Affordable ski holidays
The souvenir-sized state offers more than affordable ski breaks, says Deirdre Conroy.
Set the mood
High in the eastern Pyrenees, two hours from Barcelona or Toulouse by car, Andorra is a hybrid mini-state between France and Spain. It's the only place where Catalan is the national language, and its affordability has attracted Irish skiers for decades, aided by tax-free shopping.
But it goes beyond that too.
The hotels in our first resort, Arinsal, were within walking distance of the ski lifts. Beginners in our group found the nursery slopes ideal. The higher slopes of Vallnord are well-connected, combining in one main run to the village, so you can't lose your kids!
Our second resort, Soldeo, was more developed in a traditional Alpine character. Here, €8 million has been spent improving the ski facilities of Grand Valira. Andorra La Vella has a super spa - Caldea - and outdoor-heated pools to ease your aching muscles too.
Andorra is a budget spree - if you don't mind dining in the same hotel for a week, your room, meals, flight and transfer could be as little as €100 per day. Ski hire and passes are also much cheaper than more chic Alpine resorts. If you've got kids in tow, or are a beginner wondering if you'll take to the sport, this could be the cheapest way to try it out.
When you spend your day burning fuel on the slopes, you're allowed to have at least one rum chocolate drink and sugar hit. This non-guilty pleasure will fire up the cylinders and keep you going until lunchtime - after all, each ski destination has their own favourite postprandial tipple, whether it is Jägertee in Austria or rum coffee in France. As the food and drink in Andorra is predominantly Catalan in character, you might have a home-made walnut liqueur to keep you going. I certainly did!
Treat yourself to some Catalan cuisine. Restaurant 360 in Arinsal is a cosy place serving fantastic paella and foie gras, advisedly washed down with champagne.
In recent years, it's been impossible to predict good snow in Europe. In January, for example, we arrived to find no snow on the streets of Arinsal and combed ice on the slopes. That's the time to explore the town and try out the hotel spa! The amusing Museum Ordino is also well worth a visit if conditions are dangerous.
Get me there
Deirdre travelled to Andorra with Crystal Ski (crystalski.ie), which has half-board packages at the Hotel Princesa Parc in Arinsal from €765pp and the Hotel Piolets Park in Soldeau from €879pp, based on January 10 and 17 departures.
Crystal Ski also has a useful app that allows skiers contact local guides directly and see what's going on in real time.
See vistandorra.com and vallnord.com for further info.