But that was before the government in Andorra la Vella
insisted that the families who ran these resorts start working
together. Grandvalira is the result - the union of Pas de la Casa -
Grau Roig and Soldeu El Tarter to create a unified 1,926 hectares
ski area with 110 runs and 193km of skiing and boarding served by
64 lifts, 972 snow cannons, 2 ski and snowboard schools with 450
instructors and a total of 33 mountain restaurants and
The entire ski area spreads above Soldeu (1,800m) and five nearby villages - Encamp (1,300m), Canillo (1,500m) and El Tarter (1,710m), Grau Roig (2,120m) and Pas de la Casa (2,100m), rising to 2,640m and besides 193km of pisted runs includes 4 off-piste ski routes, 2 competition areas, 3 freestyle areas, 2 permanent boardercross and an adventure activities centre.
It's not in the same extent nor as high as the biggest ski areas in the Alps, but with 193km of skiing and a lift system carrying 99,600 skiers per hour Grandvalira is by far the biggest ski area in the Andorra and Spain - Baqueira Beret has 104km, Sierra Nevada 84km and Aramon Formigal 64km.
Skiing out of Soldeu begins at TSD6 Soldeu or TC8 Soldeu from which it is possible to connect with all the other runs in the Grandvalira once you reach Tossal de la Llosada. If you get to the northern end of the run (Pas de la Casa) or the south (El Forn) and decide you don't want to ski back, there is a bus (free if you show your ski pass) from any point on the Grandvalira all the way home. To make matters simpler still, the bus displays the word "Grandvalira" in very big letters so it won't be mistaken for the local service.
Snow cannons cover 68km of 193km (35%) of the ski area and with Soldeu and most villages in Grandvalira at an altitude above 1,700m and the skiing mostly between 2,000 -2,680m the ski area is reasonably snow sure.
With 18 green slopes, 38 blue, 32 red and 22 black runs all categories of on-piste skier are catered for, but it's predominantly best for beginners and intermediates, but there's plenty of opportunity for advanced skiers including skiing off-piste between the trees.
Each ski lift has a numeric code as well as a name which
is clearly marked on the piste map in capitals. The ski pistes
themselves just have names, not numbers, some of which sound
curious to Anglophones ("clot", "muflo". "llop", "cucut", "fagina"
and "tubs") but you quickly get used to them.
The TSD6 Soldeu is a new 6-seater detachable chairlift that starts on the far side of the Valira river (crossed by a new bridge) and allows skiers to arrive at Pla d'Espiolets with their skis on. The TC8 Soldeu is an 8-person cable car from the village side of the river just behind The Villager pub.
From Espiolets there are a number of runs that will take you down to either TSF4 Assaladors or TSD 6 Llosada. Both of these lifts will get you on to Tossal de la Llosada from where it's possible to join the Grandvalira. You can either head south towards El Tarter and Canillo or north towards Grau Roig.
All the ski lifts are shown on the piste map in capital letters while the ski runs are in lower case.From Tossal de la Llosada there is a lift simply known as Cortals which takes you up on to the Solanells ridge. Because it is a button lift, it isn't prefixed by a number.
Ski passes in Soldeu are as for the rest of Grandvalira, range from around 35 euros (1 day) to around 180 euros (6 days) in high season and are only marginally (10%) cheaper in low season. Beginner ski passes are for Soldeu only and cost 22 euros, regardless of season or age.
The cartel which runs Grandvalira is putting a lot of money into developing the lift system (spurred on by its rivalry with Vallnord in the west of the country) so things are likely only to get better. There's a lot of money in Andorra and ski tourism is a major priority for the locals.
Lifts open at 9 am in the morning and officially close at 5pm although some (two above Grau, two above Soldeu, one above Canillo and one above Encamp) start closing from 4:15 pm onwards. There will be signs on the lifts in question warning you, but check in advance so not to be caught out.
Ski hire is available from Esqui Cablo (Tel +376 851 500) and Esports Pic Negre (Tel +376 851 580) both off the mains street and Serveis de Neu (Tel +376 869 570) in the basement of Ahotel Piolets. And to make access to the Grandvalira ski area as easy as possible you can buy your hands-free ski lift pass online - no queues, no waiting - and you can save money if you buy online.
Conditions permitting there are also good opportunities
off-piste skiing from Pic D'Encampadana (black and red runs) but
getting to this is an effort. From Tossal de la Lossada take the
blue run Llosada to where the pistebasher will tow you across the
saddle to the Pic D'Encampadana. The alternative is to take three
lifts up from Canillo.
Three graded off-piste ski routes (2 red and 1 black) converge at Riba Escorxada from which there is a snowshoe route down to El Forn then take the TSD4 Portella ski lift back up to Portella and ski down the blue run "daina" to start over again.
The Grau Roig sector is noted for its scenic mountain landscapes and as one of the largest of the six sectors comprising Grandvalira offers extensive off-piste skiing and boarding opportunities.
