We took a gamble choosing to go to Andorra around the 15th of December, and had been nervously watching the weather forecast for several weeks. Luckily a whole lot of snow fell a few days before we arrived. To get to Andorra we had to catch an early flight to Barcelona (Andorra does not have their own airport on account of it being a solely mountainous country), and take a 3 hour bus transfer. We enjoyed some stunning scenery on the way, travelling through northern Spain, past Mont Serrat then steadily upwards through the mountains for the remainder of the journey.
Andorra is a tiny country, the 6th smallest in Europe with an area of only 468km², whose fascinating history dates back to the 9th century. It is a sovereign landlocked microstate sandwiched between Spain and France, in the eastern Pyrenees mountains. Andorrans are a minority in their own country, only 33% of the population. In our experience alone, the hotel receptionist was Argentinian, our waiter from Venezuela, our chef from Mexico, our ski instructor from England and the owner of the bar across the road from South Africa. The official language is Catalan, though Spanish, French and a little English is spoken. The population of Andorra is estimated to be 85,000 (2012) which is up significantly from only 5,000 in 1900.
Our hotel was conveniently located directly opposite the gondola that took us up to Arinsal ski field. The package we bought included flights, lessons, gear hire, accommodation with breakfast and a three-course dinner every night! Andorran cuisine is strongly linked mostly with Catalan food, along with some French influences. Because it is a mountainous country, sheep are the most common animal raised in Andorra. Lamb and pork are widely used, with dishes being heavily meat focussed. Local dishes are often hearty meals containing pasta, meat and vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, and celery. The only Andorran dish we had was a mystery sausage for dinner one night. It was rather gamey in flavour, and delicious.
Day 1 – After getting our gear, we met our group and our teacher for the beginning of 20 hours of lessons. We had a small group, only 6 people, and no kids! The weather was beautiful with the sun out and lots of snow. It was back to the basics of snowboarding, getting used to sliding around on the snow, learning how to skate with one foot out of the board, and controlling speed down the baby slope. We had a 2 hour break for lunch, then in the afternoon lesson we went up the smallest chairlift and down the slope for the first time! I was surprised at the lack of snowboarders; we were definitely outnumbered by the skiers.
After the final lesson we went to the Cisco’s for Happy Hour – €1.50 pints and free nachos! Not to mention that sporadic free shots. We enjoyed a game of ‘the nail game’, where the goal is to hit the nail into a piece of wood the quickest, taking one shot at a time. Interesting..
Day 2 – My muscles were starting to protest a little bit. Today we started to master turning, still on the baby slopes. My poor flat feet were in excruciating pain, and I spent some time fitting my orthotics into my boots and changing the binding rotation on the board until it felt much better. We went up a bigger chairlift in the afternoon, and down a much longer slope. Oh the pain in my legs going down all that way! We were told that having a cold bath afterward lessons would help with muscle pain, which works by constricting blood vessels to flush out lactic acid, and reduces swelling and tissue breakdown. So that evening I sat in the cold bath for 3 minutes, which is about all I could handle!!
Day 3 – So the cold bath wasn’t that effective, in the morning I was very stiff and not very mobile at all. The first day with less-than-perfect weather; it was super windy, which we first realised (too late) when we were in the gondola. The ride up the hill was absolutely terrifying! It was stopping all the time because it was swinging too much in the huge gusts of wind. I wasn’t comfortable going up the bigger chairlift in the wind and I needed to buy goggles (I had only been using sunglasses) so I sat out the first run. It was slightly calmer higher up the mountain, and we went all the way to the top. The slope was a bit steeper up there, but nice and wide.
Day 4 – Thursday was still windy, but I was getting used to that. I was also slightly less sore. Apparently day 3 is always the worst for muscle pain! We continued perfecting our turning, and started learning some tricks like toe presses and spinning. Alex and I took the afternoon off and went to a spa in the Hotel Spa Princesa Parc. We spent 2 hours, jumping in the sauna, the ice bath and the different spas. Heaven! Then we met everyone at the bar to watch some of the camera footage that had been taken throughout the week. with free shots, everyone was feeling pretty lively!
Day 5 – Since a lot of snow had melted during the day yesterday, the slopes were super icy in the morning. After a couple of runs down the mountain, the snow had been carved up enough to have a nice powdery layer. We spent our last lesson practising our tricks and trying to get some photos of us doing them!
Day 6 – There were no lessons on our last day, but we met with our group and went down the mountain several times, on a different slope this time that hadn’t been open during the week. It’s always hard to stop when you know it’s your last day, but eventually we had to hand our gear back and head down the gondola for the final time.
Day 7 – Our transfer to Barcelona wasn’t until later in the afternoon, so we went to the capital city Andorra la Vella, the highest capital in Europe, at an elevation of 1,023 metres above sea level. We had a quick look at the main shopping street, then visited Caldea spa, Europe’s largest spa, heated by natural hot spring water which is plentiful in the area. Caldea was enormous, but it was a lot of fun trying out all the different pools and showers they had. There was a shower that had ‘Atlantic storm’ or ‘tropical rain’ settings! A perfect treat before the long journey back home to Brighton.
Top tips for Andorra
- If there is snow, going outside of peak season is so worth it! Practically empty slopes, no lines at the chairlifts or the bars
- Explore the other ski fields (we didn’t get a chance unfortunately)
- Going to Caldea is great, but make sure you have enough time to explore it! If you go early in the morning, it’s slightly cheaper, same if you go during the last 2 hours in the evening.
- If you want something a bit cheaper, the spa at Hotel Princesa Parc is just as nice, only smaller.
- Save room for some cheap alcohol to bring back in your luggage