Strung out in a linear fashion along the course of the Arinsal River, with three distinct accommodation zones along the same valley road (served by ski bus
), Arinsal is this region's only true resort village.
It is dominated by, and practically designed around, its English-speaking visitors; a legacy of its long-established promotion by UK/Irish tour operators as their lead-in price destination for ‘beginners-on-a-budget’. Its British/Irish-orientated ambiance, compact ski area, acclaimed ski school, great value prices, and rocking nightlife ensure that it consistently delivers to many satisfied guests fitting this profile.
It also attracts a wider international clientele too: Spanish, French, Dutch, Belgian and even Israeli and Russian visitors (Pal-Arinsal was the first area in the Pyrenees to offer ski instruction in Russian).
The Arinsal sector of Vallnord was, on its own, Andorra's smallest ski station, but combined with Pal it now has more than enough to interest and test beginners and early intermediates. Confident beginners should be able to access all sectors by the end of their first week. More advanced visitors will have to be creative to keep themselves entertained, although a visit to the more challenging slopes at Arcalís
should provide an outlet for any midweek doldrums.
Pal takes its name from a hamlet of the same name tucked away in a picturesque quiet valley just south-west of Arinsal. The hamlet has no lift links with the ski area and seems content to remain as an authentic and historically noteworthy rural hideaway, untainted by mass tourism except for a couple of roadside equipment-rental shops and one decent quality restaurant housed in a renovated village barn.
The ski area of Pal is more extensive than that of Arinsal, with attractive wooded slopes and a more defined variety of pistes and terrain, reminiscent of some North American ski areas: pine-forested, well-groomed runs accessible from roadside parking areas and with a well-thought-out base day-lodge complex
, without any on-site accommodation.
In 2004, 16-seater gondolas
were installed to link Pal's base area with the parish capital of La Massana, effectively grafting the town on as a ready-made ‘resort’. La Massana is situated at the confluence of the Valira del Nord and Arinsal rivers, well below the actual ski area, so it remains a working community at heart, without the ambiance of a true ski resort.
However, now that the gondola-link connects the town directly with the pistes, an increasingly resort-minded focus is rapidly evolving, resulting in new hotels and services developments and traffic-flow improvements in the town centre.
La Massana now boasts the closest ski area to Andorra's capital (Andorra la Vella), just 6 km (3¾ miles) away down the valley; so it should, therefore, increase its already strong appeal to the local/Spanish weekend tourist market too.