“Flying at speed on snow-mobiles across freshly-deposited powder in the dark is an experience unlike any other, with just the roar of the engines and the beam of the headlights to guide us.”
Once upon a time, a destination holiday was all about how far you could travel, and how exotic your destination vacation was. Times have changed however, and the trend today is not so much how far you can go, but what you can experience once you’re there. Hidden high up in the Pyrénées between the borders of France and Spain lies the tiny country of Andorra. Despite being surrounded by beautiful, rugged mountain landscapes, it would seem that this little gem is deservedly being put back on the map by a group of business entrepreneurs. Targeting the Russian market through the web portal cometoandorra.ru, the business partners have asked Russian model Dasha Kapustina to act as the figurehead of their campaign. Known as an international model and girlfriend to Formula One ace Fernando Alonso, Dasha’s appeal is obvious, as she embodies exactly the young, fun, fashionable credentials that the Andorrans are hoping to attract.
Dasha was in Andorra to shoot a series of photos which will be used to promote the Andorran tourist trade, and I was invited along to experience this exclusive, access-all-areas event, by Stephanie Steinbrecht-Aleix and Txeco Llorens.
Arriving in balmy Barcelona, I was chauffeur driven the 3 hours to my base for the next 3 days, Sports Hermitage Hotel, a 5* ski resort set at the top of the mountains. It’s worth mentioning that if you decide to take a hire car instead, there’s no shortage of places to fill up. Also, Real Madrid fans, look away now – the drive also means that you end up going past Barcelona’s impressive Nou Camp.
Arriving as I did at the hotel in the town of Soldeu – in the pitch black at 9 o’clock at night – meant that I couldn’t fully appreciate my surreal and beautiful surroundings, and the only real indication I had of how high up I really was came from my popping ears as we’d climbed further up into the mountains! Although driving through the capital, Andorra La Vella, with the shop lights illuminating our way just as the snow was starting to fall, gave the pretty scene a slightly ethereal feel.
Dinner that night, in Restaurant Origens, with Stephanie and Txeco, Dasha and Luis Garcia Abad (Fernando Alonso’s manager), and hotel owner Josep Calbó, came courtesy of resident Michelin starred chef Nandu Jubary. The Sports Hermitage has two chefs (Jubary is one, and Carles Graig is the other). The delicious array of food we were offered (some 10 different dishes, to be precise!) was exquisite, with every single detail catered for. I don’t eat seafood and Dasha is a vegetarian, but the attentive staff took care of our every gastronomic need. The chicken cannelloni with truffle cream was a taste sensation, and just one word sums up the pumpkin gnocchi – sublime!
Next day, we went to Inúu Wellness Spa, situated in the heart of the capital. Inúu is a new concept entirely. Although the Spa is open from 10 in the morning until 10 at night, what you pay for at Inúu is time. Whilst there is a flat basic rate of 65 Euros for the whole day, they really want you to experience the wellness side of things, and you leave with a whole new attitude to wellbeing. Subsequently, upon arrival, all guests are given a health MOT, to ascertain exactly what they need in terms of wellness. You then tell them how much time you have, and they’ll devise a programme for you accordingly, depending on what you need and how long you’ve got. This is a spa that essentially takes the stress out of decision-making for the time-poor client, allowing you to focus solely on yourself.
COO Beatriz Fernandez gave me a guided tour of the facility, designed by French architect Jean Michel Ruols, granting me access to the thermal hydropool, with the temperature of the thermal spring water set at a blissful 34 degrees, and the saunas, steam rooms and halotherapy chamber. Having explored upstairs, Beatriz took me on a tour of the treatment rooms downstairs, by way of a spiral staircase encircling a giant fish tank, where Dasha was attempting to encourage the fish to swim behind her for a photo.
The treatment rooms are strategically split off in a clover shape depending on what you’re opting for, be it shiatsu massage or simply the chance to chill out for fifteen minutes and grab some much-needed shut-eye! For couples looking for a cosy retreat (anyone got an anniversary coming up?), Inúu also has a private treatment room, for up to four people, with a Jacuzzi and massage beds. Heaven! (Especially at just 250 Euros for a minimum of two and a half hours).
