Fun in the sun: learn to ski in Soldeu, in duty-free Andorra

By Tim Scrafton, a Travel Enthusiast

Read more on Soldeu.

Overall rating:4.5 out of 5 (based on 2 votes)
Enjoyable
3.5
3.5
Useful
4.5
4.5
Inspirational
4
4.0
Recommended for:
Activity, Winter Sun, Nightlife, Budget, Mid-range

Soldeu is a vibrant, aspirational and sun-blessed resort, especially good for beginners and intermediates with a deserved reputation for its excellent ski schools

Soldeu is a resort with big ambitions and a growing reputation. It is the leading Pyrenean ski resort, situated in the small duty-free principality of Andorra which itself is an area roughly equivalent to the Isle of Wight sandwiched between Spain and France. Constitutionally, Andorra is a mixed bag, having a French president, a Spanish head of church and Catalan as its spoken language. However, it didn't take long to embrace skiing unanimously by declaring it the national sport – not a bad idea, considering it is one of the perennial whipping boys of European and world football.

Soldeu has already signalled its intent to be an alternative to the Alpine resorts, with huge investment in fast new gondolas, chairlifts and chic hotels such as the new five-star Sport Hotel Hermitage with its fabulous five-floor spa (see picture slide show, right). Putting aside old rivalries over grazing rights, Soldeu has made peace with its neighbours – Pas de la Casa, Grau Roig, El Tarter, Canillo and Encamp – and all six have pulled together to create one unified linked ski area, the Granvalira, covered by one ski pass. This has created a huge improvement in services and the amount of skiable terrain, as well as increasing the range and standard of accommodation. However, this move upmarket has also added to the cost of what used to be seen as a viable budget ski destination to rival eastern European countries such as Bulgaria.

The main reason nowadays for visiting Andorra, particularly Soldeu, is its enviable reputation for the standard of its ski schools and the quality of its snowpark facilities. Within the Granvalira area, there are now 450 instructors on hand – about half of them British – to boost what is already becoming a formidable reputation. This, married to the relatively gentle mountain terrain, wards off the experts and makes it the perfect place for beginners and early intermediates to learn and progress while feeling like kings of the mountain.

THE RESORT

There are still some quaint older buildings remaining in the town – a pleasing reminder of Soldeu’s farming heritage. However, there are still parts of town that are not so agreeable on the eye, and because the main road to France runs through the village, the ambience is rather compromised. Location is important here, since most hotels are located towards El Tarter rather than Soldeu. Some travel operators continue to give them a Soldeu label, though some will require long walks or transport to get to the lifts. Because the main road is very busy, location is especially important for families with young children. If you are lucky enough (or informed enough) to be based in one of the new, smart hotels near to the ski lifts, it is a pleasant place to be.

Duty-free status means there are bargains to be had. However, most of the ski shops sell either last year's models or products that simply don't appear in ski shops back home or in other Alpine resorts. The best savings are to be made on bottled spirits and designer clothes. Soldeu has a really lively après-ski scene, with a reputation for pouring “good measures” in its bars, in an abandoned duty-free style. However, the resort is more than happy to leave the dubious distinction of being the best place for a booze-up to its more rowdy neighbour Pas De La Casa, which caters strongly to a young, single and free (to get drunk) crowd.

THE CONTEXT

Soldeu (meaning literally “ Sun god”) enjoys about 300 sunny days per year and lies in prime position at the heart of the Granvalira. The area lift pass effectively gives access to 193km of mostly north-facing pistes, serviced by 60 lifts, including a great variety of wide open slopes as well as lots of scenic tree-lined runs.

Be warned, the local terrain does not have the dramatic scenery of many of Europe's Alpine destinations. There is nothing here to rival the majesty of the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc or the Dolomites. However, Soldeu does have an abundance of excellent cruising terrain suitable for novices and wobbly intermediates.

