Andorra – The Best Family Holiday You’ve Never Had
Dan Davis for SingleMum.com.au | April 23, 2011
Nestled neatly in the eastern Pyrenees, the Principality of Andorra lies over 1000m above sea level. Bordered by Spain and France, it is the sixth smallest nation in Europe (only 181 sq miles), but in terms of holidays and activities, it packs as much of a punch as the big boys.
You’d be forgiven for believing that Andorra is just a ski resort. And why wouldn’t you? It boasts some of the best slopes in Europe, which cater for all abilities and has hosted some huge skiing events. But, it is so much more than JUST a ski resort. It is one of Europe’s premiere year-round family orientated holiday destinations. The ski season runs from the end of November till mid to late April, but Andorra doesn’t close down. In fact it carries on regardless, with many more things on the activity agenda.
My journey began with a short haul flight into Barcelona and a coach drive to my final destination. You can also choose to fly into Toulouse, France and transfer to Andorra from there. Both airports are accessible via low cost air tour operator.
As i left the city and suburbs of Barcelona I began to get a glimpse of the beautiful scenery i would be surrounded by throughout my trip. The climb into the mountains took me through breathtaking views and past clear lakes that mirror the horizon. I travelled to Andorra in early April and the spring sun made the landscape even more beautiful, with the snow caps fast approaching to welcome me.
My first stop was my hotel in Andorra La Vella, the capital of Andorra, and also its most prominent shopping district. Every brand or designer label you’d find anywhere is else in the world is available here and Andorra offers duty free shopping, but check the allowances before you splash out too much. My Hotel, the four star Magic, was just a few minutes walk away from this shoppers’ paradise and my spacious room had everything I could need. My balcony over looked a river, with fast running water which came straight from the mountains. Close by were many local lively bars and restaurants, clubs and quiet bolt holes. Less than two minutes from the hotel door, the La Borda de l’Avi restaurant served some of the most delicious Andorran tapas and traditional dishes i’ve ever tasted. Thankfully the Magic has a small spa and fitness suite on site – ideal for burning off those calories!
Talking about fitness, what attracted to me to Andorra in the first place was the incredible health statistics it boasts. According to the world health organization, Andorrans have the fifth highest life expectancy and some of the lowest incidences of obesity and disease in the world, and when you start to talk to the locals you realise why. Exercise and activity are a huge part of day to day family life. Children are taught to ski at a very early age and a huge majority of children take part in some sort of after school activity, many of them, more than one throughout the week. As family is a big part of Andorran life, most places are child friendly and welcome family groups.
If you do travel in the ski season, your children could not be better catered for. Just a short journey further up the mountain from Andorra LaVella is the Pal-Arinsal resort. Having kids with you won’t prevent you from enjoying the slopes. Near to the upper gondola station you will find the kindergarten and snow park. The kindergarten takes children from 1 to 4 years old. The staff are fully qualified and will interact with the toddlers like any other kindergarten. From the ages of 4 to 8 years, the snow park takes over. In this enclosed area the children can play in the snow and can learn to ski with qualified instructors. You can observe and also get involved so later in your trip, you can venture out on the slopes with your children. For older children and adult beginners, there are two ski schools with around 200 instructors, with the option of group or private tuition. You can lunch or apres ski in one of the 12 bars or restaurants, many of them have sun soaked terraces and all welcome children and families. In the evenings, the family atmosphere continues. Children join in apres ski, with some bars, such as Quo Vardis at the foot of the Arinsal cable car, and restaurants showing the videos of the ski school events. Giving the new skiers a chance to show their parents what they have learned that day.
Arinsal is also very proud of its ability to welcome groups or families with a disabled or learning impaired member. Marcus Upton is a British ski instructor who is now based full time in Andorra. As well as being a very experienced tutor, he is also a level 2 qualified Adaptive Ski instructor. Adaptive skiing allows people with all manner of disabilities to participate. Not only will he work with the individual, but he will also encourage the family or carers to join in, so as the experience can continue away from ski school.
