Benvinguts! From Zaragoza, we cruised through the dry lands of Aragon on the 7th day of our first-time, family camping road trip across Europe. Our theme of driving through no-toll roads did not pay off since we were tailing butts of trucks for the most part. We headed east via AP-2, seeing nothing but brown fields and plateau rocks, until we passed Lleida when the Pyrenees started to reveal itself. Then, we climbed onward and upward towards a little known tiny country of Andorra, safely tucked between France and Spain.
3 Interesting Facts about Andorra
It’s a little dot on the map, but such an interesting place! Andorra, a country in the mountains, where at least 5 languages are commonly spoken: Catalan ( “They speak funny Spanish here, Tata!”, our son Karol says. It’s tricky. You recognize the words, but really cannot understand; and it’s the only country where Catalan is the official language), French and Spanish (naturally; its neighbors), English (great education system here, apparently), and Portuguese (what?!??!! Why here?).
Did you know that Andorra’s Head of State are the President of France and the Bishop of Urgell (a county in Catalonia, Spain)? Yup, apparently for since the 13th century, Andorra’s rulers have been the leader of France and the Spanish catholic Bishop of Urgell in some form of “shared sovereignty”.
Not quite THE richest people, but it’s up there. Andorra–the largest European microstate (among Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City) is among the top 15 countries with the highest GDP per capita, according to the World Bank in 2016.
Enough with tHE Fun facts, man! What’s a family-friendly thing to do in Andorra?
If you have only one day in Andorra, stop by the capital (Andorra-la-Vella) but don’t stay too long. Instead, head to the nearby mountain areas to enjoy the beauty of natural scenery. . . of the Pyrenees! Go for a family hike/trek, picnic with a view, or other outdoor activities appropriate to your little ones. . . such as dog-sledding!
If your little ones have the legs for it, go explore UNESCO World Heritage Site of Madriu-Perafita-Claror (about 15-minute drive from center, plus a 2-hour hike to the site) . Or go for a family morning walk and picnic at the rugged mountainside of Rec del Sola (about 15-minute drive from center). Start from Sant Ermengol for a downhill walk. This we did not do and realized later what we missed. So, I share this with you to save you some time and an “ooopppssyy-doopsy, what a big DUMMY!” moment.
We need to get a little more fit to hike, trek, and/or wander wildly in the rugged mountain beauty of Andorra. But the views from where we had been were still quite rewarding. However, what we GO-SLOW-FAMILY did see in the city center of Andorra la Vella was enough for one day and was also quite impressive and exciting for the kiddos!
GO-SLOW FAMILY, one day itinerary in andorra la vella
1st stop: Walk around the old historic center (Barri Antic), through the narrow streets, small squares and old houses constructed using traditional techniques and well-preserved for centuries (with a touch of modernity where needed, of course). This is a hilly, yet not-so-difficult, walk even if you have a pram/stroller with you. Check out Sant Esteve Parish Church and Casa de la Vall (home to the Andorran parliament, with a wide open square next to it) which showcases traditional Andorran architecture. Discover cozy little bars around the corner, like the Hostel Barric Antic with a Harley Davidson motorcycle in front, and quench your thirsts with some local brews. Have lunch with traditional Andorran/Pyrenean mountain cuisine at Plaça del Poble (town square) because there’s a nice playground (parc infantil) for the little ones and a beautiful view for everyone.
2nd stop: Work your way towards C. Prat de la Creu and cross the river (Riu Gran Valira) towards Parc Central–the biggest green space in the urban capital. It’s big and there’s plenty of shade! And it has many different spaces, playgrounds and free play areas, including a water play area and a skate park!. It’s modernized and has all the facilities you need, such as toilets, bars and restaurant. Afterwards have a meditative roar along the rushing river.
3d stop: Andorra la Vella is supposedly a shopping capital. But that is not for us, so, we skipped that. But it is not hard to miss when you’re there. Instead, if you still have the energy and will power, this slow-go family recommends going up to the Rec de Sola. WARNING: It is a 1.5-kilometer walk from Parc Central… UPHILL! It may be better to have this as your first stop. Your reward, if you make it up there? A beautiful view of the valley below and the rugged mountains, and a chance to take it all in while having a picnic (or as Karol would say, “PIGnic”!). Apparently the hiking path is flat and low difficulty–perfect for family walks.
That’s just Andorra in the summer
And that is just Andorra la Vella (the capital) and nearby areas. If you go farther out, you can explore countless hiking and mountain paths, lakes, scenic views, mountain climbing, cycling, national parks, and (especially for the kids) Naturlandia, and Mon(t) Magic–a family park in Canillo with a 550-meter Zipline/Tirolina at 40 meters height! Imagine what you can do in the winter in this mountainous country, 90% of which remains wild . . skiing, sledding and other winter activities could be something else! I’m looking forward to dog-sledding for the next time around.
Tips when visiting andorra
- BETTER ROUTE. From Spain, for next time take the northern no-toll road towards Huesca for a more picturesque mountain route towards Andorra.
- BORDER CONTROL. No border stop. There was one person at a border booth who waved us through. There were no cars stopped or being inspected.
- GAS/BENZIN. Tank up for gas in Spain. It’s more expensive to tank up in Andorra. Surprisingly though, gas was cheaper in Andorra than in France and Italy.
- CELL PHONE. Be aware that Andorra is not part of the EU. So, roaming charges may apply. And it could be significant! One of our pay-as-you-go phones, consumed close to 50 euros in charges just by entering and driving through Andorra. I think this was due to the automatic updates, etc. Another “ooopppssyy-doopsy, what a big DUMMY!”. Lessons learned!
But why the name Andorra? Let us know… Like. Share. Leave your comments below.
Next: Coming down the mountain. . . camping in Agde, France.