THE SKIING

From Soldeu, the eight-seater téléphèrique (TC8) and six-seater télésiège (TSD6), or chair lift, take you above the wooded north-facing slopes to the large plateau of Espiolets at 2,250m. The Soldeu ski schools operate mainly from here, using the many gentle runs fanning out either west towards Pas de la Casa or east towards the sunnier slopes of Riba Escorxada (2,100m). The lift from El Tarter (TC10) merges with the TSD4 at Riseto, another ski-school meeting point.

From Riseto, the TSD6 takes you up to Tosa Dels Espiolets (2,467m) or the highest point Tossal de la Llosada (2,560m) where there are lots of nice, long relaxed and scenic blue runs back down to Riba Escorxada, or further east over Pic D'Encampadana (2,491m) and down into Canillo. Go west and there are plenty of varied wide and tree-lined slopes down to Grau Roig (pronounced “Grau Rosh”) at 2,120m. Further to the west still is the bustling village of Pas De La Casa at 2,100m.

Beginners

This is a fantastic place for beginners, with top tuition by English instructors for all abilities and all disciplines such as snowboarding, telemark, moguls, freestyle, carving and off-piste. The Granvalira offers an excellent opportunity for beginners to stretch their legs, whereas most other super-ski circuses cater mostly for good intermediates to experts. Above Soldeu alone, there are six gentle green runs on which to get started, and a further 13 really progressive blues. In no time at all, the majority of novices find themselves taking the Tosa des Espiolets lift up to Espiolets and enjoying the confidence-building blues that wind back down to town.

There are a further 12 green “beginner zone" slopes and 25 gentle blues to explore in the Granvalira as a whole. Beginners and families will enjoy the real sense of achievement and adventure that Soldeu can provide as a first-time skiing experience.

Intermediate/expert

Advanced intermediates and expert skiers will perhaps want more challenges than are offered here. Luckily, the area lift pass can be used by early intermediates who want to explore the whole area from east to west, from Encamp right over to Pas de la Casa (it is not possible to ski back down to Encamp). Because this is not a place that experts visit, there are more opportunities for untracked off-piste than in most Alpine destinations. Aliga 2 is a good scenic and tree-lined black descent from Tosa des Espiolets down to El Tarter.

Snowboarders

The area has become a big hit with snowboarders, as the Andorran government – keen to add spice to the hip marketing image of the principality – has provided well-designed snowparks, all blasting out music to add to the fun. There are a number of designated “free-style” areas above Soldeu, Pas de la Casa and Grau Roig, with the icing on the snowy cake being the superb Nike ACG Snow Park above El Tarter, accessed by télésiège TSD6. There are assorted rails and kickers, a border-cross course and a tournament-standard half-pipe to show off your tricks and “bust some huge air”. Regular high-profile competitions take place from here during the season, and there are also very helpful free-style experts on hand to give advice on technique.

Three favourite runs

L'Esquirol (blue) is a lovely, leisurely scenic run that zig-zags through the trees down to El Tarter from Riba Escorxada (2,100m). Because it is a main route down to town, it is most enjoyable outside the late-afternoon skiing rush hour.

Llebre (red) This long, varied and fun blast from Tosa des Espiolets (2,467m) starts above the trees with a nice wide open section, before descending past Espiolets and joining up with two reds through the trees (Salvans and Torrallardona), from which you can take your pick. You can ski right back into Soldeu if you wish to continue on either of the blue runs – Bosc Fosc or Os.

Aliga 2 (black) One of the few long, steepish and challenging runs, this will be enjoyed by most average intermediates. A more direct descent than others, this one starts at Tosa des Espiolets and drops from 2,467m right down into El Tarter at 1,710m.

