Hard to believe sitting on an outdoor balcony in the Pyrenees dressed only in a bathrobe in sub-zero temperatures could remotely be termed ‘comfortable’ – but with a Cuban cigar in one hand and a glass of Armagnac in the other, I felt life couldn’t get much better.
This image sums up my final evening at the four-star Grau Roig Hotel & Spa in Andorra, made all the more delightful following a unique dining experience fashioned by general manager Dúnia Sans Marfany in the hotel’s intimate subterranean ‘red room.’
Over the last two decades, the 46-year-old Andorran-born mother of four – with hospitality genes dating back over a century to the pioneering days of her grandfather – has shaped this 42-room property into a popular resort that entices regular return clients from countries as diverse as Russia, France, China, Spain and Norway, not to mention Andorrans from all walks of life.
What began life in 1974 as a simple mountain refuge serving hot and cold drinks opened by a local ski-lift operator, has evolved into a multi-faceted property so close to Grandvalira Ski Resort 2,100 meters above sea level that you can almost stretch your hand out and touch the snow crystals. The ski lift itself is a mere 50 meters away.
Trained in the famed hospitality school in Lausanne and then in Parisian hotels, Dúnia returned to her native land in her early ‘20s to make her mark on a property her father, Jaume, purchased at an auction.
Constructed from what Dúnia describes as ‘noble materials,’ wood – mainly fir and oak – as well as stone, the hotel reflects local charm combined with sophisticated utilitarianism.
Reached along a serpentine road, less than 15 minutes from the French border, guests enjoy convenient ample parking with a young multi-national staff, many from Argentina, eager to help with luggage collection.
The walls of a cozy reception area are festooned with mountain artifacts, snowshoes, old wooden skis and a snow shovel. Next to it is a leisure room with soft armchairs, and – interestingly – glass tables resting on large wood and leather bellows. The warm glow from an open fire and a selection of daily newspapers in French, Spanish and English provide added comfort.
Automatic sliding doors open to a sloping hallway leading to two of hotel’s restaurants, La Marmita, where we were served breakfast, and La Vaqueria, with walls and glass-fronted shelves decorated with traditional items associated with mountain life – an ice axe, lanterns, wooden skies, even an old wooden cheese-maker. A central bar is well-stocked, with around 400 varieties of wine alone. Guests can either sit inside at polished wooden tables or enjoy an alfresco experience on the terrace under space heaters.
Here lunch and dinner is served, not just for skiers, but for friends and family seeking an escape from the capital city, Andorra la Vella, 15 kilometers away. We relished a dish of roasted artichoke and crisp, small squid, prawns and garlic served with glasses of 2009 Quatro Pagos Rioja aged in French oak for over a year.
Down a sloping corridor is a more informal, bar, with bookshelves and a flaming open-faced stove creating the perfect après-ski ambience. Below this, in the basement, is Dunia’s special creation – the unique dining experience of Restaurant El Teatre del Vi in an intimate ‘red room’ designed for three tables where multiple courses, a mix of fish and meat dishes, are served with wine pairings and champagne.
Beside it, behind a wall of glass, is an exclusive wine cellar containing rare bottles of Petrus and a Jerez from 1931, as well as a 1999 Romanee Conti, valued at around 24,000 euro, and a Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1945, worth over 100,000 euro.
The tasting menu offered here is fit for a king, with gourmet ingredients such as truffles, foie gras, caviar, lobster and venison, all served in very creative combinations. A surprise ending tingles in your mouth like mini-fireworks – a biscuit that sizzles on your tongue as it melts.
The hotel also has a private room designed for groups of up to 20 people, be that for corporate events or family celebrations.
Surrounded by scenic mountains with around 70 lakes, the Grau Roig hotel is an attractive location in any season, perfect for winter sports as well as spring-summer hiking, with a spa featuring a fitness center, hot tub, a small indoor swimming pool, sauna and hammam, plus massage and beauty treatment rooms, providing welcome relaxation after outdoor exertions.
We stayed in room 108, which featured a minibar, satellite TV, ensuite bathroom with Bvlgari toiletries, and accessories such as a hairdryer, slippers and bathrobes. Our small outdoor terrace allowed us to bask in the beautiful scenery and watch skiers up-close. Hotel staff also organize excursions for guests including high altitude dinners, snow-trekking, walking tours while a children’s playground keeps younger family members content.
If you’re seeking a get-away close to spectacular mountain scenery with a selection of restaurants and nearby ski and hiking facilities, check-out the Grau Roig Hotel & Spa – and do it quickly as it may become even more popular as it is expected to be upgraded to five-star later this year.