy. Between them, these two ski areas have access to a huge amount of terrain, which offers everything from mellow nursery slopes to exciting freeride, and with spectacular mountain views to enjoy. Indeed, between them, they offer more than 300km of groomed slopes, as well as some seriously tantalising off-piste. The highest point of the Grandvalira ski area is 2,560m, high enough to ensure superb quality snow.
With a unique blend of Spanish and French cultures, there's a lively après-ski scene, excellent family-friendly facilities with English widely spoken in the ski schools. And while skiing holidays in Andorra continue to offer great value, the principality has significantly overturned the 'cheap and cheerful' stereotypes and now punches well above its weight in every aspect of winter entertainment.
It's also very fair to say that Andorra offers more than just skiing! There are loads of activities to keep you busy away from the slopes - snowmobiles, husky sleds, igloo building, snow-shoeing, ice hockey, ice skating, thermal spas and, of course...the shopping.
Where is Andorra?
Straddling the Pyrenees between France and Spain, Andorra is a high-altitude destination, with some 65 peaks above 2,000m, making it the second-highest mountain state of Europe.
As an independent state with 1,000 years of history, Andorra has a unique culture that goes way beyond its reputation as a duty free shopping destination. At just 468 square km - about a fifth of the size of Luxembourg – Andorra is a compact principality with a population of around 70,000. The capital, Andorra la Vella, includes duty-free shopping (Andorra is not part of the EU) and fine dining in world-famous restaurants. The thermal bath and spa of the Caldea centre provide a wonderful alternative to a day on the slopes.
As well as its ever popular ski resorts, Andorra is home to some beautiful old cities, including Andorra la Vella, Escaldes-Engordany, and Ordino. If you’re passionate about history and culture, a visit to any of these is well worthwhile.
Where do you fly to ski Andorra?
With no airport inside the microstate, the nearest airport to Andorra is Andorra–La Seu d'Urgell, located just over the border in Spain. The distance between this airport and Andorra la Vella is 27km by car, which takes just half an hour. However most tourist flights use the airports of Barcelona (200km away), Girona (260km) and Toulouse (195km). From Barcelona’s airport, there are regular bus connections to Andorra, with at least six daily bus transfers and more during the Andorra peak ski season.
Why take a ski holiday in Andorra?
As a high-altitude destination, its slopes are snowsure and its resorts offer an impressively lively apres-ski scene, while remaining great for families, too. Andorra is also rightly renowned as a great place both to learn how to ski - thanks to its excellent ski schools, which are not only a bargain compared to their Alpine counterparts, but the instructors speak English - and to improve skills, thanks to the wide open pistes, which never seem overcrowded, and which mostly aren’t particularly long.
It’s also an ideal spot for intermediates as the mountains here are draped mostly in cruisey blue and red pistes. Advanced skiers may not have too many very steep blacks to dig their edges into – but if you’re into freeride or ski-touring Andorra has ample off-piste opportunities - and you can also go heli-skiing!
Focus on: Pal-Arinsal and Grandvalira ski area
219km of pistes
21 green runs
8km longest run
1008 snow cannons
Grandvalira is one of the largest skiing areas in Europe, combining no fewer than seven individual 'sectors' into one resort. Grandvalira was first established in 2003 when two of the oldest ski areas in the Pyrenees combined to create one larger ski destination.
It's main hub is Pas de la Casa, at 2,100m, which was Andorra's first ski resort when it was founded in 1957. It's now the principality's largest, and welcomes more visitors than any other ski resort in the Pyrenees. 'Pas', as it's affectionately known, sits right on Andorra's border with France, making it the principality's closest ski resort to Toulouse airport. The resort's pistes sweep down to the town centre - the only place in Andorra where this happens - and are linked via the neighbouring Grau Roig ski sector to the other major Andorran ski resorts, of Soldeu and El Tarter.
Renowned for its thirsty nightlife, it's popular with party animals, particularly beginners and intermediates.
The principal pistes are red, although they are really mostly blue-equivalent in profile, with just a few steeper, true red pitches spilling off the Envalira ridge. Absolute beginners are well looked after in a roped-off cluster of nursery slopes at the uppermost end of Pas da la Casa's main street, adjacent to the quieter blue pistes on that side of town. This quarter also houses a slopestyle course served by its own chairlift.
The Grau Roig sector is more extensive and offers more varied terrain - including a half-pipe for the freestyle-minded - but is also chiefly characterised by similar motorway pistes. This sector also links across to the Soldeu ski area, for onward routes into the heart of the Grandvalira domain.
Soldeu has worked hard to reinvent itself over the past few seasons to shrug off its old tag as a budget ski holiday destination for the 'young and lively' end of the market, and has now successfully established itself as Andorra's most upmarket resort, with a cosmopolitan clientele, and a popular luxury spa in the heart of the village. Nearby is the smaller centre of El Tarter, especially popular with families, it offers an excellent range of self-catering accommodation.
The Soldeu slopes - amounting to pretty much half of the Grandvalira domain - are located on the far side of a deep ravine which runs parallel to the village, with two blue and two black pistes providing home-runs to the foot of the village via a wide, pisted suspension bridge above the river.
The extent of the terrain is impressive and there's a great range of slopes to cater for all except the most demanding visitors: the centrally-located beginners' zone covers a spacious plateau directly in front of the upper terminal of the gondola. There are lots of long cruising blues and fast reds; a few black runs.
The network of lifts and pistes interlink smoothly with the neighbouring El Tarter sector, home to one of the biggest and best snowparks in the Pyrenees. The links north-east in the direction of Grau Roig for the Pas de la Casa sectors are also quite straightforward.
Ordino Arcalís, a ski resort known for offering the best quality and most snow in the Pyrenees is now linked to Grandvalira Resorts.
63km of pistes
20 green runs
8km longest run
385 snow cannons
The ski area of Pal Arinsal is located in a northern valley of Andorra and is made up of the ski areas of Pal and Arinsal. These are linked via a large cable car, making both ski areas accessible from the other. Pal-Arinsal is now on the same season-long Andorra ski pass as Grandvalira, giving long-stay visitors unrivalled access to the principality's slopes.
Pal offers the larger and more varied terrain, with a greater proportion of tree-lined slopes, including some interesting and challenging blacks. The ski area is accessed from the gondola located in the village of La Massana. From the top, the ski area opens up with a further three chairlifts easily reached making the rest of the resort reachable.
The Arinsal ski area is accessed via the gondola from Arinsal village, or from the high speed cable car that links with Pal. A series of high speed chairlifts spread out to provide access to a great mix of blue and red runs, offering the perfect progression for skiers to really hone their technique and ensure rapid improvement.
With its compact ski area, highly acclaimed English-speaking ski school and lively, unpretentious nightlife, Arinsal presents a very good choice for families and all-ability groups.
Ski Andorra with Interski
Skiing Andorra is easy with Interski, which offers accommodation and a range of packages in both Grandvalira and Pal Arinsal ski areas. With Interski, you'll have dedicated staff on hand to ensure you get the most from your ski holiday.
Interski has been taking skiers to the slopes for 40 years. In addition to its ski holidays, Interski also offers market-leading school ski trips and also organises a range of ski training courses through its Academy, including gap year instructor training.
For more details and to book your Interski holiday in andorra, go to interskiholidays.co.uk