Head to Andorra for a bit of nip and tuck in the mountains

Andorra has had a facelift. Is its new beauty worth beholding? Adrian Mourby explores on and off the slopes

Since 16 May 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy has been a prince. Not many people know this but they do in the tiny principality of Andorra. Along with an obscure Catalonian bishop, Sarkozy is co-prince of this famous ski resort. It all goes back to Henry IV of France who in 1607 issued an edict establishing that whoever happens to be in charge of France is also co-ruler of neighbouring Andorra, an independent country about the size of Doncaster.

Recently, Andorra has been tidying up its resorts – fronting its concrete blocks with local stone – and enjoying a renaissance. But this doesn't particularly impress the locals. The country keeps its collective head down and just concentrates on making money. Until the 20th century, and the first roads, very few people visited unless they happened to stumble in lost while crossing the Pyrenees. But Andorra's steep-sided mountains, blanketed in snow for five months of the year, became an asset as the British craze for skiing took off. Andorra's farmers also realised that they could make a good living from duty-free goods.

Take Pas de la Casa, for example, an unreconstructed party town on the French border. Not the most beautiful place I've ever visited, Pas consists of shops, bars and hotels of the kind that give four stars a bad name. When I climbed up the steep narrow steps to a hotel bar, I found it full of scary-looking guys with tattos on their shaven heads. Their tables were piled with MP3 players, cameras, GPSs and bottles of vodka. I decided to stay elsewhere.

Driving west down the steep inclines of the Valira d'Oriente I came to Soldeu, a chic stone village dominated by the Calbo family, local farmers who have built most of its hotels and restaurants, even one of its ski lifts. I checked into their five-star Sport Hotel Hermitage and sank into the lobby's huge leather sofa. My room had so many cushions and pillows you could hardly make out the bed. Soldeu caters for a very different market from Pas de la Casa. Moreover, it is in the middle of the Grandvalira, a sequence of linked pistes running between six Andorran villages.

Prices are steep at the Hermitage restaurant, but fortunately the Calbos have also built a typical British pub, The Villager, which serves typical British food, by which they mean chilli, curry and nachos with lashings of karaoke on Friday nights. Better still, the village has a few bordas left. These traditional farmhouse restaurants serve Andorran specialities such as trinxat (potato and cabbage) and escudella (a meat stew) and pitchers of good cheap wine.

The next day I drove down to the capital village of Andorra la Vella. I found the parliament building, tiny and built of slate and looking for all the world like a youth hostel. The cathedral is similarly rustic and minute. In the afternoon I drove up to Arinsal, a little family-friendly village on the country's western border. The tiny stone church of St Andreu d'Arinsal was chiming the quarter hour as I got out. Everyone was asleep, even the chairlift, but I found lunch at Hotel Micolau, a 13th-century stone building on the main street. Fiona, a cheery English expat, poured me a small beer. "Have you come far?"

"Pas de la Casa."

"Oh you've crossed coast to coast!" She laughed. "You'd better have a pint."

Crystal Ski (0871 231 2256; crystalski.co.uk) offers seven nights half-board at the five-star Sport Hotel Hermitage in Soldeu from £899 per person, including flights and transfers.

Andorra Tourism (00 34 93 508 84 48; andorra.an).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning: The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier leaguePlus all the build-up to Man City vs Chelsea and Everton vs Palace
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Polly Borgen at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2012
peopleThe Emmy award-winner starred in Cape Fear, the Sopranos and Desperate House Wives
people'I hated him during those times'
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam