Amazing Andorra Back to Nature
Country number 88, or officially ‘principality’. Whatever it wishes to be titled, it’s still a new destination and one we were finally happy to reach after many years of discussion. This really has been the year of visiting microstates having visited San Marino earlier in the year! So why this year and why Andorra? Seeing as though we are residing in one of its neighbours, Spain, why not? It may take an eight-hour drive to get there, but we felt it would be worth it. So would our three-day trip be worth the fuel and fatigue? We think the title might be a giveaway as we journey not just to Andorra, but Amazing Andorra!
Amazing Andorra The Pyrenees Are Calling
Over the years we have travelled we always looked out for those unique destinations, places where many have not heard of and places within easy reach of our home! Andorra certainly ticked those boxes as many have never even heard of it before. Some may even struggle to find it on a map! For those of you who still don’t know where it is we’ll keep it simple. Andorra is a landlocked microstate on the Iberian Peninsula, in the eastern Pyrenees, bordered by France to the north and Spain to the south. As we are based in south eastern Spain it is a destination which could be reached by car. That’s a relief as there are no airports in the principality and no train stations either within its borders.
The principality is located about three hours drive from Barcelona. A fact we were well aware of on the few occasions we visited the city in the past. However in each instance we failed to make it to Andorra, despite our best intentions and relative close proximity. Perhaps it wasn’t the correct time and 2019 would be the right moment to visit. We made the move to Spain just over two years ago back in 2017, and for the most part we have highly enjoyed the experience. Blue skies, beaches, good food, and for most of the year, a more laid back and relaxed pace of life. We truly appreciate how truly lucky we are. However, like most things in life,a change is as good as a rest as the old saying goes!
Amazing Andorra Twists and Tolls
During hot summer months here it can be a nice relief to escape and enjoy some fresher air and greener pastures! As a self-confessed sun worshipper I never thought I would utter those words! To escape the heavy Mediterranean air there is only one direction to go and that is north. With Andorra being a very popular get away for many Spaniards and French people alike.
We took the road north from our home south of Alicante in Spain on a Thursday afternoon. Both excited but keen to get to our destination later that evening. We passed the beautiful city of Valencia north via the tolled motorways (approx €20) by passing Barcelona and Tarragona before reaching the principality of Andorra. The drive was uneventful as the late evening sun dropped to reveal another typical Spanish summer’s night.
Our first inkling that we were close to our destination were the road signs written in another language. The language in question being Catalan, the official language of Andorra. Andorra being the only country in the world where Catalan is the official language! However, we’re sure there are many in Catalonia who would like at least one more country with that designation!! We continued on, moving through the many tunnels leading into the nation as we climbed higher and higher along pristine roads towards the capital, Andorra la Vella.
We had expected a border patrol point but I guess after 10pm at night the guards felt like going home as we drove through deserted check points. We passed through the charming capital city of Andorra La Vella, before making our way higher and higher upwards towards our destination at Lake Engolasters in the Encamp parish of Andorra. After arriving just before 11pm we settled into bed eagerly anticipating an interesting couple of days ahead in this co-principality.
Amazing Andorra…Princes Who Adore You!
(A principality is a place ruled by a prince. Monaco is an example of a principality. Andorra, however, is a co-principality. They have two princes who jointly share the title of prince. Surprisingly, neither of the two princes are from Andorra. One prince is the President of France, Emmanuel Macron. The other co-prince is the Bishop of Urgell, who is currently Joan Enric Vives Sicília. The position is a constitutional one similar to the British Monarchy and holds no real power. Except for limited things, the two princes must exercise their authority together, not separately. This is the only country where one of their heads of state (the President of France) is democratically elected by another country. The other prince, the bishop, is appointed by the head of state of another country (the Pope).
Amazing Andorra On Top of Europe
Upon waking the next morning we took our first glimpse of this nation’s beauty in daylight from our bedroom window. We opened the shutters to reveal the most spectacular view of thick green deciduous trees. Not to mention the stunning, crystal clear lake directly below us. Could this be heaven we thought?