To find the best snow and the best off-piste opportunities in Grandvalira, which is mostly given over to piste skiing, and to do so safely you'll need to hire a guide and be prepared to do some skinning to get away from the main ski runs.
There is a "beginner zone" next to the ski school at
Espiolets at the top of the two Soldeu lifts which is served by the
Escola button lift.
Adventurous beginners who take the blue run "gall de bosc" as far as Riba Escorxada will find another "beginner zone" served by the Riba lift. From here it is possible to take the blue "esquirol" run down into El Tarter and get the Grandvaliar bus back to Soledu (free on production of your ski pass) or take the TSD6 Tosa Espiolets lift up to Tosa dels Espiolets and then any one of a number of blue runs back down to Soldeu. There are no green runs back into town.
Already there are 8 freestyle areas - three above Pas de
la Casa, two at Grau Roig, another two above Soldeu and the ACG
Snowpark above El Tarter. Of these "collibri" on a red run
descending from Cortals (2,502m) is probably the most spectacularly
positioned but getting up is tediously complex (it's actually
easier to get there from Grau).
Alternatively "bordercross solana" is a permanent boardercross freestyle area below Tossal de la Llosada is accessed without too much difficult from Tosa dels Espiolets if you take the "cucut" black run down to the TSF4 Assaladors lift. The circuit includes cambers and jumps so whether on skiing freestyle or boarding you need to be agile and learn to control the speed of your descent which makes it's a good place to practice and sharpen up your skills.
The ACG Snowpark, El Tarter, is exclusively for freestylers with six big jumps, a permanent pipe, rails, including a wave-shaped hand rail, pyramid, two boxes and a kick zone for beginners. Freestyle instructors are on hand to offer advice on how you can better your tricks and jumps and a dedicated maintenance team is in charge daily throughout the season. Not surprisingly given the size and quality of installations the ACG Snowpark is allegedly the best snowpark in the Pyrenees and the venue for a number of high level competitions and exhibition events during the season. Get to it from the Pla de Riba Escorxada by the TK Font Roges or TSD6 Tossa Espiolets.
Whether you want to lunch on outdoor terrace with great
panoramic views of the Andorran Pyrenees or you snuggle up around a
warm fireplace in a traditional mountain inn or just want to grab a
bite to eat on the fly, there's a good choice and Grandvalira has
codified its mountain restaurants into five categories to ease
selection and budgeting:
Top of the tree are 6 full-service 'Restaurants with charm', one in each resort sector, mostly with good views of the ski area and serving international cuisine at a cost of around 36 euros per head.
Restaurants with charm
Solanelles (Encamp) Tel: +376 759 008
Roc de les Bruixes (Canillo) Tel: +376 890 696
Pi de Migdia (El Tarter) Tel: +376 890 500
Gall de Bosc (Soldeu) Tel: +376 890 607
Refugi dels Llacs dels Pessons (Grau Roig) Tel: +376 759 015
Costa Rodona (Pas de la Casa) Tel: +376 800 870
Less expensive at around 22 euros per head are 7 self-service cafeterias (Grau Roig has two) serving salads, pizzas, basic fish and meat dishes:
Solanelles (Encamp) Tel: +376 759 008
El Forn (Canillo) Tel: +376 890 687
Pi de Migdia (El Tarter) Tel: +376 890 500
Espiolets (Soldeu) Tel: +376 890 581
El Cubil (Grau Roig) Tel: +376 872 930
El Piolet (Grau Roig) Tel: +376 759 190
Costa Rodona (Pas de la Casa) Tel: +376 800 870
Cheaper still at around cost 6-10 euros per head are 3 Fun Food (for which read 'fast food') establishments for burgers, salads, sandwiches and drinks:
Canillo (Canillo) Tel: +376 890 662
Riba Escorxada (El Tarter) Tel: +376 890 662
Gall de Bosc Tel: +376 890 604
And if you just want a mid-morning coffee break (or breakfast) or a drink during the day there are 9 Espress'Oh! Cafeterias throughout Grandvalira, mostly situated in and around the main restaurants and Fun Food locations:
On a mission to clock the maximum amount of skiing and too busy for anything but a fast pit stop? Then you can pit stop at one of 16 'Xirixuca (small wooden shelter or stone hut) for a quick bite to eat or a drink sometimes without having to dismount from your skis or your board.
In Soldeu Gall de Bosc is worthy of its place in the Charm category and can be found at the top of the TC8 Soldeu ski lift in Pla Espiolets. There is a set menu for 27 euros and the a la carte starts at 36 euros. The view of the slopes is excellent as is the service.
In the same building you'll also find Fun Food Gall de Bosc, Espress'oh! Gall de Bosc and out on the terrace there's a XiriXuca known as XiriCrepes Gall de Bosc.
