Andorran mountain lodge L’Ovella Negra (‘the black sheep’) has a somewhat ironic name, because all guests who secure one of just four rooms here are made to feel like they belong. Schedules are fluid, staff bend to your whims and the wood-lined former farmhouse with a large floating fireplace is a spot you’re welcome to curl up in. Materials such as wood, wool, concrete and iron make for cosily contrasted interiors; meals eschew faff for strong simple flavours; and the inconstant landscape of the Incles Valley makes for scenic summer hikes and superlative snow days. Plus, intimate gatherings – barbecues, live music sessions – only make you feel more like part of the family.
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 6pm. Luggage can be stashed at reception and early arrivals are welcome to relax onsite.
Double rooms from £359.65 (€405), including tax at 4.5 per cent.
Rates usually include a hearty breakfast of eggs every way, seasonal fresh fruit, jamón Ibérico, pan con tomate, truffled cheese and avo toast. Plus, in winter there are free snowcat transfers, snowshoe hire, and meals are included in your rate.
Wellness is seamlessly integrated into stays at L’Ovella Negra – not even the grinchiest could spend some time amid this natural splendor and not feel a teeny tug on the heartstrings. But, if your chakras are still a little out of whack, join the hotel’s seasonal Mountain Retreats, which combine yoga sessions with cocktails and brunch. And, in July and August there’s live music each Thursday evening – watch as you dine in the xiringuito or bring a blanket from your room and sit picnic-style on the grass.
The hotel is closed throughout May and November.
At the hotel
Lounge area with a fireplace, alfresco fire pit, snowshoes and sunhats to borrow, plug adaptors, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: Merino wool blankets, Lampe Gras lighting, a desk, tote bag for each guest, free bottled water and Grown Alchemist bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Each of the four rooms has the hotel’s signature Wild West as styled by Vogue look, with Lampe Gras lights, rugged wood panelling and Andrew Martin’s ikat-style fabrics. Favouring one simply depends on if you’ve arrived as a couple or a quartet. With one bed set on a mezzanine for more privacy, the Quadruple rooms will suit intimate groups or small families with older children.
The hotel has snowshoes so there’s no need to bring those, but winter arrivals should saddle up their ski gear to take advantage of the resorts nearby. In summer bring gear for knocking about outdoors and download the iNaturalist app to identify local wildlife.
There’s no spa at the hotel; however, Sport Hotel Hermitage – just a 10-minute drive away – has five floors of pampering to explore and a lengthy brochure of worldly treatments.
All ages are welcome, but the only distraction is running wild in nature and the odd board game. Baby cots cannot be provided, but the Quadruple rooms will comfily sleep a family of four. Lessons for ski-ready smalls can be arranged at a nearby resort.
The hotel’s meats are all sourced from the Pyrenees and cooking is influenced by season. Most leftovers (where appropriate) are fed to the grazing horses and cattle. There are no single-use toiletries and green products are used throughout; staff duly recycle and the building is largely heated by a central fireplace – plus thick stone walls keep the place warm in winter and cool in summer.
For drinks, set yourself up in one of the fur-lined chairs by the fire pit just before sunset.
Laissez-faire is the look here.
Chef Sergi Simó, an alumnus of esteemed eatery Nerua at the Guggenheim Bilbao turned ‘mountain man, hunter and gatherer’ has brought plenty of buzz to the low-key Lodge Canteen. Tuned in to seasonal shifts, his menu changes thusly, and you might dine on hearty venison stew one night, sautéed artichokes with ham and quail eggs the next, or perhaps a simply yet flawlessly grilled duck breast, turbot or fillet steak with greens and potatoes. To finish: mel i mató, a traditional Catalan dessert with honey and cheese. The canteen is as snug as can be with wood walls, communal tables, sprigs of local wildflowers and a roaring fire in winter. The hotel also has an outdoor dining pavilion, home to the summer pop-up – an open-walled dining experience with mountain views all around, and the Winter Shack, a cabin-style feasting spot.
There’s a bijou indoor bar with a trio of stools manned by a barkeep with a knack for G&Ts and the Canteen’s wine list has been plucked from the finest DOPs and terroirs of the bordering countries (that’ll be France and Spain). In summer, guests pick their poison from a hatch in the pop-up.
The Lodge Canteen is open Thursday evening to Sunday lunch from December to April, June and October. The summer pop-up is open 11am to 5pm daily from July to September, and on Thursdays from 8pm to midnight. The Winter Shack opens from noon to 5pm.
The hotel has an informal style and very approachable staff, so if you wish to dine in-room they’ll make that happen. However, guests tend to congregate in the cosy dining room.
L’Ovella Negra is set at the foot of Andorra’s Pyrenees, deep into Incles Valley. It’s well placed for both Canillo and Soldeu’s ski slopes.
Toulouse-Blagnac Airport is the closest, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from the hotel; flights arrive here from major cities around Europe. Or you could fly into Spain’s Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat Airport, which is just under three hours away from the hotel by car. The hotel can arrange transfers from both for €150 each way.
