Superb snow in sunny Soldeu

26th March 2014, by Abi Butcher

Snow has fallen constantly in Andorra this season — you still can't see the piste map!

Snow has fallen constantly in Andorra this season — you still can't see the piste map!

Skiing began in Soldeu 50 years ago, and since then it has experienced highs and lows — not least being overrun by Brits looking for a bargain-basement boozy holiday. Luckily for Andorra, Bulgaria came along and took away the lion’s share of that market — which means the number of British visitors has dive-bombed, but that the skiers now heading to Soldeu are generally looking for a different type of getaway.

The views from the Grandvalira ski area are stunning

Ten years ago the Grandvalira ski area was linked up, and now the areas of Soldeu, El Tarter, Pas de la Casa, Canillo and Grau Roig combine to offer 200km of pistes. The jury is out by how much this figure is exaggerated (along with the rest of Europe), but it’s a pretty decent size, nonetheless. The week before I arrived, Soldeu hosted the FIS European Cup Finals, and for the past two years it has hosted European and World Cup ski racing. In 2017, it hosts the FIS Ski World Cup, and nearby Arcalis is home to a qualifier for the Freeride World Tour.

I’ve never been to Andorra before, but I know Soldeu is the favourite place for Editor Watts and Editor Gill to stay when they ski here. The village is ugly — there’s no getting away from that — but the shops and restaurants are pleasant, with new tapas bars and restaurants serving typical Andorran cuisine.

The skiing itself is really lovely. Last week we experienced the hottest temperatures in the Alps and Pyrenees all season, and despite notching up 18c every day, the snow on the pistes in Grandvilara was spotless — no bare patches, no rocks and beautifully groomed. With pistes facing north, south, east and west there was still decent skiing to be found during the sunny afternoons.

The view of Soldeu while skiing the European Cup run “àliga”

Following Gordon Standeven from the Grandvalira ski school, we started the day skiing the European Cup run “àliga” (meaning eagle) down to El Tarter before heading over the Tosa de la Llosada (2,560m) and over to Campillo, via the stunning “rossinyol”, taking a look at the freeride area from the top of Pic d’Encampadana. This year the Grandvalira ski school has climbed on the freeride wagon, offering fat skis, mountain guides and avalanche equipment on its freeride courses.

Possibly the thickest hot chocolate in the world?

We made great time over to Gordon’s favourite place to stop for a refuel in the area, Restaurant del Llac des Pessons in Grau Roig, an old border post by a lake. I ordered possibly the richest, thickest hot chocolate I have ever encountered — more like chocolate custard, made with cream — and once I rolled back in to my skis we trundled on our way up to Coll Blanc, to peer over towards the French border at Pas de la Casa. This ridge is the watershed — snowmelt from the Pas de la Casa side washing down through France to the Atlantic, and into Grau Roig to Spain into the Mediterranean.

Gordon from Grandvalira ski school on the way back to Soldeu

Heading back to Soldeu, after a speedy lap of the Grandvalira, we had been on our skis constantly travelling (fast) for over four hours. I had a reason to get back — the amazing spa at my hotel, the family-run Sport Hermitage. It has to be seen to be believed, and the hotel is fully deserving of its recent membership of the Leading Hotels of the World group. I’d been expecting a five-star hotel in Andorra not to quite match the likes of a five-star elsewhere, but, boy, I was wrong.

After four days in Andorra, I am converted. My advice if you’re teetering on the edge of trying it? Go. If only for the sales in March: I picked up a pair of battery-powered boot warmers for £90 and my favourite Falke ski socks for £12 in various 50% off sales around Soldeu. Total, utter bargain!

There’s still a month left of the season, and the snow is falling, so book your own trip at

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