Will you go to Andorra, they said? Thoughts of coach travel, school parties and all-about-that-bass après-ski bars (with sticky tables, natch) flooded my mind. Reassured I could travel solo under my own steam (north from Barcelona, three hours by road) and that a stopover at L’Ovella Negra – a finessed farmhouse stay north of Soldeu-El Tarter – awaited, I acquiesced.
My eventual destination, though, is Encamp: a village tucked off the main road upstream from capital Andorra La Vella which links to the Grandvalira ski area via a cable car from town.
A few switchbacks above the village, brothers Josep-Maria and Jordi are fourth-generation farmers who’ve repurposed the land settled by their great grandfather, moving their tobacco growing across the valley and turning the original farmstead and barns into a boutique hotel, Les Pardines 1819.
Their Catalan restaurant draws quite the crowd: starred chef Oriol Rovira of Els Casals is executive chef overseeing a menu of polished plates celebrating seasonal produce and Catalonia’s culinary heritage – or put more simply, one of the best meals I’ve had in a while: lemony salmon tartare, roasted hare with textures of beetroot and a rice-and-milk soup topped with blood-orange cream that suggested Blumenthal levels of kitchen alchemy.
Turns out there’s plenty of culinary competition around, too. Look out for typical bordas (huts) transformed into restaurants, plus converted farmhouses doing a fine line in Andorran cuisine: Borda Raubert, Cal Bona Vida and L’Ovella Negra’s own Lodge Canteen can all go on the list, along with Molí dels Fanals and Borda Estevet in Andorra La Vella.
There’s more than fine food, however, to recommend Andorra. Look past the beige tower blocks in Andorra La Vella (tourism here really took off in the 1970s and it shows) and you’ll find a postcard-worthy old town of shuttered stone houses, winding lanes and an ornately turreted church.
In Encamp itself, there are forested walking trails from the door that take you higher into the Pyrenees, past peaceful, languid lakes, to high-altitude huts and onto range-spanning hiking routes such as the GR11. Cycling – mountain and road – provides further prompts to visit in summer.
Within two days, I’m a total convert. The pistes of Grandvalira – wide open and sunny – took me to Pas de la Casa for lunch and back (skiing to lunch feels implicitly glamorous).
There was a heart-warming authenticity to the friendliness of the locals and Encamp’s village vibe. I didn’t once come across a coach-load of tourists, and the only stickiness ensued from a pot of local honey gifted by the hotel.
Ladies and gents, it’s time to raise your Jägerbombs to Andorra’s quieter side…
For more alpine adventures of the snow-covered kind, explore our collection of ski hotels