In High Altitude with Soldeu, Andorra's Park Piolets Hotel
Those who read my blog know that I'm not taken by the idea of traditional hotels running things the same old way. I've stayed in enough hotels that I've already forgotten (perhaps intentionally), and so now I'm at a stage where I'm actively looking for places that take a different approach, or offer something that's worth the price tag. When I had the opportunity to come down to little Andorra and stay at Hotel Piolets Park & Spa, I took it, and that's largely because they seemed like they knew something I didn't. They knew what I was going to find out - that Andorra is a country that, though little, offers big, expansive views. They knew that even a travel blogger that had been to 70+ countries like myself was going to come to Andorra and adopt a stance in which my mouth was more or less permanently agape. And they knew that they were the base camp to Andorra, and they were going to effectively prove this to me.
What it really comes down to with this hotel is that it's not "near the mountains," it's beside them, it's in them, it's surrounded by them. You walk out your door, *boom* mountains. And, of course, this isn't lost on Hotel Piolets Park & Spa. You've got a mountain view and balcony on each and every room - all 150. I can tell you firsthand that Bri and I had our terrace sliding door open almost all the time to let in that fresh mountain air. I was joking with Joan Requena, an extremely hospitable and warm-hearted man who works with clients, that I was quite sure the air was delightfully intoxicating and aiding me in having some bizarre dreams. I also confided in him that it was awfully difficult to get out of the warm blankets in the morning. To this, he only nodded with a rather omniscient grin.
I know for a fact that this town, Soldeu, is famous because of its proximity to the foothills of the surrounding mountains for skiing. And, truthfully, the location of Hotel Piolets Park & Spa is ideal for quenching your skiing or snowboarding thirst - but being here in summer was a nature lover's dream come true. I'm Canadian, so I can certainly appreciate the beauty of the region with a layer or two of snow, but, I can also appreciate when the loudest sound in your vicinity is the rushing water of the stream just to your left, or the howling of the refreshing wind on your mountain hike (That being said, I hear rumours they've got a shuttle that runs to and from the ski hill in winter and a heated room for your ski equipment, so I may just have to roll on back in winter. I'm actually kind of serious about this).
Anyway, in step Mr. Joan Maria, a gentleman who made me laugh with ease and guided us around the surrounding mountains with even further ease. In the winter, I understand he works as a ski instructor and doesn't work as closely with the hotel, but Piolets Park & Spa assured me that part of their deal is that they work with the top people to provide top-notch experiences. And, by god, if Joan Maria isn't a top person, then I don't know who is.
I think you'd find that Bri would wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment.
As I was perusing through their website before my stay, I got the sense that activities were their thing, and I'm even more sure of that now. On the first night, Bri and I went on a night hike through the forest to a clearing in which we could observe the stars. We embarked on the journey with miner's style flashlights upon our heads, feeling cooler than cool itself. Though, before heading in the forest, I did snap a shot at dusk that gives an understanding of just how mountainous a region we're talking about. Before I arrived in Andorra I had this misguided sense that I'd be constantly saying "...oh wow, that's pretty nice for such a small nation." I never did end up saying that sentence (rightfully so, seeing as it doesn't sound all that great now that I've written it down). Andorra offers views and experiences that compare to anything, anywhere.
I should briefly take the opportunity to note that we had a very pleasant Belgian family join us on our night hike. I'd be remiss to not mention that on the whole, this is a family friendly hotel, and there were plenty of families abound who seemed to be all smiles.
The following morning, after this night-hike, which may or may not have ended with a touch of champagne, we tied up our laces for more adventure, and this time to the Pessons Lakes or Llac de Pessons. Give or take a 15 minute drive from the hotel, you arrive in an area in which the mountains around you form a fishbowl, and you pleasantly sit in the midst of it. In the immediate area, there are 22 lakes, all of which you can hike to, and all beautiful in their own right. Not to mention, all of this takes place above 2000 metres.