SOLDEU AT A GLANCE

The facilities

Total lifts 60
( 4 cable cars, 30 chairs, 26 drags)
Lift capacity per hour 100,700
Snowparks Two
Mountain restaurants 34

The terrain

Resort height 1,800m
Slopes 1,700m-2,640m
Total piste length 193km
Longest run 8km
Number of runs 110
(green 18, blue 38, red 32 , black 22)
Beginner pistes 30 per cent
Intermediate pistes 60 per cent
Expert pistes 10 per cent
Linked areas Pas de la Casa, Grau Roig, El Tarter, Canillo, Encamp

Pros and cons

For +
Large linked ski area
Great terrain for beginners and early Intermediates
Excellent tuition (in English), ideal for beginners and improving intermediates
Variety of runs from wide open sunny terrain to lower winding forested runs
Good snow record
Good snow parks
Generous measures in the bars

Against –
Busy main road through centre
Village architecture
Limited off-piste activities
Limited choice of quality mountain restaurants
Not much to challenge confident intermediates and experts
Long airport transfers

THE DINING

Mountain restaurants

When telephoning from the UK or roaming, prefix all numbers below with 00 376 and omit the initial zero.

In general, lunch options on the mountain are uninspiring and self-service – but there are a few notable exceptions, with great quality and full service. These are listed listed below.

Roc de les Bruixes (0890 696) This is one of the best restaurants in the Grandvalira, located above Canillo . A crackling fireplace makes it a cosy refuge for a long lunch, comprising delicate French and Mediterranean dishes. Starters such as foie gras cost about €13, while a tender beef fillet is €20. The creative desserts are well worth an extra €12.

Gall de Bosc (0890 607) By far the best lunch option in the Soldeu sector, this is conveniently situated at Espiolets on the upper level above the Espress'Oh! cafe. Quality Catalan and French cooking is served à la carte, or as set menus and daily specials. A good, mainly Spanish-focussed wine list and the lovely terrace make this hard to beat on a sunny day. Two courses and wine €35.

Refugi del Llac de Pessons (0759 0150) One of my favourites, at the top of the Grau Roig Bowl. Specialising in grilled meats cooked on the wood fire, the restaurant occupies a stunning, picturesque setting overlooking a lake. Views from the sunny terrace are spectacular. Two courses and a beer €28.

La Marmita (0755 556), Hotel Grau Roig. A fine-dining restaurant with a modern eclectic menu of French- and Italian-influenced dishes, this place is well worth a visit. The fish and meat main courses are excellent. Three courses and wine €45.

Marisqueria Campistrano (0856 488) This cosy gourmet restaurant specialises in fish dishes and is renowned as the best in Pas de la Casa. Three courses €40-€50.

Village restaurants

Borda De L'Horto (0851 622) Popular with locals, this restaurant is set in a rustic converted barn. It serves both local specialities such as lamb, botifarra (Catalan sausage) and paella, and International dishes. Three courses with wine costs €36. Situated outside the centre, it's a 20-minute walk from the main lift station.

Borda Del Rector (0852 606) in Incles, two minutes downhill towards El Tarter, is a traditional Catalan restaurant where wonderful aromas waft from the open-fire grill. Make a booking and staff will arrange for you to be picked up. The special set menu costs €65 and the wine list has some excellent Spanish choices.

Cort Del Popaire (0851 211) One of the best in Soldeu, this place serves succulent lamb and steak grills in an atmospheric old barn. At €35 for two courses with wine, it is decent value.

L'Esquirol (0852 655) Located just past the Gallop bar on the main street, this very popular Indian restaurant serves all the tandoori and balti favourites. Popadoms, main course, rice and a beer: €18.

Fat Albert's (0851 765) My personal favourite, located behind the Hotel Himàlaia. Downstairs from the ever-popular bar, this extremely popular and lovely restaurant is set in a 300-year-old barn. There are two sittings, at 7pm and 9pm, serving an extensive and eclectic menu. Excellent specials include steak-and-ale pie, tasty Thai prawns and a lovely T-bone steak. Two people can eat three courses and wine here for €45-55.

