In May, I spent a couple of hours in the tiny country of Andorra. Wedged between France and Spain in the Pyrenees, Andorra is an easy day trip from Barcelona. It is the sixteenth smallest country in the world and you can drive from the border to the midpoint of the country in under half an hour. I visited at lunchtime on a Saturday as part of a day trip through the region of Catalunya.
WHAT I LOVED
The drive between Barcelona and Andorra La Vella (the capitol city of Andorra) is gorgeous. You’ll cross through the craggy Pyrenees Mountains and expansive pale plains with mountains beyond. You’ll see horses and sheep, lakes and trees, and all manner of calming pastoral landscapes that are a lovely respite from bustling Barcelona.
The view from the mountains rocks. At the end of our stay, we drove halfway up a mountain to get an overview of Andorra. Our day would have been better spent if we’d done nothing but drive up mountains and look out at the views.
The potential for outdoor adventure is enormous. Hiking, skiing, mountain biking, snowboarding – if you can do it on a mountain you can do it in Andorra.
Andorra is weird. Andorra has never had their own currency, right now they use the Euro. It’s been over 1,000 years since Andorra was involved in a war. It is the only country in the world that claims Catalan as one of its official languages.
WHAT I DIDN’T LOVE
The food was uninspiring. The restaurant our tour guide recommended was closed because the owners were on vacation and he couldn’t recommend us anywhere else nearby to get traditional Andorran fare. So we ended up at a total tourist trap of a restaurant where the food was mediocre, the decor was stereotypically Alpine, but the red wine was excellent. We drank, we ate, and we moved on.
The shopping was just shopping. I’m not much of a shopper and making things duty-free doesn’t magically make me one. One of their biggest exports is tobacco and that’s so not me. I picked up a couple of kitschy Andorra magnets and fled for the bus.
The long lines at the border can totally suck. Because of all the duty-free shopping and tobacco smuggling, it can take a long time to exit Andorra. Customs officials are thorough in their assessment of your shopping, so sometimes you can sit at the border for a very long time waiting as officials check the people ahead of you and then, finally, you. Sometimes it’s a bit more lax or it’s a slow day and you’ll get lucky, but be prepared to wait.
WHAT I’D DO NEXT TIME
Stay at a spa. I’d spend two or three nights in Andorra to chill out from everything. I would splurge on some spa treatments and just enjoy a little luxury.
The spa time would balance out my athletic plans to go hiking or skiing. If it were summertime, I’d hike Coma Pedrosa, the highest mountain in Andorra, plus hike old medieval trails and in Sorteny Nature Park. Or perhaps I’d devise a plan to hike across the country stopping at spas in the evening.
In the winter, I’d ski and ski and ski, then drink hot chocolate and go to the spa.
I’d try to see what, if anything, is under the superficial shopping paradise skin everyone sees.
And then I’d flee to Barcelona or rural France.
Have you been to Andorra? What do you think?