I feel like writing more will just take time away from you being able to appreciate the pictures below, and it's more than likely I'd run out of adjectives anyhow. It's funny, the scenery in Andorra almost looks like someone above has already used an Instagram filter, and you're just wondering what's real and what isn't.
It's certainly a travel blogger/photographer's playground. Speaking of that, you'll actually see in one photo below I'm laughing rather fervently. As I posed for a picture, Joan Maria began to joke with me that my pose was just too easy and I was adopting my "normal stance." To this, I burst out laughing, and there you have it. It's safe to say I did a lot of laughing and smiling at my time at Hotel Piolets Park & Spa.
After a lengthy hike we took refuge in what was, fittingly, an old refuge for weary travellers in the mountainous hills. We dined at Restaurant de Llac de Pessons, and it was equal parts rustic and scrumptious. We had some mountain rice (which is essentially paella from the Pyrenees), some marinated trout, cabbage and potato and a few other Andorran mountain classics. I got the sense that the origin of the food had a lot more to do with location (ie. the mountain) than abiding by any sense of country norms, or trying to create some nationalistic "Andorran food." Though, I also got the sense that I was trying unique dishes at this particular restaurant, whereas many of the other restaurants simply stuck to slight variations on Spanish tapas (no offence to Spanish tapas, which are undeniably a love of my life), French, Belgian, or other cuisines.
As we arrived back in the hotel lobby with slightly tired legs and mildly ballooning bellies, we considered our options and arrived unequivocally on the notion that, for no reason in particular, we deserved massages. Did we? Probably not, but, for that day, we were our own judges, and the court was not in session. And so we headed on down to the mountain spa, we booked a massage, and shortly thereafter, we were both bearing large smiles, allowing the combination of oil and sturdy hands to effectively melt us. I'm not afraid to admit I've had a few massages in my day. I got the sport massage here, and it was right on the money.
The following day, it was only right that we got back on the trails, seeing as there was no shortage of stunning landscapes in the area. The weather seemed to be shifting rather quickly, so we headed straight for Mirador Roc Del Quer in Joan Maria's trusty 4x4. Again, it's not far away at all from Hotel Piolets Park & Spa, but when you arrive, you feel like you're on a new planet. Based on what I saw in Andorra, this is likely the best view you can get your hands on.
We came down from these heights to slightly lower heights which were, generally speaking, still quite elevated. Joan took us to the Valle de Incles or Vall D'Incles, which is literally 600 metres from Hotel Piolets Park & Spa (location! location! location, folks!). Seeing as we had seen and done such incredible things the day prior, I should have been under the assumption that the views on the following day had to be less dramatic, right? Wrong.
The fresh scent of flowers was everywhere, and we felt as if we were walking in a painting. Looking at the picture above, I am reminded that this region is known almost entirely for winter sports, and that I ought to come back in a few months. But, I'm also reminded that there's no better time than the present, and I really couldn't have asked for more. We continued to walk, and we continued to appreciate what we saw.
I spent a lot of time around the hotel speaking with staff and trying to get a feel for the place. I was treated with kindness at every turn, but most importantly they seemed genuinely interested in reaching their full potential as a hotel. They were happy with all that they offered, but they were always looking ahead, seeing what they could do even better. I spoke to staff members at the front desk, and I spoke to the director himself, and that's what I gathered. They're willing to put in the time to continue to grow and push in the right direction. That's what I heard from them, and I believe it. They're undergoing massive renovations in the coming months (which I'm told will be ready by the winter season) and, you know what? I'm rooting for them.
Hotel Piolets Park & Spa see themselves as the warm, comfortable base for exploring Andorra, and they pull it off in spades.
I was received as media by Hotel Piolets Park & Spa, whom I humbly thank. Have you been to Soldeu or Andorra before? What did you think? What do you think about Hotel Piolets Park & Spa? What did you think about the pictures of Andorra? Please let me know any and all of your thoughts in the comments below. As you know, I respond to each and every one!
So don't hesitate, take a peek at prices for your trip!