Of the two sectors in Vallnord, the Pal - Arinsal sector (just 5km from Andorra la Vella) is the larger of the two with 63km of runs among 770 hectares of skiing and around 1,000m vertical from base up to 2,560m. With 4 green, 16 blue, 16 red and 5 black runs the Pal - Arinsal ski area is best for beginners and intermediate skiers and riders and includes designated areas for freestlye, free ride, slalom and bumps.
Skiing out of Arinsal begins at the main car using the Telecabine Orriols. This quickly transfers you to the main ski base from which it's possible to take a sequence of four further lifts to the very top of Pic del Cubil for an exhilarating descent.
At the top of this relative plateau rises the Pic del Cubil (2,358m) one of the tallest skiable mountains in Vallnord. Near its summit a 70,000 sq m artificial lake has recently been constructed to feed the snow guns on the lower slopes, with 371 artificial snow cannons in Pal-Arinsal covering around 19km of the 63km ski area.
Above Arinsal itself there are 2 green runs and a snow playground, 9 blue runs, 6 red runs and 3 black runs. On the Pal side of the Pic del Cubil (but still accessible from Arinsal) there are a further 2 green runs and a snow playground, 8 blue runs, 10 red and one black.
Arinsal is the dominant partner in the "piste marriage" with Arcalis where there's only 25 runs - 6 green, 6 blue, 11 red and 2 black runs - and just 26km of on-piste skiing among 442 hectares with 74 artificial snow cannons covering 12km out of 26km on-piste skiing. To be fair Arcalis does have the edge when it comes to off-piste skiing (around 310 hectares suitable for off-piste) but Arinsal is the best place to base yourself in Vallnord until you're ready to go off-piste.
All the pistes have a name and number making piste maps easy to follow. The lifts are also numbered and navigating the ski area is easy. Besides skiing and snowboarding Vallnord has gone out of its way to promote other winter activities including snowmobiling, mushing (dogsledding), skibikes, snowshoeing, panoramic flights by helicopter or hang-glider and horse riding.
From the main car park in Arinsal the 4-person cable car
known as Telecabine Els Orriols rises nearly 500m up into the
Arinsal Valley to Comallempla where the resort's main mountain
restaurants, bars, ski schools, cash point and medical centre are
to be found.
From here there are chairlifts to the very top of the valley which connect by telecabine to Coll de la Botella from which it's possible to take the Chairlift La Botella, and drag lifts, to the very top of Pic del Cubil (2,358m).
The lift system is simply numbered 1-30 and the piste map makes it clear at each incline what you can expect. Terminology is given in French (as we are near the French border) and translates as follows: Telesiege (Chair Lift). Teleski (Drag Lift) and Telecabine (Cable Car)
There are also tapis roulantes (conveyor belts) one telecorde (tow rope behind a piste basher) and a telepherique (a large cable car connecting two sides of the Coll de la Botella).
Adult lift pass prices are reasonable at around 33 euros per day and around 150 euros for a 6-day pass in high season (Christmas, most of February and other public holidays) and around 15% less in low season. Children's lift passes cost around 25% less.
Some of the best freestyling in the Vallnord area is to be found above Arcalis by taking the Chairlift La Basera from the main car park up to Les Portelles skiing down the La Balma red run down as far as the draglift La Tossa. There are then 4 free ride (off-piste) zones that extent most of the way back down to Arcalis.
This is very much intermediate country and if you're careful you can complete a circuit across the twin peaks (Pic del Cubil and Pic D'Enclar) and get back down to Colle de la Botella primarily on advanced blues and with just a hairy moment or two on the red run La Serra that descends between Del Cubil and D'Enclar. There's a real sense of achievement as you then ski gently down to Comallempla and take the lift back to Arinsal.
The area at the bottom of the Arinsal valley (turn left
when you reach Comallempla) has a sequence of short runs for
novices - El Cortal, L'Escola I and L'Escola II - served by
conveyor belt and chairlift that are good for building confidence.
Moreover there's a children's snow park here and a handy restaurant
El Refugi d'Arinsal for when it all gets too much.
