La Massana: Good value skiing in Andorra

“We aren’t the Alps,” says Marta Rotés, director of Ski Andorra. “But we aren’t Bulgaria either. We are trying to position ourselves somewhere in the middle.”

We are having dinner in Moli dels Fanals in the hamlet of Sispony above the town of La Massana, our base for a few days’ skiing in the Vallnord region.

The restaurant is a favourite with Barcelona players including World Cup winners Iniesta and Xavi, and Spanish MotoGP rider Marc Márquez lives nearby.

The house specialities include snails, grilled artichokes and – my choice – nine-hour braised oxtail.

The Vallnord ski region is compact and made up of three main areas – Pal above our base of La Massana, the linked Arinsal area and the Arcalis bowl, a 15-minute bus ride from La Massana.

We are staying in the Hotel Magic Ski La Massana, the closest hotel to the gondola that takes skiers up to the lower slopes of Pal.

Leaving the hotel’s boot room, you emerge a few yards from the gondola station and it’s a seven-and-a-half-minute ride up the mountainside.

La Massana in Andorra
La Massana in Andorra

Once off the cable car, you are hit with the spectacular views of the Pal ski slopes. Most of the runs are visible from the balcony as your eyes pan from left to right.

There are no black runs here here – black is off-piste – and the starting run is a gentle blue to the bottom.

Our guide is Marti Rafel, from the Vallnord tourist office. From Pal, we pick our way to the neighbouring Arinsal, zig-zagging up and down the bowl of a mountain until the cable car that carries you across the valley.

The beauty of Pal is reds run alongside blues, so skiers of mixed abilities can easily get to the same place, usually at the about the same time.

Once over in Arinsal the runs widen down to the main ski town of the region. It’s where you will find the bars and life at night.

It takes a couple of hours to ski from Pal to Arinsal, and a great stop on the way back is Pla de la Cot, a restaurant at the base of the mountain that allows you to view all the runs from earlier from its balcony.

When the sun is out, there isn’t a better place to sit and reflect on what has been achieved.

Andorra takes its lead from neighbouring Spain, ski to until about 2pm and then enjoy a long, boozy lunch.

The superb views are expected, the excellent food a long way from ski shacks I’ve been in before. And, on a theme, it won’t set you back a fortune.

The best spot to watch the sun go down is La Taverna de Pal, a new Spanish-style tapas bar with great views over the mountains next to the gondola station.

Andorra is a cheap place to eat and drink, a fraction of the cost of the Alps. La Taverna is one of the most expensive places in the region but a large beer is still only four euros.

A few miles down the road is Araclis, which has a whole different feel. There are fewer trees here and the whole area is set up like a bowl.

The mountain is north facing so has the best snow in the region. It also has the longest ski run in Andorra, the 8km Megaverde.

Arcalis is only reachable by road so tends to be a bit quieter.

Back in La Massana, The Hotel Magic Ski La Massana is in a prime location even if the town is a little quiet at night.

The main place to head after a day’s skiing is the Irish bar in its sister hotel, Hotel Magic La Massana. Here there is cheap tapas – yes, Spanish food in an ‘Irish’ pub – and two-for-one happy hour from 4pm-6pm.

Hotel Magic Ski La Massana is a half-board hotel – a real bonus if you are after a pre-ski feed rather than a few pastries and coffee. All meals are buffet service, so there is plenty for everyone.

In the roof is the spa – sauna, steam and jacuzzi.

The region’s other main attraction away from sport is the Caldea spa in the capital Andorra la Vella, a 20-minute ride from La Massana.

If you think spa means intimate and small, think again. This place is huge with three main rooms full of pools, spas, saunas and steam rooms.

If it involves water and relaxation, you will find it here. Probably the most bizarre experience is a pool full of grapefruit – apparently it softens the skin.

As we leave Andorra, the country is gearing up for its summer season when ski runs become mountain bike routes.

Andorra is hosting the mountain bike world championships in September and next year the Tour de France is back.

Tourism is Andorra’s biggest money-spinner – a country of 70,000 people welcomes eight million visitors a year.

The Pyrenees will never be as popular as the Alps, but Andorra has superb skiing at a fraction of the cost – and it is a definite step up from Bulgaria.

Fact box

Crystal Ski Holidays (crystalski.co.uk; 020 8939 0726) offers a week’s half board at the Hotel Magic Ski La Massana from £485 per person including flights and transfers.

(Prices correct as of March 2015)

This story was first published in on the Manchester Evening News website in March 2015