Sun, sea, sangria….and snow? Not something that automatically springs to mind when you think of Barcelona, no. But with the mountains only a few hours away, combining the slopes with the city is an easy and exciting option, from as early December till as late as mid April.
The most popular ski destination is Andorra, a tiny principality squeezed between the French and Spanish Pyrenees.
While ski snobs may have historically dismissed the Pyrenees in favour of more famous Alpine resorts, the consistently good snow season in Andorra. Means that it’s fast becoming a valid and more cost effective rival – especially when you consider its added bonus of duty free shopping…
So this is where I find myself headed, for two days of family fun with Mum and Dad, feeling like my teenage-self as I lounge at the back of the bus, eating homemade sandwiches and demanding to know if we’re ‘nearly there yet?’
Within the general area of Grandvalira, there are a few fairly similar, equally unromantic resorts to choose from. As the highest resort in the Pyrenees at 2050m, Pas de la Casa seemed to promise us the best chance of snow. As well as hold the greatest selection of hotels and restaurants.
And what it lacks in quintessential alpine-village charm, Pas makes up for in convenience. Our hotel (Hotel Kandahar) is located a snowball’s throw from the slopes. The ticket office and equipment suppliers just a couple of steps further.
I’d recommend getting in early to pick up your passes though, to avoid the snaking queues of Saturday mornings.
The terrain here is best suited to those with a bit of ski know-how, with the greatest variety of runs ranging from red to rather-more-challenging. But if like me, you’re more bunny slopes than black runs, then there are plenty of ski schools around too. Just make sure to book in advance.
Our two days on the slopes are a blur of blue skies and beautiful vistas. The slopes aren’t too busy, and we never have to wait more than a few minutes for a lift.
Conditions are beautiful and warm enough to lol around at lunch in just a t-shirt, thankfully distracting us from the fast-foody menu options on the slopes.
Around 3pm things start to get nice and fuzzy, with some serious holiday vibes happening. Happy house pumps out over the pistes from the peak of Coll Banc, where skiers lounge at a futuristic circular restaurant, enjoying 360° views over the valleys.
But as the sun sets, it’s as if the town takes off her make-up, with the skies and snow no longer detracting from her many blemishes. Crowds of French and Spanish teens gather under the neon lights of the main strip. Clearly enjoying the unrestricted nightlife of this Catalan-style Tijuana.
But among Irish Bars and burger joints, there are fortunately still a few decent eateries to be found. Restaurant La Familia is my top choice – small and soporific, with smiley staff who serve us in a melee of different languages. My €18 selection of moules, dorado and crema catalana are all excellent.
Also worth mentioning is the Bo&Gola – mainly because it’s eclectic menu of “small plates” offers something slightly different to everywhere else. While the tapas aren’t as refined as those you’d find in Barcelona, our sticky beef cheeks, carmelised onion burger and goats cheese salad are all pretty tasty. Plus, the party atmosphere makes it a good option for those on the hunt for “apres-ski!”
So there you go! For an exhilarating weekend of decent skiing, wholesome food and a great atmosphere, Andorra ticks all the right boxes.
HOW TO GET THERE
Coach: We travelled by coach transfer from Barcelona airport with Andorra by Bus
Car: Approx. 2,5 hours from Barcelona
Nearest railway stations: France – Gare de Matabiau (Toulouse), Gare de L’Hospitalet-près-l’Andorre
Spain – Estació del Nord & Estació de Sants (Barcelona), Estació de Lleida-Pirineus (Lleida.)
Nearest international airports: Barcelona-El Prat and Toulouse Blagnac (France)