Up is the word. Andorra is going up in the world, which is an achievement considering the top of Croagh Patrick is lower than the lowest point in the little principality.
The principality made its name as a playground for beginners after the first ski lifts opened in 1957, became all trendy when the Grandvalira was created in 2004 opening up 193km of piste, and then became a tad too expensive for the Irish who looked east to Austria, Italy and Bulgaria instead.
For 2012-3 Andorra is back. Prices have been reined in and the season is looking good. Better hotels and spas have been thrown alongside shopping into Andorra’s box.
There were blue skies above when we reach Les Escaldes and the Hotel Prisma near Andorra la Vella, an unusually urban setting for a ski experience.
The town got its name from the numerous hot springs and we are here to sample the Caldea, a space age wellness centre near the little river. It is the reason to stay a few kilometres from the slopes, One nearby six-kilometre gondola run can get you up the mountains in 14 minutes.
Entry to Caldea is u39 to use the pools, u59 including treatments, offering five storeys of pools, treatment rooms, and saunas. There is a free bus from Arinsal for people staying on that side of the mountain and shops stay open until 8 o’clock at night, with great duty free prices.
It comes complete with a bizarre grapefruit pool, a small swimming pool with grapefruits bobbing around in the dark, something to help your skin, apparently. It doesn’t work. I tried.
Soldeu is a good place to measure how far Andorra has come from the ‘bargains and beginners’ place it used to be.
A morning on the slopes shows what a good job they have done. As we lap up the kilometres around the resort there are some challenges and a few icy wobbly bits (Soldeu ain’t drowning in snow, like Ischgl is this week) but the scenery makes it all worthwhile.
A line of Andorran kindergartners parade by in little suits with magnets on their back, to hold them on the ski lift. One day a week they get up the mountain to ski. What an education.
An Irish ski instructress. Lesley Boyd from Dundrum spends her winter here, and is one of the best tutors in the resort.
You can ski down to the little village of Pas de la Casa, throw a snowball into France and take the lift back up again, rattling along at the regulation 2.4 metres per second as the scenery unfolds around.
Not to be outdone, Noemi Roguera and Aina Perez brought us on an amazing tour of Arinsal, taking the James Bond cable car over to Pal and throwing another snowball at the Spanish border.
Andorra’s big drawback used to be the transfer time, but the French have shaved an hour off the transfer time to Toulouse with the grandiosely named European Route E09.
Barcelona has three direct flights a day from Dublin but Toulouse is a better transfer option.
Unless something gets lodged in the bridge at Prat de la Plau. But you don’t get to visit a mountain principality without having to go up the mountain.
A travel insurance glitch was solved last season. Andorra is outside the EU, so travel insurance claims used to take time while to get processed.
The ski resorts have decided to offer their own, at 3.20 a day, or 45 for the season. It means no paperwork when you present with that sprained wrist, and they will have you strapped and back on the slopes straightaway.
Andorra won’t ever be Espace Killy but it has infinitely cheaper wine and better shopping.
- Soldeu has over 200kms of piste is an excellent resort for all levels of skiers with some challenging red and black runs, as well as cruising reds. Topflight would recommend the Sports Village complex ski in and gondola within the complex, or the Piolets Park Hotel, as well as other budget price accommodation. Après ski activities include husky dog rides, skidooing etc. as well as the usual après ski for singles. Lift Pass for Grandvalira costs u189, children under 11 get FREE lift pass when one adult pre books. First Time Ski pack u275
- Prices at the 4 Star Sport Hotel from u799pps, Sport Hotel Villages from €1049pps, Piolets Hotel from u799pps and Hotel Piolets Park from u829 pps prices are based on March departures when snow is always good days are longer and sun is usually shining
- Arinsal has 63kms of piste in the VallNord sector of Arinsal. The lift pass for the area can be used for Arcalis as well, reachable by free ski bus. Arinsal is a very good value resort, great for families as well as singles, and better for beginners and lower intermediates.
- Lift Pass u148 children under 11 get FREE lift pass when one adult pre books.
- First time ski pack u239 to include 6 days ski and boot hire, 5 days ski school and 6 day lift pass
- Prices at the 4 Star St Gothard Hotel from u479pps price includes flights, accommodation and transfers and half board free ski bus into Andorra la Vella for shopping and Caldea wellness and live entertainment 6 days per week
- Entry to Caldea is u39. entry to wellness extra facilities is u59 and watch out for special offer packages including massage etc.
- A big plus for Andorra is its capital Andorra la Vella and its 3kms of shopping including well known shops such as Mango, Bershka and Zara all offering low prices, as well as ski gear, electrics, and low low drinks prices, especially for quality brands.
- Eoghan Corry travelled to Andorra with Topflight, Ireland’s leading ski tour operator, supported by Ski Andorra and Aer Lingus.
- Topflight operates an Aer Lingus Charter programme to Andorra for the full ski season, from Dublin to Toulouse and from Cork to Barcelona on Aer Lingus scheduled flights. All flights operate on a Sunday to Sunday basis.
- See www.topflight.ie (telephone 01 2401700)
- Aer Lingus schedule is on www.aerlingus.com
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