Our first European skiing experience 

Visited March 2022

Neither of us had done a ski trip in Europe before, so we decided it was about time to change that. Rather than going for one of the more frequented ski destinations like Chamonix or Verbier, we did a little research on the landlocked principality of Andorra. Not only would it count as a new country, but it also contained the largest ski resort in the Pyrenees that was said to be perfect for intermediate skiiers. After a few glowing reviews from co-wokers, we dusted off our ski gear, bought a ticket to Toulouse, and hit the slopes for the first time in Europe, and the first time in a long time for both of us.



How we got there and how we got around

Andorra La Vella

Lunch and shopping in the capital of Andorra


Skiing (and après ski) at the Grandvalira resort


Getting there

We usually save this section for last, but like Liechtenstein, Andorra is a bit tricky to get to because of the lack of an airport in the country itself. You basically have two options if you want to fly into a larger city – Barcelona or Toulouse – and then you drive into Andorra from there. We decided on the latter, and so we took an early flight into Toulouse from Gatwick and rented a car at the airport. We found a few buses that would take you there, some of them offered through the Andorra hotels, but we decided to go for the freedom of a rental, which would allow us to stop in Carcassonne on the way back as well.

The drive from Toulouse to Andorra La Vella was a bit long and took just under 3 hours, with the longest part coming towards the end as you wind through the mountains (although the scenery was beautiful). If you would like to have your passport stamped in Andorra, you need to specifically ask as you drive through border control at Pas de la Casa, which is first town across the border into Andorra from France. It’s just a tourist stamp, and not needed to enter the country, but we made sure to get it.

Andorra La Vella

Lunch and shopping

After the long drive, our first stop was lunch. We had a wonderful cheese spread and chocolate fondue with fruit at Cheese’s Art (also on Google as Casa del Formatge) right off the main shopping street. Speaking of shopping, Andorra in general is known for its tax free status, so it has a ton of stores. We spent most of the afternoon walking down the main drag (Avinguda Meritxell) and slowly making our way to the famous department store Pyrenees. Outside of shopping, there were a few other highlights along the way:

  • Puente Andorra la Vieja: A famous bridge with Andorra La Vella written across it
  • Plaça del Poble: A nice little plaza down by the river, with views of the bridge
  • The Nobility of Time: A sculpture by Salvador Dali, in the plaza
  • Caldea Spa: The biggest spa in Europe. We decided against going, but it was worth a look from the outside due to its unique architecture
  • Church of Sant Esteve: Beautiful 12th century church

Shopping on Av. Meritxell

Puente Andorra la Vieja

Church of Sant Esteve


Hitting the slopes

The rest of our first day was spent back in Soldeu, a smaller town back in the eastern part of the country that we picked due to recommendations from co-workers and its proximity to a main Grandvalira gondola up to the mountain. In fact, our hotel, the Hotel Himalaia Soldeu, was literally no more than a 2 minute walk from the lift, and across the street from a ski rental place, so the location couldn’t have been more convenient. The hotel itself was the perfect mix of a ski resort / lodge feel with beautiful views and all the amenities we needed, including a small spa (to relax our muscles after the next day’s skiing) and breakfast each morning. The hotel lobby was casual but cozy for a drink.

Soldeu is basically one main street, but it packs a surprising amount of restaurants. On our first night, we wandered down to a late dinner (note: some places don’t even open until 8:00pm on the weekends) at Glassbar 1850, a more casual but still nice bar/restaurant in the Sport Hotel Hermitage & Spa, which we would highly recommend. It felt like we were in an upscale chalet with fantastic food (spicy shrimp tempura, gyoza, and salmon poke) and a talented pianist to match.

Prepping for the day ahead

Soldeu gondola entrance

Still smiling!

Still smiling at the top


Beautiful ski weather

Sunday morning, after a surprisingly hearty hotel breakfast, we headed across the street to rent our skis and rode the gondola up to Grandvalira. The mountain and its accompanying resort is absolutely huge! There are something like 7 areas where you can catch the initial lift, and they are all interconnected from there, with dozens of other lifts leading to the peak and the other sections. We mostly stuck in the Soldeu and El Tarter areas, which offered more than enough runs for the entire day and then some. It was also perfect for our intermediate ski level, with many beginner slopes (blue in Andorra but the equivalent of a moderately hard green in America) that were still long enough and steep enough to keep us entertained. Os, Bosc Fosc, and Gall de Bosc (all blue) were the core runs that we spent the most time on in the middle and lower third of the mountain, and even these would be enough to keep you occupied for a few hours, if you took them from top to bottom a couple of times. Finally, dotting the mountain are several lodges where you can get a drink and rest your feet, as well as sections of WiFi even at the higher elevations.

If you want to purchase any Grandvalira merchandise, there is a store at ground level in El Tarter (which is what we did), but we’re told there’s also a shop at the top when you get off the gondola. When the lifts closed at 5, we were satisfied with our run and headed back to the hotel for some spa time before taking in some proper après ski drinks at L’Abarset in El Tarter. We closed the trip off with an incredible dinner at Nor Restaurant, finally sampling some wonderful Andorran red beef and Coca bread, a Catalan specialty. The next morning we hit the road again for the 2.5 hour drive to Carcassonne.

Local lager in the lobby

Relaxing views


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