THE APRES-SKI

One of Soldeu’s main attractions is the lively apres-ski. Something is going on every night, but thankfully the resort is not as raucous as the infamous Pas De La Casa – which, rather unflatteringly, has been dubbed “one of the cheapest places in Europe to be sick in” and caters mainly for French “ yoofs” from Toulouse in the 16-25 age group. There are a variety of venue choices on or just off the main street, catering mainly for British visitors.

Best in Soldeu

Aspen Popular large sports bar on two levels, with large screens and pool tables. Regular live bands on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays from 10pm, plus DJ. The second floor is a Tex Mex from 7pm-11pm, serving huge portions. If quantity rather than quality is your thing, dive in.

Avalanche Live music venue, on the same side of the road as Aspen, with a great pub atmosphere. A DJ keeps things lively in-between bands. Other popular attractions here are the fussball (the locals are better at this than the real thing), pinball and snowboard arcade game.

La Cava del Drac Next door to Avalanche. One of the smaller pubs in Soldeu, it is usually packed and lively with a good atmosphere. What they lack in bar promotions, they make up for in generous measures.

Fat Albert's The most popular après-ski bar/club/restaurant. Located behind Hotel Himàlaia, it serves a wider range of beers than the usual San Miguel. It is mostly standing room only, to maximise the space, with large-screen TV, live bands (Saturdays, Sundays,Tuesdays, Thursdays, from 10pm). The DJ booth is the front end of the Scooby Doo van; rocks until late.

Iceberg Opposite T-Bar and, along with Fat Albert's, one of the most popular places. This is especially so on Wednesdays, when it is happy hour from 9pm-12am! There are live bands and ski-instructor parties on Tuesdays, karaoke on Fridays.

Pussycat This is more of a club than a bar, open 7pm-4am and located above the recommended Cort Popaire restaurant.

The Roc Bar On the ground floor of Hotel Roc, this place has Elvis live(s)! on Wednesdays, live music and DJs on Thursdays and Fridays.

T-Bar One of the newer bars in Soldeu, T-Bar has rapidly established itself as one of the best, with great bar staff. On Thursdays there is a Snowboard Party; on Fridays it is End of the Week Party night.

The Villager Located in the lift station, this is the largest British pub in the Grandvalira. It is always buzzing and serves some decent pub grub.

Best in El Tarter

El Tarter is more relaxed than in Soldeu and there is a more Spanish vibe, with tapas available in many restaurants: for live music and a British atmosphere, try the Stone Bar, in the basement of the Alba Hotel. For an excellent pizza, try El Mosquit then the Drac Bar downstairs. Popular with locals and ski instructors is the Vintage Club Arthurs, open until the early hours and located opposite the Romanesque church. There is a free bus service available for all villages within the Granvalira area, subject to presenting a valid lift pass.

THE HOTELS

Sport Hotel Hermitage 5* Carretera General, Soldeu. This super-deluxe flagship for the Sport Hotel brand is hopefully setting a trend for the region. It is truly outstanding, pampering guests with every comfort including its magnificent five-floor wellness and spa centre (see picture slideshow, above) and is as close to the main base station as is possible. Highly recommended.

Sport Hotel Village 4* Carretera General, Soldeu. This sister hotel to the luxurious Hermitage has the same fab location right by the main lifts. Guests can use the amazing spa facilities at the Hermitage for an extra charge.

Hotel Sport 4* Carretera General, Soldeu. Yet another hotel in the same group as the previous two – and another quality act. It has excellent childcare facilities, good food, a warm rustic atmosphere and the same superb location. Again, guests can use (at extra charge) the interconnected and fabulous spa at the five-star Hermitage.

Hotel Nordic 4* Carretera General, El Tarter. Ski to the door of this well-appointed and wonderful hotel, situated in the El Tarter village area, a stone's throw from the El Tarter chairlift. An elegant atrium entrance hall is graced with a display of motorcycles and a Rolls-Royce! There's a huge Indoor pool and excellent leisure facilities, plus a buffet-style restaurant.

