Andorra, la Bella

A year ago, if someone had asked, “point to Andorra”, I would have clumsily skimmed through a map of Europe before frustratingly caving in and Googling the country on my tablet. However, all great discoveries happen by accident, and an impromptu suggestion from my misses certainly was one of the best ‘accidents’ we have ever encountered.

The word ‘microstate’ never crossed my mind when describing a travel spot. Whilst planning a weekend birthday getaway in Barcelona, we glanced north of Spain’s Catalonia region and found tiny Andorra, nestled quietly between the Spanish-French border. We then recalculated our itineraries and then quickly hired a car online.

The country, also known as the Principality of the Valleys of Andorra, is wholly encapsulated within the Pyrenees mountains and is a healthy blend of ski resort, nature reserve, open-air history museum, duty-free shopper’s paradise, and yes, a tax haven. Catalan is the official language, but Spanish, French, and Portuguese are also widely spoken in addition to English in order to accommodate tourists from all over.

Founded in 1278, the country is one of a few in the world ruled by a co-principality (a power share between two princes); currently ruled by the President of France (now Emmanuel Macron) and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Urgell (now Joan Enric Vives i Sicilia).

The country is a scenic collage of gigantic mountains, gondolas, Romanesque and Baroque architecture, forests, and quaint villages surrounding its capital, Andorra la Vella. We arrived at the easternmost part of Andorra via the French border to a town known as Pas de la Casa (literally, “the pass of the house” due to only one shepherd’s house existing here until the 20th century). The city has since become a vibrant ski resort complete with specialty shops, restaurants, and accommodations for every budget.

In order to dodge an approaching snowstorm, we drove early in the morning along the CG-2, a weaving motorway stitched across Andorra’s mountainous brow, to visit the other cities. We passed quickly through Ordino, a village linked to Andorra’s rich medieval heritage, for a brief stroll and coffee break, and then into Andorra la Vella; the star attraction.

The following photos are some of our favourite takeaways from what we experienced:

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Our fluffy friend Fry greeting customers at Oh! Burger Lounge. Pas de la Casa features many specialty restaurants and duty free stores, and is a great start for an Andorran excursion. This was a great place for an aperitif pit-stop, offering tapas, pastas, and a host of wines and beers.
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The raclette, a traditional Swiss meal named after the cheese melted in small handled saucepans along with various grilled cuts of chorizo, Milanese salami, Prosciutto cotto, as well as pickles and potatoes. This is a staple meal during Andorra’s frigid winters, especially during the ski season. Ours did not last long, and neither did we, but we look forward to the next drowsy battle.
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A view of the Pyrenees mountains from our resort, overlooking Pas de la Casa’s skyline. Here is arguably Andorra’s highest point in altitude (about 2,800 metres above sea level), where one can access Andorra’s Grandvalira ski resort, the Encamp parish, and the Pic d’Envalira. Our snowstorm is waiting just above the mountains, indicating that it’s time to make haste.
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Sant Pere del Pas de la Casa, the local Parish. The church itself is relatively new (about a decade old), but wholeheartedly Andorran with its perfectly sloped rooftops and cottage-style masonry reminiscent of many older and more traditional buildings.
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We really enjoyed the architecture and masonry of Andorra’s many villages. This one, Ordino, lies just north of Andorra la Vella and is quite famous for architecture, especially along the Verdageur Route, where the famous Renaissance writer Mossèn Cinto Verdaguer explored the country. It is also home to the Ordino Complex; a vast and ultramodern architectural gallery.
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The Church of Saint Corneli and Saint Sebrià, a 12th century Romanesque church and important relic of Ordino’s history. Situated in the Old Town, it features 17th century Baroque renovations in its interior and is a symbol of the country’s outstanding medieval past.

 

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Us standing before the Puente de Paris, a small but iconic suspension bridge in the heart of the city. Designed and constructed by Carlos Fernández Casado, this is the second most selfie-ready landmark in Andorra after its neighbour, Il Noblesse du Temps.
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Salvador Dali’s Il Noblesse du Temps statue in the city centre–a larger version of his surrealist masterpiece, the Persistence of Memory (Persistance de la Mémoire). We had to wait quite some time to get a photo at this landmark, so expect a queue during your visit.
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Casa de la Vall, the official seat of the General Council of Andorra within the Historic Centre (Old Quarter) of Andorra la Vella. It is one of the oldest Parliaments in Europe (16th century) and housed both the administrative and judicial branches of government during its use.
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The Church of Sant Esteve, an 11th century Romanesque church sat in the Old Quarter of Andorra La Vella. The building was restored in the 20th century and features excellent works of art, including two Baroque altars and the 18th century Painting of the Souls.
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Meritxell Avenue, the largest shopping district in the Pyrenees. Andorra is completely duty-free and shoppers can get their fix of the latest fashion, ski equipment, coffee, bakeries and restaurants here.
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The Congress Centre, a public facility for hosting events, parties, meetings, and discussions for the entire city. The facility offers stunning views of the city landscape and is surrounded by a public park, complete with benches, playgrounds, and a coffee shop.
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Parc Central Footbridge, designed by Daniel Gelabert Fontova. A very intriguing modern landmark in Andorra, it is the primary footbridge used to cross the Gran Valira River from the north and features a unique fishbone design.

For more information, kindly visit Turisme d’Andorra, the official website of Andorra’s tourism industry. For car hires to travel to Andorra, kindly visit Goldcar Budget Rentals.

 

 

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