At the end of the Astoret blue run which descends from the TSD6 Solana there is a handy Xirixuca known as XiriPizza la Solana
Skiing started here in 1924 and thanks to the Calbo family (who built the Esports Calbo hire shop, some of the restaurants, three of the Sport hotels and one of the lifts) the place has been transformed, and yet it still has a few old buildings reminiscent of the old Andorran Pyrenean style.
Soldeu is a convenient base from which to explore Grandvalira and with six 4-star hotels and a new 5-star hotel Soldeu is the most chic of the six village centres in Grandvalira, It's not as rowdy as Pas de la Casa but still offers a hectic après ski scene from 3:30pm until around 3:00 in the morning and yet is a good venue for families.
Where else to base your stay in Grandvalira? If there's no room for you in Soldeu's 4-star hotels there are plenty of hotels and hotel apartments in nearby resorts.
At 1,300m Encamp is the lowest of the six villages and is home to the 6,127m long Funitel gondola running up to Collada d'Enradort (a 15-minute ride) and the main ski area above Soldeu.
Next, some 200m higher up the valley at 1,500m is Canillo, with it's cable car to El Forn, a quiet crowd-free area good for families with small children and easy ski descents back to village level
El Tarter at 1,710m is a busy part of the ski area and a busy town with 1,800 outdoor and 350 indoor parking spaces (more than four times as many as Canillo or Soldeu) and a popular access point for day visitors to Grandvalira.
Further up, above Soldeu, there's just one hotel in Grau Roig (2,120m) and depending on your point of view this is a 'neither here, nor there' location between Soldeu and Pas de la Casa or a place of beauty with stunning mountain landscapes among one of the biggest of the six sectors that make up the Grandvalira with good off-piste.
Last, not but not least, is Pas de la Casa (2,100m) at the other end of Tunel D'Envalira and closest to the border with France. The first ski lift opened here in 1956, an initiative that transformed this corner of Andorra into a town with 3,000 permanent inhabitants and triple that number of hotel beds. A favourite of the 18-30 crowd and well known for its lagerful nightlife, the ski slopes here are predominantly red and black - families with young children and those not to mingle in a boozy singles après ski scene will be better off elsewhere in Andorra.
Fat Albert's (Tel +376 851 765) set back up the hillside from the main road is the nearest thing to a typical Andorran mountain bar offering food downstairs and a bar above. It stays open from 3:30pm to 3am and is always busy.
For something more upmarket try Xalet Sol i Neu (Tel +376 851 325) next to the cable car building which offers Asian/Catalan/French fusion cuisine. Prices very similar to the mountainside "charm" restaurants (a la carte from 35 euros) with specialities that include beef filet au foie, sea and mountain risotto, vegetable tempura and escalibada (cold braised aubergines with tomatoes and onions) .
Corte del Populaire, one of the few traditional Andorran bordas in Soldeu has a great old wood atmosphere and lots of Pyrenean specialities including homemade desserts.
Many hotels offer half board so there is a temptation to stay in to eat, however one evening you should take a taxi (approx 25 euros) down into Andorra La Vella and sample at least one restaurant in the capital. Among those highly recommended are:
San Marco (chef Marco Mora) Web: www.sari_restaurant.com
El Rusc (chef Pablo Urcelay) Web: www.elrsuc.com
El Cresper (chef Michael Bayloco) Web: www.elcresper.com
Can Benet (chef Jospeh Maria Benet) Web: www.restaurant-canbenet.com
In the evening it's party time all the way down the main street of Soldeu.
Esqui-pub Piolets (Tel +376 871 787) is located in the basement of the Abhotel Piolets at the bottom end of the village and is a good place for large noisy parties. Its opening hours are 5pm to 3am Sundays to Thursday and 7pm to 4am Fridays and Saturdays. Music tends to be techno, dance and house and Tuesday night is resort party night.
The Aspen Bar (Tel +376 851 974) is an English pub open daily from 2pm to 2:30am with live music on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Avalanche (Tel +376 878 515) opens from 3:30pm to 3am and has a good live show on Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings (starting time 10:30pm).
Iceberg (Tel +376 806 095) has karaoke on Fridays and a 3-hour happy hour (two drinks for the price of one) from 9pm 'til midnight on Wednesdays.
Alternatively think about spending an evening in the Sport Hotel Hermitage's spectacular wellness centre (Tel +376 870 550). Admission is 35 euros for 3 hours. Unfortunately the hotel then sting you for a further 12 euros to buy outsize flip-flops that have to be worn inside the spa so save yourself some money by bringing a pair from home.
Information: Tel: +376 801 060
Reservations: Tel: +376 801 064
Slim Jim's café (near Fat Albert's)
Deli Supermarket in the basement of Hamalaia Hotel.
Associacio de Taxis d'Andorra Tel: +376 863 000
Més Taxis Tel: +376 828 000
Avis Tel: +376 871 855
Novatel Cimex Tel: +376 720 950
Hertz Tel: +376 880 000