So what’s Andorra really like as a mountain biking destination?

On Route 66 – my favourite trail at Vallnord
All (mountain bike loving) eyes will be focused upon La Massana, Andorra this week for the 2015 UCI MTB World Championships, so you may be wondering what this tiny little country has to offer for the committed weekend mountain biker?  Well, our family holiday this year substituted the French Alps for the Pyrenees to find out exactly that.

Andorra is not new to turning a winter ski destination into a year round playground to all things mountain, they first embraced the growing sport of mountain biking in 2005 when they officially opened as a summer MTB destination, they have since held 3 DH world cups, produced a world class DH’er (Cedric Garcia) and is the location for Commencal – the bike producer with an ever growing reputation.
However, researching Vallnord (it’s actually an area not a place!), accommodation and the type of trails proved to be both time consuming and challenging.  The few websites I could find were primarily in French, no working link to the trail map PDF and not a great selection of chalets to stay.
Nonetheless, we found a chalet big enough for 3 families in the pretty village of Arinsal, only a few miles from the chair lift in La Massana for the last week of July – with dodgy electrics, questionable décor and a pool that was only 1 degree from freezing but with views to die for, a hose and a fab double garage. 

The important bit – the mountain biking

 
One of the first things you will notice about Vallnord when you first take the cable car up to the main biking area is that there is no one there!  We didn’t queue once the whole week, although there are only three lifts.
Whilst the trails that are open were fun, challenging and fast – there wasn’t actually that many of them.  The bike map states that there are 19 trails in all, however several of the routes were either closed, not yet finished or didn’t seem to exist.
When we were there (summer 2015), there was only two routes to get from the bike park back to La Massana – Route 66 (red) and Maxi Avalanche (black).  The Route 66 was a ‘dark’ red, so if not confident then the cable car down is the only alternative or a very enjoyable pedal free ride down the road.
 I didn’t attempt any of the black trails, but tried all the others on offer – Route 66 being my favourite.  The route that I found doing repeatedly was Vallnord Top to Bottom (as I imaginatively named it) which comprised of Maxi Avalanche Superior (red), Skippy (blue) and Route 66 (red) – total descent of just under 2200 feet.   Arm pumping, calf burning, eye streaming, dusty smiling fabulousness J
Warning:- The trail map does not really correspond to what is on the ground – so if you are looking for the trails that go from the main bike park back to La Massana, then they are situated at the far end of the car park, took us several attempts to find them!
If you are taking the family then the green trail from the bike park is suitable for children (my 6 year old rode it several times) however the green La Serra trail would not be suitable for younger children as its steep, lots of scree and merges with other trails (as well as crosses over the black Cedric Garcia) – not very green!  The Commencal green trail is still in progress.
Natural riding
Two of our party decided to go find some natural riding with a mixture of success – a few u-turns, not so good descents and several ‘bloody brilliant’ ones – if you have the time then exploring is recommended – especially if you can extract some local knowledge – as the possibilities look very good indeed.
It is possible to cycle to the Spanish/Andorran border (at Port de Cabus viewpoint, alt. 2302 metres) from the bike park via a quiet mountain – paved – road.  The views are amazing, with dozens of vultures circling above, the possibility of finding some singletrack from the top is surely possible…
Other bits
Gryff practising at the BMX track
  • For a change of pace, there is a great bmx/pumptrack in Arinsal, the guy who runs the club there is super friendly
  • While we were there in July, Commencal were busy building a new shop and pump track in Erts, in time for the World Championships – and should be open at the time of writing

 

  • Lift passes:- very competitive! A 3/4/5/6 day pass (non-consecutive days) is 57/72/85/96Euro.  They also do one day pass with lunch for 27.50 euro, or ifyou fancy a bit of relaxing a one day pass and 3 hour entry into Caldea, a spa complex is 45 euro
  • Lift opening times:-  The cable car starts at 10am, with Telecadira La Serra II at 10.30 and Telecadira Cubil at 11am.  One morning we were first on the lift for Telecadira Cubil, and there was still no queue – just us and the lift attendant!

 

 
  • You can pick up these bike park maps from lots of places, don’t take it too literal as the routes don’t always start/end where the map shows!
  • If you are holidaying with young children then the bike park has a fun play area called PekePark, where they could easily while away the day as mum and dad do a tag team.  It’s great value too at 14 Euro for 7 and under for a full day, and that includes a lift pass!  They also rent full suspension Commencal bikes (from 20”) for children at the bike park shop.

 

La Massana does not have much charm, so don’t try and sell the idea of a quaint Pyranean town to potter around in to your other half – they would not be impressed.
 
If we went again, then I would definitely look at staying at the Xixerella campsite (in the fabulously named hamlet of Xixerella, a few kilometres outside of La Massana), they have camping/caravan pitches, lodges, an indoor swimming pool and is in a picturesque setting with a stream running alongside (bike wash au naturelle?)
Bike ridden/equipment – My faithful Orange 5 with downhill tyres (Magic Mary and Rock Razor – perfect for those dusty, bone dry trails) and extendable forks that I kept on the 160 setting – which was needed for those steep techy descents.  My riding partner – Vicky and I wore cross country helmets – not only were we pretty much the only females on the trails we were also pretty much the only ones not wearing full face helmets.  Made me feel slightly vulnerable but still managed to overtake a fair few dh’ers 😉

Overall opinion:-

Vallnord bike park is great for intermediates and advanced riders (definitely not one for beginners), it is cheaper, super friendly and a LOT quieter than the French Alps.  However it does have limited trail riding and would suggest a combination with a trip to Soldeu if there for a week or getting some local knowledge and exploring the natural trails.
Would I go there again? – Yes please! Just wish it wasn’t so far from the UK…
The view at the Andorra-Spain border
References

Andorra  map 1:25 000  (Govern d’Andorra) – essential if you are going to explore – a whole country on one 1:25 000 map, how cool is that?

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