All you need to know about ski holidays by train

Grandvalira - introduction

Andorra's first ski lift was not installed until 1956, in Pas de la Casa – using the diesel engine of an old German lorry. But the industry has grown in the principality at the rate of one new lift a year, and now Pas de la Casa is one of the villages, centred on Soldeu and also comprising Grau Roig, El Tarter, Canillo and Encamp, that go to make up the impressive linked area of Grandvalira.

They may have started late, but Andorrans don't do things by halves. They declared skiing their national sport, not having had one up to that point. Wise move, and one from which they've never looked back.

And major investment over the last few years has lifted Andorra from the status of budget choice competing with the limited resorts of Eastern Europe to a mainstream destination, offering surprisingly extensive and varied skiing.

Andorra is not the cheap as chips destination it once was, but is still not as expensive as major resorts in France and Austria – aided by a complex constitution that means its twin heads of state are the French president and a Spanish bishop.

It has tax-free status and neither income tax nor inheritance tax. Though not a member, it has a special relationship with the EU that means they treat it rather like a sweet shop – picking the rules and regulations it rather fancies and ignoring those it doesn’t.

In the bars, beer is significantly below the price of other European countries and spirits and liqueurs are usually poured unmeasured into what seem like half-pint mugs. Andorra at one time had the reputation of a somewhat raucous 18-30 style destination. But recently efforts have been made to project a more upmarket image, with new higher-class hotels going up everywhere.

Highlights

  • Fantastic range of skiing on a network linking six villages.
  • No language problems, with ski schools partly British-run.
  • Plenty of excellent beginners' slopes.
  • Increasingly impressive choice of accommodation, with plenty of new development.
  • Cheap and lively après-ski scene. 
  • Slowly making moves upmarket to shed its raucous image.

Lowlights

  • Some of the accommodation is well away from the lifts – and not as cheap as it once was.
  • The shuttle bus service between the villages is not the most reliable – so you have to be careful where you finish skiing.
  • Not enough mountain restaurants and existing ones are distinctly average, with not enough offering table service.
  • There could be more off-slope activities.