Travel Guide to Arinsal, Andorra

Travel Guide to Pal, Andorra

As you travel to Andorra, you will observe the linked resorts of this part of Andorra are surprisingly different from each other: Arinsal has all the hotels, restaurants, bars and a rich nightlife, while Pal has no accommodation and is merely a ski station. The ski terrain is quite different as well. While Arinsal is high, treeless and usually windy, Pal is lower down, sheltered and bears lots of trees. The cable-car linking the two areas is pretty high up and frequently closed due to high winds, so the resorts continue to be distinctly separate in spite of the marketing gusto selling them as one.

The steep, linear village of Arinsal has boomed rapidly in recent years. Not so long ago, the chairlift, hotels and bars at the top of the narrow valley were the resort-village in 1998: development has exploded and the place now stretches the whole way down the valley. Hotel location is thus crucial if you don't want to spend half an hour each morning getting up the hill to the gondola along with all your ski gear.

Pal Arinsal CableCar Station AndorraCredit: Wikipedia

A cable-car links La Massana, the next town down the valley, to Pal. This makes La Massana a good base for families and those looking for a quieter option, while Arinsal's lively apres ski pulsates through the night.

The slopes directly above Arinsal are in a narrow, east-facing bowl. Apart from the good red and black runs down from La Capa and the small bumps area, this is a relatively limited, predominantly beginners' area. From the main (and rather slow) Les Fonts chairlift, you are able to see most of the Arinsal area - handy when you're trying to find friends, but don't bother booking a ski guide.

Enjoying a high perspective, the nursery slopes here normally have good snow conditions, though they can get really busy. If the crowds do scrape away the snow, the area is well backed by snow cannons. The blue runs on the mountain above offer great opportunities for progression, although they can also get quite busy during peak times.

For more competent skiers and boarders requiring longer runs and more varied terrain, it's best to get to the six-minute cable-car ride from Port Negre over to the Seturia and Pal sections. You'll find less crowded slopes, a free ride area and lots of great off-piste tree runs you can pick out yourself, plus an FIS slalom and carving area. (Boarders must avoid the La Serra blue, which has plenty of flat sections). Pal is also excellent for learning, with longer green runs, mellow blues to help build confidence and excellent kids' facilities.

Panoramix, near Arinsal's ski school, has a neat sun terrace and the usual choice of sandwiches, salads and grills. Pal's main building houses a huge yet stylish cafeteria with great views on three sides and a really big stone fireplace in the middle, as well as a proper restaurant, La Borda, with quality food and fairly priced set menus. In Seturia, Far West's authentic American-style food is all right but the setting is the primary draw.

Advanced snowboarders who are tired of the pistes will like the large freestyle area which includes a 110m-long half-pipe, big jump and choice of rails, funboxes, spines and a boardercross section. The area is served by its own draglift and has a sound system and hang out area.

Pal has a great mushing circuit, with huskies drawing sleighs around the beautiful scenery of the mountain park. Professional mushers can show you the ropes. Skibikes, snowshoeing, paragliding and hot-air balloon rides are also available. Shopping in Andorra la Vella is likewise easily accessible by bus or taxi from Arinsal.

Arinsal focuses most of its efforts on lively nightlife instead of fine dining. If you want to party hard, you will not be disappointed, as long as you don't mind nightlife centred around huge pub crawls and cheesy disco dancing. Among the best restaurants in the area is Borda d'Erts. It's a bit out of the way, but well worth the journey. El Moli is really popular for its selection of quality pizzas, pastas, salads and fantastic cocktails. Cisco's makes good Mexican food in an attractive old cattleshed, with a lively bar downstairs that's popular with seasonal workers. The Solana Hotel also has a cool bar underneath. Surf is the disco where most individuals end up when everyplace has closed.

The Princesa Pare is a swanky four-star with luxury spa facilities underneath, as well as a games area with  pool tables and ten-pin bowling. Some of the standard rooms are relatively small. At the other end of the scale, Hostal Poblado is a great alternative for those on a tight budget; the rooms are cheap and clean and it's beside the gondola in the centre of town.

At the top of the hill, Aparthotel Patagonia Austral is a pleasant, quiet and comfy hotel with well furnished self-catering studios.