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Website : GrandValira Website
Date: 19th December - 26th December 2005
Our holiday: Group of 7: our family of four plus next door neighbours' family of three. Three parents relatively new to skiing (Group 2 at ski school), one who has done downhill racing and was coached by an Austrian Olympic skier (and I had to keep up with aforementioned neighbour!). Myself (18, on-piste, all run skier), a stroppy girl (15, skiing in Group 2 with parents) and the next-door neighbours' son (11, parallel skiing by the end of the week).
Basics : Usually reached from either Toulouse or Barcelona airports (both usually well over 3hr transfers), it can also be accessed from Perpignan, no-where near as far. The advantage of Toulouse and Perpignan of course is that if your flight is at the right time, you might be able to fit in a good rugby match before returning home! Andorra itself is used to having tourists (with over 18,000,000 per year compared to it's population of around 20,000 'natives' - the largest tourist:resident ratio in the world).
Lift system : Very good lift system - too extensive to go into great detail. Plenty of money splashed out on it over recent years. Gondola from Soldeu to the main plataux where the classes etc. meet. There's also a decrepid old two-man chair from the bottom - a great time saver if there's a queue for the gondola (which there usually isn't - very efficient at the bottom). There are very few pomas, with virtually everything serviced by chair lifts, the majority of which are detachable. One chair on the way over to Pas was very quick, but not detachable - instead of replacing this one (which looked in very good condition), they simply cranked up the pace and put a mini magic carpet (moving walkway) to reduce the impact speed! Very nifty. All in all, a quality lift system which makes Italian resorts look like they're in Siberia.
The terrain : Fairly well suited to most skiers. Perhaps a little limited if you're looking to film an out of this world stunt video, but not bad. A great variety of pisted runs and what appeared to be a good mix of easily accessible off-piste. I'm not however in a position to comment any further on off-piste possibilities (not doing much myself). Plenty of blues above Soldeu that the learners in the group had some great fun on and progressed well on. One of the blues then wound down the mountain, providing more adventurous learners a practice route down (as opposed to catching the gondola). Other alternative routes down included a couple of sprightly blacks and some fantastic reds - I'd certainly recommend 'Isard' as a must-do in Soldeu (virtually no-one on it!). As you move above the meeting area and away from it, a selection of 'tougher' blues provided some excellent terrain to progress onto for the learners, with the 11 year old in the children's classes making it onto some decent reds by the end of the week. For myself and my madman neighbour, we had great fun eating up the kilometres at a considerable speed on the numerous reds around the GrandValira area. We also managed to get in a good number of fun blacks, which were in places a bit icy (as demonstrated when we skied past a number of people on one - having watched them fall from the chair lift as we decided which route to take down - our whole chair gave it a go!). There were plenty of reds and blacks available to us, and there were very few runs closed (see 'the snow' below), but those that were closed were mainly blacks. Following the advice of DM Ski & Snowboard Magazine, I made sure to ski down 'Mirador' above Grau Roig as we spent the morning skiing over to Pas. A fantastic run, not particularly challenging, but bliss none-the-less. Taking everything into account, a good, varied selection of runs in the GrandValira's 190+kms.
The snow : Despite being the resorts first fully open week of the season, running into Christmas, the snow conditions were exemplary. The snow-cannons went on well into the morning and the piste bashers did an excellent job distributing the available snow into the right places. A few runs were closed, but those that were open were a joy to ski due to the quality of snow cover. There was even enough to go off-piste in certain areas. A couple of areas were slightly icy (at random, odd times of day though ). Overall, good, early season conditions, with only a small number of steep/exposed slopes closed.
Off-piste : I can't really comment as I'm not really into off-piste. Although what I did do (under a chair-lift looking for the glove I dropped ) was quite good - for me at least...
The resort : A pleasant village/resort centre. Stretched out along one main road it is barely more than 300m long. There are a couple of short roads behind the main hotels etc. which contain very little - a few reasonable restaurants, but virtually everything you'd want is on the main road. The buildings are mostly very tasteful - lots of stone and wood (with very little pre-pack looking buildings). In the resort there are endless shops from which to buy skiing goods - at reasonable prices (but don't be fooled, there not 'bargains' as such). A small 'corner' shop sold all the things you might need - water and chocolate etc. There are plenty of restaurants (including an Indian and a Chinese!), an internet cafe and a good selection of bars (I'd highly recommend Fat Alberts'). Oh yes, there is also a health spa for the ladies to be pampered in!
Food : In the resort, I'd definitely recommend Fat Alberts' (yes it has a restaurant too). They have very friendly staff (mostly British, with a Belgian thrown in for good measure - Flemish to be exact). We had our Christmas Day meal there and it was gorgeous - I need say no more. On the slopes, most of the eateries are the same group. There are plenty of them mind, so wherever you fancy a bite to eat, you can probably get it. They do simple things like hot dogs and snacks. A beer and a hot dog came to around â‚¬5. At the top of the Gondola there is also somewhere you can get nice burgers etc. At the base of the gondola in Soldeu there is a great restaurant which does nice curries, pizzas, toasties etc. I can't remember the name of the place, but it had two huge decked areas which you can easily see from the gondola. The food in the hotel was fab also (see below). To rate the food in resort, I'd have to say 9 or 10 out of 10.
Accommodation : We stayed in the Sport Hotel which was just over the road from the gondola (the Sport Village - one of the other hotels - is the base station for the gondola). As the Sport hotels are owned by Ski Calbo (who own/run virtually everything in resort) we got lockers too, which meant we only had to walk about 20m in boots etc. as opposed to 40m! The hotel was very nice - being Christmas it was festively decorated, and almost everyone upon entering havin disembarked the transfer coach commented on how lovely it looked. The staff were very helpful, and our waiter at dinner time was very friendly and efficient (and apparantly made an excellent wine recommendation!). The food at breakfast and dinner was of a good variety, and good quality. Three soups to chose from for starters (along with other 'stuff') which were generally warming and tasty. There was plenty of fish (local favourite) and pasta (as you'd expect) and it was all very nice. Breakfast was good too, with the chef cooking the eggs and bacon to order. The hotel really spoiled us on Christmas Eve, with a great 'party', apperitifs, and a lovely meal with bubbly flowing (Cava of course! ). The rooms were spacious and with good facilities (ours was a little limited for head-height - and I'm a shortie - as we were in a loft type room). The only problem with the hotel was the one lift's insistance on breaking down frequently.
Costs: Not the cheap haven that some people make it out to be. However, it is still reasonably priced and is certainly cheaper than many French resorts. A slope-side lunch of a beer and a hot-dog will come to about â‚¬5, not too bad. If you want a beer with a burger and fries, expect to pay a bit more (probably around â‚¬6-7). Resort costs weren't too bad either, and it was good value for most drinks being a duty-free country, although the cheap prices found in the shops weren't always so visible in the bars. I bought a lovely Volkl jacket for â‚¬300 (about Â£200), which was perhaps only on a par or slightly less than I'd expect to pay here. Not cheap, but for a skiing holiday in a pleasant, developed area, quite good value.
Conclusion: Fantastic - I'd highly recommend it to virtually anybody. Terrain for almost all, and a good mixture of quiet and fun nightlife to chose from. Only die hard party-animals of St Anton proportions would think it tame.
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