Andorra La Vella's main shopping thoroughfare, by night (Andorra La Vella, Andorra)
A little over three years ago, this traveller made a valient attempt at reaching Andorra by means of flying into Toulouse airport and making the rest of the journey south overland until the intended destination was reached. Cutting a long(er) story short, the attempt failed, and Andorra remained a little more shrouded in mystery and speculation over what might have been missed out on. This time around, however, the same snow-blocked road blight did not hamper the proceedings, and reaching the small but more than adequate hotel Festa Brava in the nation's capital, Andorra La Vella was a victory of determination over circumstance. Andorra La Vella could best be described as an outsized duty-free shopping zone, and the sheer wealth of retail outlets, strung together with hotels, restaurants and the occasional significant building, bear testimony to its status.
Caldea Spa Centre (Andorra La Vella, Andorra)
The city's most striking-looking building accolade must surely be awarded to the mirrored church-esque style and shape that is home to Caldea spa centre, Europe's largest of its kind, and a must-visit place when residing in the capital for any length of time. The spa is as comprehensive as one might expect, ranging from jacuzzis to saunas, massage-providing water jets, to the star turn of them all, the outdoor bathing area, and my overall take on this place fits the category of a 'feast for the senses'. Staying in the capital is perfectly feasible for getting to the ski slopes on a daily basis, by means of a bus and ensuing cable car ride from the base station at Encamp
, known officially as 'Funicamp'.
Slopeside attractions (Grandvalira, Andorra)
The skiable area known collectively as 'Grandvalira' is a real treat for skiers of the beginner and intermediate variety, as the vast network of interconnecting slopes can be fairly easily negociated after a day or two spent happily gliding around the well-groomed pistes in search of that perfect run which warrants numerous repeat visits. The ski school here is very highly regarded, leading to the overall conclusion that the combination of expert tuition and slopes allowing a rank beginner to work their way up from green to red via the ubiquitous blue runs is the kind of situation which has earned Andorra its magnetic appeal status when it comes to attracting skiers and boarders. If you're seeking a diversion from the inteded purpose of the trip, then why not try one of the few excursions which the resort has to offer.
Not all a snow-capped landscape (Grandvalira, Andorra)
In this case, that excursion happened to be the Husky dog sledding safari, a half-hour jaunt involving guiding a dog-towed sled across a snowy plain involving the occasional gradient or two and simple but effective tuition on how to get the hang of it. Needless to say, this was a terrific way of experiencing a sublime slice of what snow-related activities can amount to, all of which took place in a climate far less menacing than in Greenlandic climes. In fact, Andorra is the warmest and sunniest ski resort visited to date, which made a pleasant change from a 'braving-the-elements' ski trip, and the variety of mountain restaurants, slopeside shops and hire places makes this a contender for a European ski destination to be mentioned in the very same breath as the established nations such as France and Switzerland. Although prices have risen in Andorra, presumably in line with its popularity as a ski destination, the cost of living there is hardly cripplingly high, and eating out needn't cost a packet if you select carefully from the variety of eateries dotted here and there. On the down side, if all of the above gives the overall impression that there may not be anything of any great note in Andorra unless you're a skier or a shopper, then take it as a reasonable indication that it could actually be an accurate portrayal of this tiny nation. Hikers might well enjoy the walks in summer, but there is more dramatic scenery elsewhere in Europe, so all in all, I proclaim this trip a victory for all it yielded and its fulfilment of the original, intended purpose, albeit at a point in time 3 years ago, when the ski trip to Andorra was 'put on ice' until the future dictated a wholly different state of affairs. Andorrable!