Away from the slopes, Andorra offers so much more. One such tourist attraction is Naturlandia. Open year round, and sitting at over 2000 meters altitude, this natural theme park offers far too much for just one day’s visit. Those aiming at peak fitness can try their hand at cross country skiing, nordic walking and snow shoes, while the kids join in the fun at the Inuit Park. Here, 7 to 14 year olds can climb, scale the tree top rope bridges and experience life in a tepee. Very young visitors have their own baby park. Snowman building and sleigh trips are the order of the day here. The vast park landscape offers, paint-balling, quad biking, snow bikes and trip in the caterpillar vehicle or the more serene archery or ice skating. One of the most popular activities is mushing. The forests and scenery are admired whilst hurtling along in a dog sled. Mushing isn’t limited to winter months, when the snow disappears the sleds are fitted with wheels. Also out of season, Naturandia makes up for the lack of snow by introducing horse riding, bike riding and an inflatable children’s zone. But no matter what time of year, the main attraction is open. Tobotronc is a 5.3 km toboggan run. You’re strapped in to your own sled on rails and spend a few stomach churning minutes hurtling through the beautiful forest surroundings, whilst navigating hair pin bends and drops that leave your heart in your mouth. Its up to your bravery how often you pull the brakes.
The summer months in Andorra can see temperatures exceed 25 degrees centigrade. The landscape changes from bright white to lush green. This opens up the country to hikers, horse riders, mountain bikers and campers. Andorra has many species of wild and plant life, with the addition of many varieties only at home at altitude. A highlight of the region is white water rafting. Andorra is steeped in history, and rafters have the opportunity to hurtle down the river used on the Old Smugglers Route. Organised treks through the Incles Valley will bring you in contact with free-roaming horses, and the Ordino Valley gives tourists a chance to visit old iron mines and mills.
Fishing in the high altitude lakes becomes an attraction in warmer seasons. The lakes and rivers are home to Farios and Rainbow trout. Some spots are not accessible by car, so hiking and camping could also feature in you angling trip. Some, like Engloasters Lake are close to the road, so whether you want an afternoon by the water or an entire holiday, Andorra ticks all the boxes.
Some of these same lakes host ice diving in the winter. There are scuba schools that can take you below the frozen surface to experience diving like you’ve never seen before. There can’t be many holiday destinations where you can ski and dive one day after the other.
When you have had enough activity, and need to take a day out. Andorra La Vella proudly hosts the Caldea Spa. Like shards of crystal bursting from the ground, the Caldea Spa makes use of the territory’s natural, mineral rich thermal waters. Believed to aid healing, decongest and have anti-allergic effect, the indoor and outdoor spa has dozens of thermoludic baths for you slip into and relax. From ice baths to Indo-Roman baths, sauna to grapefruit pools, you will while away hours with only time to yourself. Older children are admitted and there is a creche for younger family members. For the ultimate in pampering, there are a number of treatments you can book. From a gentle rub down to a hot stone massage or chocolate body wrap. Two fabulous restaurants offer anything from light meals to evening a la carte, depending on your taste or time of arrival at the spa.
Everywhere you look, there are families skiing together, playing together, eating together or enjoying the laid back atmosphere together. Andorran life centres around family and this rubs off on the tourists who mix with the locals. You will rarely find a more friendly, welcoming and relaxed population. I had the great privilege to speak to both residents and the traveling brits. Even at the bar, I was constantly shaking hands with new people.The bar man at Quo Vardis would call me over to introduce me to entire families, people he’d only known for a few days.
Jatinder Bains is a return visitor to the Andorran slopes. “A few years back, I researched the best place to learn to ski and snowboard, Andorra constantly came at the top of many reviews”. Mr Bains was accompanied on this trip by his son, Aran, 15 and Kirren, his 12 year old daughter. “I always enroll the kids in ski school, it gives us a break from each other and allows us to make friends and socialise with our own age groups”. And he can ski happily knowing the children are taken care of. “At no time do I feel I have to worry when we’re seperated, I know the kids are safe and in good hands with the instructors. Even away from the slopes, walking around the town and restaurants, I’m comfortable letting them off the leash a little”. Jatinder was keen to tell me that he and his family enjoyed an afternoon in the spa, more so as they could use it together. “As a family we love Andorra very much, and will always always return here. Our next trip is arranged for this Christmas. And as we’ve only been skiing for four years we still have plenty to learn and Andorra, for us, is the perfect place to learn, improve and have fun.
As I’m a single parent myself, Andorra ticks every box on the list of what I need from a family holiday. A huge choice of activities and venues that my son and I can enjoy together and the comfort of knowing I can leave him in the capable hands of instructors to teach him what he needs to know to join me on the ski runs. It would be so easy to try something new every single day of the trip, and it’s all accessible to adults and children alike.
About the author…
Dan Davis is a Nutritional Therapist based in London and Kent in the UK and a member of the SingleMum.com.au Expert Panel. To learn more about Dan, please go to his Biography page here
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