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Andorra’s great for winter fun

The small principality of Andorra, sandwiched between France and Spainhigh in the Pyrenees mountains, is ideal for a family winter vacation.

The small principality of Andorra, sandwiched between France and Spain high in the Pyrenees mountains, is ideal for a family winter vacation.

Not only does it have the biggest ski area in the Iberian Peninsula, with good snow and sunny weather, but because it’s a tax haven, it also has great shopping — items like cameras and perfumes are particularly good deals.

Pyrenees country is an attractive alternative to more traditional winter destinations.

Prices are generally more affordable than most other European ski destinations and besides the snow and shopping, there is also the local gastronomy, with influences from both France and Spain’s Catalonia region, as well as bathhouses and spas.

For ski and snowboard fans, Andorra has two distinct areas: Grand Valira, which offers 200 kilometres of slopes, one of which borders France; and Vallnord, with 90 kilometres of runs.

Pas de la Casa, close to the French border at Grand Valira, is one of the most popular resorts in Andorra. Because of its altitude it normally offers consistently good conditions for skiing.

Last year it celebrated its 50th anniversary. Its massive growth includes a link with the Porte des Neiges skiing area of France. The many shops, restaurants, ski-out hotels, and buzzing nightlife make this purpose-built resort a favourite with the 20-something crowd.

If you’re looking for a quieter atmosphere you should try Grau Roig, a tiny resort that contrasts with the concrete-block architecture of many of the other Andorra resorts. The chic Hotel Grau Roig (hotelgrauroig.com) is right next to the slopes, and there is little else here — this is the only resort with no residential core, a decision apparently made because of the area’s overwhelming natural beauty.

Not very far from Pas de la Casa, it’s ideal for skiers and boarders making their first tracks in the snow, with large trails for beginners and a Mickey Snow Club circuit for children.

El Tarter-Soldeu has the best accommodation for those who want to sleep near the slopes and enjoy a laid-back aprés-ski experience, without the fuss and the rowdy crowds of Pas de la Casa.

The Sport resort offers three hotels with different prices: The Hermitage, the Village and the Sport Hotel, whose clients have direct access to the Sport Wellness Mountain Spa, a huge five-floor spa with heated pools, one of which is outside, overlooking the slopes (More details at www.sporthotels.ad).

Away from the slopes, there is plenty to explore. Legend says that the principality of Andorra was established by Emperor Charlemagne in 805 as appreciation for the help of its inhabitants in the fight against the Saracens. A monument to his image in Canillo village is a reminder of Andorra’s many centuries of history.

The San Joan de Caselles Church in the same village was built in the 11th century and bears witness to the importance the Romanesque period in these mountains. In this region you’ll also find the Meritxell Sanctuary, dedicated to Andorra’s patron saint and rebuilt in the 1970s by Catalan architect Ricardo Bofill.

Up above at the Canillo ski station there is one of the most impressive restaurants in Andorra, the Roc de les Bruixes. At night the atmosphere is fantastic and accessing it — by cable car and with blankets — is a very special experience.

The fusion cuisine takes advantage of the best flavours of France and the Pyrenees, with a modern touch.

Finally, a visit to the principality is not complete without descending to the capital, Andorra la Vella, where you can find the biggest shops and warehouses with very competitive prices.

Need to know
• Capital: Andorra la Vella
• Language: French and Spanish
• Population: 75,000
• Currency: euro
• How to get there: Daily buses link Barcelona airport to Andorra.
• Details at www.skiandorra.ad.

 
 
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