There's also a good series of beginners' slopes around the restaurant La Borda at La Caubella which can be accessed directly from La Massana if you take the Bus Neu down that far.
To start take the cable car from Arinsal main car park up to
Comallempla and then the Les Fonts chairlift to the Xina Igloo bar
and freestyle back down to the draglift Els Planells which will
take you back up to Xina Igloo which, fortuitously, serves great
Addicts may want to spend a day the other side of Andorra la Vella in Grandvalira where there are eight freestyle areas.
Over in the Pal sector of Arinsal just below La Caubella
peak (1,950m) is Pal La Borda (Tel: +376 737 000) which specialises
in Andorran cuisine (Borda is the name for a traditional Andorran
mountain inn). La Borda also offers a doughnut bar known as
DonkiNauta and an independently owned sandwich bar known as
Frankfurt Joan's. There's also a bar, buffet and a self-service
restaurant up here, a children's playground and a ski jump.
La Borda isn't easy to get to unless you take the cable car up from Massana, however it makes an ideal stopping point for lunch if you're making a day of taking in the twin peaks (Pic del Cubil and Pic D'Enclar).
El Refugi (Tel: +376 836 767) at the bottom of the green runs and next to the childrens' snowpark is the only privately owned mountain restaurant in the Arinsal valley.
Above Coll de La Botella near the husky mushing circuit Far West has an outdoor barbeque on the slopes of Pic del Cubil and if you ski down to Pla de la Cot there is Italian food at Bella Italia. Both can be contacted through the Pal Ski Station (Tel: +376 737 000).
Xina Igloo (Chinese)
Mexicobelix (Mexican food)
Panoramix (British food)
Mountain Shelter of Arinsal
La Borda (Andorran cuisine)
Bar-Terrace-Barbecue El Planell
Self-service El Planell
Open buffet La Caubella
Bella Italia (Italian food)
Itinerant points of sale
Far West (with outside barbecue)
Snack bar Les Portelles
The little stone church, St Andreu d'Arsinal, still
dominates the village and its bell rings out the quarter hours. One
of the hotels, Micolau, is an original stone borda (Pyrenean inn)
dating from the 13th century. There are a few shops: Ev's Deli
which is useful if you're self-catering and some snack bars like
The Bull but the tone of the place is low key.
This is a good resort for families. It's away from the noise of somewhere like Pas de la Casa or Soldeu and there's a sense of staying in a real community, not a purpose-built resort.
There's good tapas to be found in Arinsal at La Tasca
(Tel: +376 839 630) and El Bsoc (Tel: +376 835 519) For Italian
food not far from the main car park try Casa Bassi (Tel: +376 839
981) while next door the Restaurant Arinsal de l'Hotel Arinsal
(Tel: +376 838 889) serves good Mediterranean fare. Surf (Tel: +376
838 069) specialises paradoxically in grilled meat.
Many hotels offer half board so there is a temptation to stay in to eat however one evening you should take a taxi down into Andorra La Vella (approx 15 euros) and sample at least one restaurant in the capital. Among those highly recommended are San Marco (chef Marco Mora) www.sari_restaurant.com, El Rusc (chef Pablo Urcelay) www.elrsuc.com, El Cresper (chef Michael Bayloco) [email protected] and Can Benet (chef Jospeh Maria Benet) www.restaurant-canbenet.com.
Disco-pub Solana (located in the Hotel Solana) likes to stay open late. El Cisco offers house and ambient music. Rocky Mountain and Bogart vie for best live music, all year round while Derby, an Irish pub, just likes to be noisy. Its big rival is Quo Vadis, a traditional English pub next to Hotel Ayma.
Finally for something completely different, the world's largest badge museum (el Museu del pin) is housed inside Vall d'Ordino's Hotel Sant Miquel (Tel +376 749 000 / http://elmuseudelpin.iespana.es). Admission is free to this display of over 42,000 different badges. Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday: (10am - 1 pm. and 4-7pm)
E-mail: [email protected]
Information & Reservations Pal Arinsal: +376 737 000
Information & Reservations Ordino-Arcalis: +376 739 600