As hard as it was, I had to tear myself away from Inúu, as we were heading to Anyós Park, a wellness resort located up in the mountains a mere 10 minute drive away. This is where the great and good (by which I mean the southern Spanish sporting elite – namely a few Barca FC pros) come to exercise, away from the attentions of the Spanish press. Anyós Park is owned by Carles Naudi D’Areny Plandolit Balsells (whose paternal great-grandfather, randomly enough, was instrumental in setting up the Magic Circle in Spain. It’s amazing the trivia you uncover!). Set over 5000 sq metres, the resort is a sort of one-stop shop for health, and in addition to the gym, sports facilities, pools and AquaSpa (a water zone encompassing cascades, massage benches and water beds), Anyós Park is also home to Carita Paris, exclusive beautician’s treatment rooms to beautify you again after an intense workout. Speaking of workouts, that’s exactly what was in store for Dasha – after posing first on comfy cushions and then amidst the quiet serenity of the private pool, the model was then photographed exercising on a cross-trainer. Don’t think that modeling is in any way an easy life!
The problem with working out, despite the obvious benefits, is that it leaves you hungry, so our next stop was the Pyrénées Andorra Department Store, specifically La Boheme restaurant, for lunch, not to mention another photoshoot and change of clothes for Dasha (and on that note, I was rather coveting her Burberry tote). A stroll through the mall to get to our next photocall had me eyeing the gorgeous silk dresses and butter-soft leather handbags. Cashmere Shop-owned store Sant Hubertus provided the cosy, “hunter’s lodge” inspired backdrop for the next shoot (not to mention the on-trend hat Dasha had donned for the photos). Incidentally, whilst we’re on the subject of going shopping, if you’re still not inspired to come here, it’s worth pointing out that Andorra is something of a tax-free haven, so everything costs far less than it would do elsewhere (to the tune of around 40% less, in fact).
As evening approached, our final port of call was to Gala Perfumeries, the make-up and perfume company who had provided all of Dasha’s make-up. After a quick scout through the shop, testing lip-gloss and perfumes as we went, we took our places for Dasha’s final shoot of the day. It’s not every day you walk into a shop and see your name displayed on a dressing table, but for our girl, that’s exactly what happened. It was a nice touch, and is indicative of the Andorran spirit – nothing is too much trouble, and they’re happy to go the extra mile.
We arrived back at the hotel with barely an hour and a half before meeting for our evening’s activity – snow-mobiling!
Believe me, you don’t need to be an adrenalin junkie to love this! Flying at speed across freshly-deposited powder in the dark is an experience unlike any other, with just the roar of the engines and the beam of the headlights to guide us. Competitive types beware, however – whilst speed is most definitely of the essence, mountain etiquette dictates that you aren’t allowed to overtake, so racing is out of the question! Seriously, though, don’t let that put you off – this is quite possibly the most fun you can have with a helmet on!
Our next stop was the Sol i Neu Club Hermitage restaurant, where the entire group (some 20 of us) sat down for dinner together. We sampled such delights as potato and Catalan sausage cake, and Catalan stew with meatballs (very welcome after an evening out in the snow!) and another first for me – grilled artichoke (no, really – I’d never tried artichoke before!).
The following morning brought a big snowstorm, putting paid to the day’s plan of moshing (that’s dog-sledding to you and me), and of visiting GrandValira, one of six sites shortlisted for Best European Resort at the 2012 World Snow Awards in London. A ski centre with 210 kilometres of runs, including two World Cup courses and 4 freestyle parks (one of which is nocturnal), GrandValira is also home to the Igloo Bar and Hotel. Whilst the idea of staying in an igloo has a slight romantic charm, what is marginally concerning is that its website recommends that you should only book to stay here if you dare – perhaps the snowstorm was just as well!
Not to be undone, Dasha’s photoshoots for the day were simply moved to our hotel, which meant cosying up in front of the fire and relaxing on the plush sofas that adorned the reception.
Before long, however, my chauffeur had arrived to take me back down the mountains to Barcelona. Leaving the snow and the peaks behind me, I settled back into the leather and let myself be lulled to sleep.
Having never been to this stunning principality before, I arrived in Andorra with an open mind, and was seduced completely by the beauty of the landscape and the spirit of the people. Dasha was adamant that she will be back – but for a holiday, so that she can enjoy herself to the full. I’m inclined to concur. The ski season may well be coming to an end (roll on next winter!), but Andorra is also a fantastic place to discover during the summer, too (for the golfers among you, visit www.tee-times.info). Andorra may not be the last word in luxury, but this is one hidden gem that’s definitely worth visiting. It’s unlikely to stay a secret for long, so get here quick before the hordes descend!