Andorra is not a big place. A dot on the map in the Pyrenean mountains between France and Spain, it’s just 181 square miles in size. But what it lacks in space, it makes up with some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in the world, and some of the best skiing in the Pyrenees.
Andorra’s old reputation as a bit of a budget-friendly destination popular with raucous stag parties seems to be on the wane, as cheap ski packages are replaced with major events, new flights offer easy access and quality hotels and family-friendly facilities spring up. The result? Tour operators and visitors alike are flocking to this corner of the Pyrenees.
Tourist numbers are up, reaching almost 1.5 million in winter 2017-18, and a massive 2.5 million ski days were sold the same year, an increase of 11% since 2015. The ever-busy capital, Andorra la Vella, is a tax haven known for offering visitors a taste of the good life.
Smart boutiques and restaurants line the main street, Metitxell Avenue, but it’s not all fast traffic and smart living – the charming old quarter, the Barri Antic, is home to cobbled streets, cosy cafes and a Romanesque church. The town is best dipped into for a day before you head for the mountains.
The larger of the two regions, known as Grandvalira, links the resorts of Soldeu, El Tarter, Pas de la Casa, Grau Roig, Canillo and Encamp, with 210 kilometres of runs. Vallnord, the other Andorra ski region, comprises Arinsal, Pal and Ordino-Arcalis, with runs totalling 93 kilometres.
Linking the resorts means that even in such a small country there’s a a lot of ski terrain to explore. Pistes tend to be best suited to beginner and intermediate skiers, but adrenaline seekers can head for the challenging off-piste in Arcalis. Accommodation now ranges from plush hotels to old-fashioned stone chalets, and local delicacies tend more towards sangria and tapas than the cheesy staples of the Alps.
Changing its spots
Andorra’s increasing popularity is also due to hefty investment. The Grandvalira ski area has had an investment of £125 million since 2003, and in winter 2017-18 alone almost £10 million was poured into its snowsports infrastructure.
It was also ranked 15th in a list of the best ski resorts worldwide by external consultant Laurent Vanat in 2017 – that’s an impressive 15th out of 3,580 ski resorts across the globe.
Emma Staples-Hull, director of Andorra Resorts (andorraresorts.com), has seen the ski scene in the tiny kingdom go from strength to strength.
“Andorra as a destination has been underestimated for years. Development has created a huge uplift in visitors, and it helps that the country hosts events such as the Freeride World Tour in Arcalis and the Alpine Skiing World Cup Finals in Soldeu. There’s more to come, including luxury hotels and spas.”
Seems Andorra is literally on top of the world.