After a welcome breakfast we jumped into the car and made our way down the mountain towards Andorra La Vella. Our first stop, minutes from our accommodation, was The Iglesia de Sant Miquel d’Engolasters Church. It is Romanesque in origin and was built before the 12th century. It has a rectangular floor with a single nave and semicircular apse. The temple also has a bell tower and an arcade added later. This church, like many others in Andorra, is idyllicaly located allowing you to enjoy incredible panoramic views over Andorra la Vella. We took the opportunity to gaze out over the capital city below and marvel at the incredible mountain peaks which tower above.
After taking in the incredible views it was time to stop off in the city below and do some exploring. With a population of under 25,000 people it wouldn’t take too long but we weren’t here to live life in the fast lane!! We parked the car in one of the many reasonably priced city centre car parks (approx 60 cents per hour) before making our way around on foot.
We passed the unusual Noblesse du Temps, a striking sculpture by the celebrated Salvador Dali. Also known as “the Nobility of Time” or “the Dali Clock”, the intriguing sculpture depicts a melting clock on a tree trunk, surrounded by statues. The tall statue is meant to show how precious time actually is, and how time can fade away so quickly without us even realising.
Amazing Andorra…And There’s More!
We then crossed over the Gran Valira River via the Bridge of la Margineda which dates back to the medieval era. The views are spectacular, encompassing the mountains in the distance and hill in the foreground, along with the river itself and the diverse buildings, old and new, of the capital. It was then time to just sit, relax and enjoy the late summer weather in the serene Parc Central. Here school kids played football with their teachers on a bright sunny afternoon and older citizens sat and relaxed.
After a nice lunch, we walked by the National Stadium and nearby headquarters of Andorra TV before returning to our base at Lake Engolasters to enjoy a late afternoon walk around the tranquil lake. An added bonus to our walk around the lake was the installation of Andorran art. Known as L’Andart the works of art are concentrated in a single physical space on Lake Engolasters, more specifically in the FEDA facilities. The 3rd Andorra Landart Biennial was inaugurated in June, with the presence of all Escaldes-Engordany authorities and Mr. Xavier Espot, Head of the Andorran Government. The works will be installed in the natural environment of Engolasters Lake, until September 14th, 2019.
Amazing Andorra A Work Of Art
The main goals of the Andorra Land Art International Biennial are:
– To attract a new type of tourism. One that moves for cultural reasons, particularly at a time of year when the country tends to attract less tourism;
– Increase the international prestige of Andorra as a country that has made a commitment to culture and art, with a bold proposal that goes beyond the conventional offers;
– To convey to society the message that the Andorran environment and artistic heritage are two values that need to be underscored and brought to light, both inside and outside of the country;
– Promote the presence of national artists and bring them into contact with other prestigious artists from around the world who will be taking part in the Biennial;
– To spur the entire Andorran society, particularly the future generations (young people and children), to become involved, so as to conceive art as a basic element of contemporary culture.
Amazing Andorra Hitting The Slopes
We took some pictures of these interesting pieces, all the while enjoying the peace and tranquility whilst sipping on some cava we took from home. A fantastic way to end a wonderful day.
The following day started in the same vein as the day before, bright sunshine and clear blue skies and cool temperatures which rise sharply in the early afternoon. We drove down the mountain towards the town of Encamp where you could take a funicular (Funicamp) up the steep mountain slopes to the area of Solanelles. Solanelles is where you’ll find the top of the slopes and one of the best panoramic views across the whole territory. Being one of the longest cable cars in Europe the journey lasts about twenty minutes but it was well worth the 10 euros each to enjoy some of the best views in the whole nation and possibly continent!
It was a pleasure to look down at the herds of mountain goats, walkers and cyclists as we climbed steadily higher and higher. It also helped as we were one of the few people using the funicular at the time. With our own private gondola we felt like the only two people in the country! After our trip to the sky it was time to make our way back to terra firma. Next up a trip to the nearby town of Soldeu located in the parish of Canillo. The village has various hotels, bars, restaurants, as well as ski and snowboard shops.
Apparently Soldeu is popular with British and Irish tourists, and English is spoken in many shops and restaurants. The village was eerily quiet on this September afternoon, however it comes alive in the winter months as a ski town, and is part of the Grand Valira ski resort, the largest in the Pyrenees with 205 km (127 mi) of ski runs. According to The Sunday Times, Soldeu is one of the three best budget skiing resorts in Europe.