Hotel Naudi 3* Carretera General, Soldeu. A smart and small family-run hotel with nicely furnished rooms, the Naudi is ideal for couples wanting a relaxed cosy place to stay. It is only 200m from the main Soldeu lifts, and convenient for all the bars and shops.

GETTING THERE

By air

Toulouse airport is 190km (3.5 hours) away, Barcelona airport 200km (3.5 hours) from the resort.

By bus

Regular daily buses run from both airports and cost about €25. Buses also run hourly until 8.30pm from the Andorran capital La Vella.

Useful links:

www.easyjet.com
www.ryanair.com
www.holidayautos.co.uk (for cheap car hire from airports)
www.andorrabybus.com (to book coaches from Barcelona, Toulouse or Gerona)

By car

From Paris, take the A6 to Nantes/A10 to Toulouse/A62 to Carcassone/A61 to Foix. For additional route directions, see www.theaa.com.

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More information on Fun in the sun: learn to ski in Soldeu, in duty-free Andorra:

Author:
Tim Scrafton
Traveller type:
Travel Enthusiast
Guide rating:
4.5
Average: 4.5 (2 votes)
Total views:
896
First uploaded:
13 January 2010
Last updated:
4 years 10 weeks 2 days 20 hours 56 min 56 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Trip types:
Activity, Nightlife, Winter Sun
Budget level:
Budget, Mid-range
Free tags / Keywords:
ski, snowboard, beginners, apres ski, andorra, Soldeu, Pas de la casa, grandvalira

Tim recommends

Hotels

Price from Rating
(out of 5)
1. Sport Hotel Village Soldeu
£60
N/A
2. Hotel Nordic
£93
N/A
3. Sport Hotel Hermitage
£122
N/A
4. Hotel Sport
N/A
5. Hotel Naudi
£31
N/A

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Community comments (12)

Rating:
4
1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

I found this guide really helpful. Ski holidays in Pas de la Casa are the best place for beginners. It is Europe’s highest resort. This is the ideal place for any skiers.

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Hi Ketty,

Thanks for the input.. I agree with you that the Granvalira is among the tops for beginners especially from the UK due to the large amount of excellent English language based tuition and the terrain and facilities..Athough it isn't the highest ski resort in Europe, (that is the French resort of Val Thorens in the 3 valleys.)

It is however an aspirational ski destination that deserves it's growing reputation..

Cheers Tim.

Rating:
5
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Hi Tim, I really appreciate your efforts in rewriting this early submission so it matches the quality of your more recent guides. In terms of content, structure and concept, it is now superb – so I have given it a much higher rating. However, I have given it only a three for Enjoyment because I had to edit the damned thing… and it was a struggle. In terms of grammar, punctuation and detail of presentation, this guide fell woefully short of the standard we require. Much of it was a stream of consciousness, with great tumbles of text separated only by commas. One of your sentences was 140 words long with no punctuation at all until I edited it ruthlessly, which I shouldn't have to do. What's more, none of the hotel names in the text exactly matched the ones you'd added to the database. That is fixed now. Fortunately, all this is redeemed by the general thrust of the piece, your excellent knowledge of Soldeu and a great package – as always – of text, solid recommendations, great photos and an arresting video.

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Hi Andrew,

Damned thing indeed!

I echo those sentiments by virtue of the fact that the guide had to be virtually re-written about six times due to a horrific glitch in the system that conspires to log you out when the 'damned thing' is saved!

This means ALL the immediate work is lost - which on occasions has been considerable.

To be honest it is a wonder that I didn't insert more expletives than commas after the saga it became - I also spent even longer going through a similar problematic process re-editing my Ischgl guide, which awaits reviewing, and the glitch seems to be like a returning itch as it has continued in the next guide that is saved to draft.

I have managed to copy and paste on occasion just out of a paranoid state of protection, but this then means that when the work is pasted back - ALL the formatting including headers, bold type and paragraphs are lost.

I would like to know if other writers have experienced the same disheartening process - when 'save' is clicked it should be a moment of accomplishment, not one of dread.

