Impressions from Andorra
In the south-west Europe, at the heart of the Pyrenees Mountains and among the countries of France and Spain, lays the small state officially known as the principality of Andorra. It happened all-too-often that tourists planning trips overlook this small piece of heaven, and at their own cost.
The peculiarities of Andorra leave no one indifferent. To its small population of roughly 80,000, which resembles more that of a township, one can add the fact that it is the only state with Catalan as official language. And, what is more, Spanish, Portuguese and French are spoken here in almost equal proportions.
Another oddity consists in that Andorra had until recently no official currency even though starting with 2002 the Euro was used as a de facto currency. Only in 2014 did the small state start to print its own Euros, pursuant to the accord signed with the Euro-zone. It is noteworthy that the Internet and phone services provider is Andorra Telecom, because when visiting the small country tourists have to take into account that the fares for these services can be higher than in their home countries. While it does not have an official religion, the constitution of Andorra emphasizes the importance of the Catholic Church. The government system is parliamentary co-principality in which the head of state’s job resembles greatly that of the Spanish co-principality, being shared between the Bishop of Seo de Urgel and the French president. At the same time, the territory is divided in seven parishes: Canillo, Encamp, Ordino, La Massana, San Julián de Loria, Escaldes-Engordany and finally, Andorra la Vieja, the capital of the Andorran state.
Andorra la Vella
Andorra la Vieja (Old Andorra) or Andorra la Vella, as it is known in Catalan, is placed at 1,123 meters above sea level. At this altitude it is the highest capital in Europe, while being surrounded by the Pyrenees gives it a high-mountain Mediterranean climate. During the winter the snow covers everything and the temperatures usually fall under 0oC, while in summer the temperatures rarely raise above 30oC. The small state is renowned for commerce and its tax-free bank system, even though the latter has been undergoing changes in the years of late. Without being a UE member state, Andorra enjoys a special relation with the UE and it is treated accordingly, for example in the realm of manufactured goods. The foreign investments and the trade in furniture, tobacco or cognac are among the many attractions for the tourists, not to mention the gas prices which even today allow for savings of 20 cents per liter.
How to travel to Andorra?
After this short introduction to the country and its capital, let’s see how we can reach to Andorra. The only way of doing it is over land, by its road system. Although there are projects for linking it with Barcelona by train, these will be in drawing-board state for the foreseeable future. If we like to travel by plane, the closest airports are the Spanish Lérida and Girona, but the most recommendable is Barcelona’s El Prat airport due to flight frequency. At the same time, France offers the options of the Toulouse and Perpiñán airports. Evidently the major impediment to increasing the venues of transportation is represented by the surrounding mountains, mountains that at the same time constitute a magnet for tourists. In case we prefer to travel by train and then to transfer by bus we can use the French station of L’Hospitalet-près-l’Andorre. Naturally, there are various routes that link the Andorran capital with the more populous centers in Catalonia. If we drive our own car, coming from Barcelona we can travel along the C-16 and subsequently follow then-260. The entry to Andorra in this case will be the Leridan municipality of La Seu d´Urgell. This venue consists of toll roads, to include the 5-kilometer Cadi tunnel that will take you across the land with the same name, tunnel that links the territories of Alto Berguedá and Cerdaña. In 2016 the toll for using the Cadi tunnel was 11.57 Euros. If we are trying to avoid the road tolls the routes will be sensibly longer, following the A-2, the C-14 and connecting once more with the N-145 at La Seu d´Urgell. To arrive at Andorra la Vella coming from France the tourist will go along the N-22 and the CG-2, a mountain route of rare beauty.
We already know little bits about the country, its capital and we have seen how to reach Andorra la Vella. Now we must consider other factors important in planning the perfect holiday. First and foremost, finding lodging will be difficult especially in winter. This is the main reason why it is advisable that you book rooms well in advance at a hotel with a parking lot, being more cost-efficient to do this than to book a hotel room and to look for a paid parking lot in the vicinity of the hotel.
Where to live in Andorra la Vella ?
When it comes to choosing a place to live for the duration of the holiday the range of choices is rather varied, going from hotels to rural houses, in the mountains as well as in the capital proper. In Andorra la Vella the main hotels are placed either in the vicinity of the river Valira or on the border with the neighboring parish of Escaldes-Engordany. Obviously the distances are not significant, so the main goal should be to find a hotel that suites our necessities, keeping in mind that most of the lodging place that to be found in the neighboring parishes, with the exception of Andorra la Vella and Escaldes-Engordany, will require public transportation or a privately owned car. Especially the northern parishes are high-mountain ones, for these the distances measured in length might be treacherous, given the altitude. In a normal case it would recommendable to choose a hotel on the Escaldes-Engordany – Andorra la Vella border which places most of the tourist attractions within an acceptable range.
Where to eat in Andorra la Vella
In so touristic a city as Andorra la Vella, finding a restaurant should not constitute a problem. However we have to take into account that the more relaxed Mediterranean opening hours, that apply for example in Spain, do not apply in Andorra as well. Even though there are restaurants that are open late in the night, most of them close before 23.00, to include the fast food ones. The Andorran gastronomy is more in tune with the Catalan one. Sausages of all sorts occupy an important place in the basic diet, with the pork sausage being the most important. The usual dishes are vegetable soups, cado – a type of food that mixes cabbage, potatoes and beans, as well as farcellets, basically cabbage rolls filled with minced meat. And while in Andorra do not allow yourself to miss the opportunity of tasting the famous ratassia, a liquor made from different herbs that only grow here, the ideal digestive. At the same time, game meats, fish and season foods are available in a wide array in the Andorran restaurants. During our stay in Andorra we visited the Era Bauro Cerveceria (The Era Bauro Brewery) where we were offered a taste of numerous types of home-made beers. In the same vein, if you are a beer aficionado you can also cross the doorstep of Boris, a pub managed by a German national, located in downtown Andorra la Vella. The plates served here will only open up one’s appetite for good beer and that is where Boris excels.
If we want to eat a full meal or just to take a snack, another choice might just as well be El Refugi Alpi. Their offer is based on the French alpine cuisine, with such specialties as cheese fondue, grilled meats and fish. Here one can enjoy a snack on the terrace or eat romantic dinners in the restaurant’s magnificent saloons. It is especially enjoyable dining on the upper floor with its incredible view over the river Valira. Those who have been here have nothing but thumbs-up reviews about the way they were treated, beside the fabulous taste of the food. As to the prices, eating here can generally cost you anywhere between 10 and 35 Euros per person.
If we go a little farther from the center, in Escaldes-Engordany, very close to the Caldea spa, we will find a place called Jaleo, a bar and restaurant with both Andalus and American influences. With modern decorations, Jaleo offers a varied array of food choices combined in menus or a la carte. Eating here on a week day will cost you around 11 Euros per person, without drinks.
To put an end to this section of recommendations, and if you adore mountain settings, you can as well visit the restaurant in Vall Nord Pal, a ski resort destination for week-ends. Nice at all times, the restaurant offer incredible views at night when different urban centers become visible, Andorra la Vella among them.