Amazing Andorra Shop Til You Drop
We made our way back to Andorra La Vella to enjoy a nice meal and drink before exploring The Church of Santa Coloma, which is one of the oldest in Andorra. Dating to the pre-Romanesque period, it was built between the 8th and 9th centuries. Its current appearance comes from the refurbishment carried out during the 12th century, when the four-storey Lombard-style circular bell tower was added. It is only one in Andorra and one of the few found in the Pyrenees. Adjacent is the old village of Santa Coloma, which, although short is well worth exploring.
After all that sightseeing it was time to make our way towards another attraction in Andorra La Vella’s old quarter, Casa de la Vall, which was previously home to Andorra’s Parliament. Built in the late 1500s as a private residence for a wealthy family, it represents the style of a traditional grand Catalonian house. Nearby was a nice coffee shop where we stopped to enjoy a coffee and croissant and take in the stunning views which seem to be found in every corner of this city. We could not come to Andorra and not partake in some shopping which is one of the things this small nation is famous for. The city comes alive on a Saturday afternoon with locals and out of towners searching for a bargain in one of the many, many stores from electronics, to jewellery to fashion.
Andorra has a relatively long history as a shopping destination. In the last couple of decades of Franco’s dictatorship, it was a very popular destination for Spaniards looking to buy restricted goods. Between then and deeper European integration, Andorra was basically a tax-free zone that drew tourists from France and Spain who wanted to avoid paying sales taxes. These advantages are no longer as extreme, but Andorra is still a prime target for travellers who shop.
Amazing Andorra Hungry for More
All that walking and shopping can make you hungry. Fortunately we enjoyed a delicious local meal…..a Japanese and Mexican fusion restaurant!! Ok it’s not exactly local cuisine but it was delicious and we highly recommend sushi and gong. Before we knew it the night sky had appeared before us as we exited the restaurant. The city streets were alive and the car parks emptying full of satisfied shoppers. It was time to go back to our hotel and reflect on a wonderful time. We truly did enjoy our time in Andorra and I almost had to drag Paula away from the hotel! Being a nature lover this place was perfect for her. Alas it was time to get back to the real world. The bills won’t pay themselves!!
As we departed through border control and customs we said one last goodbye to this magical place, vowing to return someday. Who knows we may come back to ski? Although as a man in my late thirties who has never placed a foot on a pair of skis, I don’t think I will start now. I don’t fancy breaking any bones!!
So what made Andorra so special for us? Every new destination is special to us and each brings its own identity and positive aspects. For us Andorra was extremely clean. Coming from a tourist-dominated area we have seen how many have little respect for the local environment with littering posing a major problem. Andorra is so clean that the government covers the public bins with attractive artwork to make it look more appealing! Furthermore the clean mountain air was a pleasure to inhale into my Cystic Fibrosis affected lungs. Up there with some countries I previously mentioned in my blog, Cystic Fibrosis friendly nations.
Amazing Andorra Living Up To Expectations
Finally the sheer beauty of the nation. Who couldn’t be enamoured with the pretty streets and mountains providing a spectacular background at every corner? No wonder most people here seemed more relaxed. There was no jostling or pushing on the streets and no aggressive and impatient driving on the roads. Although not the easiest nation in the world to reach we definitely recommend a visit. The old saying goes, good things come in small packages, amazing Andorra, you certainly didn’t fail to deliver!
Amazing Andorra Logistics
Two regular lines connect the parishes and the main stops are on the busiest roads in the urban centres. The tickets can be bought on the bus itself. The services usually run from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
EXPRESS BUS: This is the fastest, most frequent line which connects the urban centres of Escaldes-Engordany and Sant Julià de Lòria to the capital. The route crosses the country on side roads to avoid the town and village centres. The express bus is identified by its orange colour. The stops are located in the outskirts of the towns and villages.
INTERURBAN LINES: The interurban public transport service connects all of the towns on six different lines crossing the urban centres. Each parish has a municipal transport service which connects the small villages not covered on the main routes. You will find the stops in the main streets and avenues of the urban centres.