Cheers Tim

I understand your frustration Tim. I recently logged on an spent an hour and more updating phone numbers, addresses and general information on one of my guides. When I hit save I was informed that access was denied, the result, all of my updates were lost.

Hi Liam,

Sorry to hear you have had a similar experience and I appreciate you taking the time to offer feedback - so thanks for that.

I don't know what operating system you use or browser - but mine are documented on here in my comments/replies... apparently the system logs you out after 45 minutes - and they are working on a warning so that you can save efforts before losing work..

The main problem for me is that the system doesn't have a sophisticated word editing software that creates and remembers formatting, because once you start to do the important final tweaks to a guide you do not want to copy and paste it to 'word' as you will lose all the headers and formatting including paragraphs etc - and the only real way to assess a guide properly - well for me anyway - is to actually view it online.

Thanks for leaving a message

Cheers Tim.

Hi Tim,

I am sorry that you have had problems saving this guide. Have you reported them using our Report a Bug page: http://www.simonseeks.com/report-bug . This will give our technical team more details about your operating system and browser so that they can look into the problem for you.

Please can you also let us know what happens when you press save. Do you get any error messages?

Thanks.

Hi Cathy,

Thanks for the concern.

Yes I have now reported the bug with a detailed description of what is encountered and included the operating system and browser, which is mac OSX 10.5.8 and safari.

The error message FYI - is an 'access denied' page with a simonseeks cloud logo and a keyhole in it.

Basically you are logged out when you save, meaning you have two options.
1. log back in and lose EVERYTHING you have just written.

2. The only other option is to back page the browser to re-enter where you were, (BUT THE 'SAVE AS DRAFT' Box now says 'SEARCH' so you cannot save the work again) so you end up having to copy and paste the text back in after once again logging in -but as the formatting is not saved the whole feature has to be painstakingly re-formatted - all headers, bold, italic, paragraphs, so not exactly ideal either.

There is also another glitch that has been a frequent malfunction but does not always result in loss of work.

Again this happens when 'save as draft' is clicked resulting in this error message -

"You are almost finished. Please correct the following ...
Validation error, please try again. If this error persists, please contact the site administrator.
This content has been modified by another user, changes cannot be saved"

This is a pot luck situation, sometimes you go to 'view' and the work has been saved, other times not!

If you can keep me informed on the progress to fix these problems it would make life a lot easier when compiling the guides - and if anyone requires further feedback and information I am happy to obilge.

Cheers Tim.

Thank you for your detailed reply, Tim. I will be in touch if we need any further information and will let you know when the bug has been fixed.

Rating:
3
1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

Once again, Tim, I am putting this up unedited in the hope that you will make improvements and ratchet up your score. I'm aware this was an early submission, pre-dating some of the best stuff you have written (which received a much higher rating), but it needs a huge amount of work to transform it from a jumble of information into a piece of crafted writing. As I've said in previous comments, try to give it a "nose" – the beginning of a story which pulls the reader in and "angles" the piece, neatly summarising what the guide is about and why Andorra is different from other resorts. I'd dispense with the blue heading at the beginning, which is confusing, and go straight in with written-through text. After that, it's a question of structuring this in the same way as your top-scoring guides. Once again, your captions are too long and there is too much bold text... and a sprinkling of capitalisation in headings and text which isn't necessary. Look at the guides I've edited to see how capitals are kept to a minimum. The headline is great, but the summary needs work. It's too complicated, with too many ideas in it. As a general rule, keep things simple, be more selective (not comprehensive) about what you include, edit out any repetitive stuff – and resist trying to say everything!

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Hi Andrew,

Thanks again for the constructive advice, I have taken onboard the concerns regarding the structure and presentation of the Soldeu guide and I am now in the process of re-wording and structuring it so that it should sit comfortably alongside the other guides that evolved in style with favourable views.

Cheers Tim

Tim, I've taken another look at this and added a new comment and score.