If you’re travelling around Europe by train or fancy a more scenic route, the Gare d'Andorre-L'Hospitalet is just a 35-minute drive from the lodge. TER Occitanie runs trains direct from Toulouse Matabiau Station (a two-and-a-half-hour journey), and SNCF’s Intercités de Nuit service runs overnight from Paris (from 10pm to 9am).
From Barcelona, follow the C-16 route north, then the N-20 route in southern France and the CG-2 route in Andorra. From Toulouse, follow the A66, A61 and N20 routes, then change to the CG-2 in Andorra. Follow the signs to El Tarter village, follow the sharp curve turn after Soldeu and you’ll find the valley entrance. In summer, drive through and you’ll find the hotel at the end (there’s free parking onsite); in winter (December through to April) leave your vehicle in the car park near Soldeu ski resort and wait for the snowcat.
During winter, access to the lodge can become blocked by snowfall; however, L’Ovella Negra can send their trusty snowcat to the rescue – booking in advance is essential. Or, if you want to show up with a little more swagger, ask the hotel to book you a helicopter from Barcelona airport.
Worth getting out of bed for
Limber up, because L’Ovella Negra is the jump-off point for some soul-stirring hikes: up and down mountains, around lakes, through easy-on-the-eye valleys and to ancient refuges. Hotel staff can point you to a nearby waterfall that’s not too hard a hike for the uninitiated, but there are various configurations of routes around Incles Valley. Try the Camí de l'Obac d'Incles route, which loops around the valley; elevate your route in the Pyrenees, go deep into Ransol or Montaup valleys, or circumnavigate Estany de Juclà, Andorra’s largest lake. Come winter, walking routes can be impeded by ice and snow, so instead use your legs for snowshoeing or skiing at Grandvalira resort, a 10-minute drive away. Prisca’s insider tip is to hit the piste from Grau Roig, a 15-minute drive up the mountain. Snowmobiles can be hired too if your legs get tired, and staff can arrange heli-skiing. Cosmopolitan Soldeu village has lively eateries and the Sport Hotel Hermitage’s five-storey spa, plus a pretty Romanesque church. And, capital Andorra la Vella (a 30-minute drive away) has buildings dating back to the 12th century, plus upmarket duty-free shops.
Back at the hotel, there’s little light pollution in the valley – the owner even chose not to use too many outdoor lights to ensure the stay looked like a home – so there’s a wide sprinkling of stars to gaze at here.
For a mid-piste lunch, get cosy in Grandvalira’s Vodka Bar, a space of wood furnishings, thick rugs and a warming fire. You can choose to nibble on tapas plates or indulge in hearty Andorran meals, followed by sweets from a fourth-generation pastry chef whose creations are inspired by snowballs, avalanches and such. Or try the wagyu steak, escudella stew (Catalan meatball stew) and champagne and oysters at elegant Refugi del Llac de Pessons Restaurant. And in summer months, Hotel Grau Roig promises the Pyrenees on a plate.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this Heidi-high mountain lodge in the Incles Valley and unpacked their salopettes and flip-flops (to cover all cross-season eventualities), a full account of their intimate away-from-it-all break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside L’Ovella Negra in Andorra…
Hotelier-to-be Prisca Llagostera had an epiphany while travelling in Chile: on the isle of Chiloé the heavens opened and it started to pour, so she escaped into a local bar, asked for a bottle of red and saw this on the label: ‘A black sheep is someone special, someone who stands out in the herd and goes his own way. Someone who attracts attention.’ And, thinking of her sultry little dark-stone lodge back home in Andorra’s verdant sweep of Incles Valley, she decided she’d name it L’Ovella Negra (‘the black sheep’ in Catalan). Now, we’ve had several epiphanies after a few glasses of wine, so we’re on board. And, while there’s a well-honed wine list in this cosy-as-a-blanket-burrito mountain hideaway, most rosy cheeks here are achieved through hikes to waterfalls and over craggy peaks in the surroundings, or a brisk spot of snowshoeing – depending on the season you’ve arrived in.
Indeed, the lodge has a chameleonic sense of seasonality, offering a new experience each time the valley turns from green to russet to white. In summer it’s a place of alfresco picnics, mountain-view dinners, barbecues and live music. In winter the fireplace that extends over two-storeys becomes the warm heart of the hotel, a beacon calling guests to the inviting communal dining space or for candlelit meals for twosomes. And those meals, whether they’re served in the outdoor dining pavilion during warmer climes or fireside in oak-clad rooms, showcase simple local produce (river fish, meat fresh from the pasture) put in the hands of a chef who hails from the Guggenheim Bilbao. This burnished bucolic feel continues throughout, with wool and wood, concrete and iron commingling in rooms, of which there are just four. The overall effect is very soothing so there’s no need to count sheep here – after all, as Llagostera’s legacy proves, the sheep that really counts is the one that inspires you (even if you were a bit tipsy).