With the prospect of another washout summer in the UK, it’s no wonder thousands of us head over to the continent to get some sunny alpine riding in every year.
The easily accessible bike parks of the French and Swiss Alps are the first choice for the majority of mountainbiking brits abroad. It’s true, holidaying in the Alps is a no brainer; just 8 hours drive from Calais or an easy transfer from Geneva airport. But did you know that just an extra 2 hours in the car, or an equally quick transfer from Barcelona airport drops you slap bang in the middle of the beautiful Pyrenees?
You’ve heard of Cedric Gracia, Commencal, and Vallnord Bike Park. You like big mountains, big scenery, and duty free shopping. You like cheap lift passes and accommodation even more. So with all this just a stone’s throw from your usual riding spots, the question really is: why aren’t you riding Andorra this year?
Convinced? Thought so. Swap your French phrasebook for Catalan (or Spanish if you really want to offend the locals), and get your bike out, you’re about to ride some of the best trails within 12 hours of your front door.
Andorra is as bizarre as it is beautiful. Sandwiched between France and Spain, they probably didn’t even tell you about it’s existence in geography class at school. With only 85,000 residents squished into the valleys of a country with an average elevation of 2,000 metres, it’s easy to see how you could overlook this tiny country as a mere set of mountains on a map.
It’s the dramatic topography of this microstate that makes it so incredible. There’s not a single place in Andorra where you aren’t gazing up at soaring rocky peaks, or taking in the panoramic views of valleys and mountain towns below. If God were to create the perfect country for riding bicycles, then surely this is it.
If your family doesn’t fancy a spot of downhill, ditch them in the cosmopolitan capital. Andorra La Vella has something for everyone; a haven of tax-free retail with an incredible thermal spa and an infinity of day trips to lakes, mountain adventure parks and outdoor pursuits all possible.
The Andorrans know dirt as well as they know snow, and they have no more problems bashing out world class bike parks than they do ski resorts. Vallnord is the biggest of the two parks. Start in La Massana with a massive burger in one of the buzzing, local-filled cafes or pubs.
Climb to the peak – accessible by a gondola and two chairlifts – and an oasis awaits. From big mountain slick A-Line-esque trails to rough and steep, foot-out-flat-out wrist pulverizers, it’s all here in abundance. One line down the mountain and you’re wondering why you ever bothered battering your poor steed on the bumpy, rutted French trails, so tired from yearly traffic comparible to the M1.
My most recent trip was cut short before I even scratched the surface of Vallnord, however. My partner’s collarbone was claimed, not by the epic big mountain Vallnord, but it’s cheeky younger brother over in the sleepy little town of Soldeu.
A valid lesson was learned in the Pyrenees: do not underestimate Grandvalira bike park.
A single gondola and chairlift delivers you to the top of an endless possibility of runs. From fast rolling green to slide-down-on-your-arse-steep black, there is something for everyone in Grandvalira. It was our favourite warm-up trail that claimed Justin’s left collarbone. A blue run called Parabolica; a fast twisty singletrack run with fun little features to get the adrenaline flowing at the start of the day. Shame about the greasy muddy puddle to built up wooden berm line that launched Justin and his pretty new Morewood all the way to hospital. We renamed it Collarbonica in tribute.
Which brings me to mention another reason to holiday Pyreneean style rather than Alpine. The healthcare is fantastic! No more rude French medics carting your mate off to Geneva and not allowing them so much as a phone call home to mum or a mate in the ambulance to hold their hand; the Andorran mountain patrol team and paramedics were friendly, helpful and prompt, despite next to no English ability. A mere couple of hours after impact, Justin was strapped up, shoulders thrust back in a brace (he especially liked the 4 female nurses demonstrating the correct position), and he’d even learned a new word: clavicula.
It wasn’t all bad though. After what must have been a serious knocked to the head, 2 days later Justin proposed. What an awesome reason to come back.
Fancy a piece of Andorran riding?
Open from July-September select weekends in June, 3 days riding here will only set you back about 30 Euro, and if you’re especially tempted you can get a season in for under 100 Euro.
If self-guided isn’t your thing, drop a line to the guys at Singletrack Safari for ridiculously well priced all-in package deals.