After celebrating Christmas Eve in a cozy little cabin in the Pyrenees (the mountain range between the French and the Spanish border), you would have thought we’d be spending Christmas Day cozying up in blankets on the couch while binge-eating leftovers and watching jolly old Christmas flicks on TV. But, as the cabin wasn’t ours, we instead spent the early hours packing away all the decorations, all the gifts and our belongings, before handing over the keys to the owner and getting back in the car. We didn’t want to go home quite yet, though. After all, we were only a one hour drive away from Andorra; the micro-state you might have heard of, and probably don’t know anything about at all.
Well, neither did I. Except from it being a tiny place up in the Pyrenean mountains somewhere. For some reason, I also always thought it was Spanish. Turns out it’s French. Fun fact; the elected president of France automatically becomes the prince of Andorra during his presidency. Which means, currently Emmanuel Macron is a prince.
Even though Andorra is technically French, the locals don’t speak the language. Not as a first language, anyway. You see, when we first arrived in Andorra, we went to the nearest gas station to tank (as the prices are way lower than in France) and used the opportunity to go to the bathroom while we were there. Having just learned that Andorra is French, we didn’t think twice before greeting the staff with a Bonjour and asking if we could use les toilettes. The guy and the girl behind the counter looked rather offended, and pointed towards a sign that said “lavabos” – which, in Catalan, means bathrooms. Gotcha.
Driving into the capital city, we saw more and more restaurant signs, street signs and billboards written in Catalan. Some in Spanish, too. And occasionally, a sign here and there written in French. The official language is, yeah you guessed it; Catalan.
“Tax-free” as it is, Andorra is quite a popular destination for money-saving shopaholics, smokers, drinkers and fill-the-cupboards-with-all-sorts-of-bargains kinda food-shoppers. With its Tax Haven-reputation, it’s not really surprising that Andorra attracts a lot of deep pocketed expatriates, driving around in their fancy cars and flaunting their wealth.
But Andorra is so much more than just that. Home to Europe’s largest spa complex (Caldea), and a popular holiday destination for those who enjoy skiing, after-skiing, and (my favorite) relaxing in a jacuzzi or an indoor pool in one of the charming mountain resorts.
Sadly, my in-laws, my boyfriend and I, didn’t get to enjoy the spa (closed) nor shopping (closed), and not even the ski stations (no ski equipment). That’s how it is when you’re foolish enough to leave the house on Christmas Day. Nothing is open. Everyone’s at home watching Christmas flicks and cocooning on the couch. Just like we’d normally do.
Despite (mostly) everything being closed, the hours spent visiting Andorra were totally worth it. Driving past snow-covered mountains and stopping to take photos, releasing my inner child while enjoying a little snowball fight by the road, and just being there, breathing in the fresh mountain air and feeling the firmness of the old snow under our shoes. Now, that sure beats laying on the couch in front of the TV.
The mountains were, without a doubt, the greatest highlight from our half day spent in Andorra, and it is without a doubt what I will be visiting again, next time I make the two hour trip from where I live (Toulouse) to this little micro-state in the Pyrenean mountains. Whether I’ll be visiting while the mountains are still snow-covered, or wait until summer and hiking season is at its peak, remains to see.
One thing is certain, though. Whenever I decide to go back to Andorra, it will be for the nature.
We did make our way to the capital city, and sadly it didn’t really leave an impact on me. Maybe it’s more vibrant when the shops are open, or whenever there’s some kind of event going on in the city. But, it would have to take a lot of convincing to make me want to go back.
Andorra la Vella is a small city with a couple of interesting landmarks, such as the church l’Església de Sant Esteve and pieces of art, such as “La Noblesse du Temps” by surrealist Salvador Dali – and a lot of shops targeted towards duty-free scouting tourists.
You can easily visit the city by foot, as the downtown area is quite small and limited in terms of things to do.
What else is there to do in Andorra, besides the things already mentioned?
- Visit the theme park Naturlandia; a park divided into two areas, differentiated by their altitude. Ski rental, snow mobiles, bobsleigh, hiking, buggie rides, an animal park – and plenty more activities suitable for both adults and children!
- Get to know the local gastronomy. Dine in one of the traditional bordas and enjoy the traditional Pyrenees-cuisine!
- Visit the Valls del Comapedrosa Nature Park – a national park in the northwest of Andorra. Perfect for those who enjoy hiking, camping, nature photography and other fun activities in the nature – such as geocaching, a fun sporting activity involving a search for hidden treasures by using your GPS!
Before you go…
- Remember to bring your passport, when driving into Andorra from Spain or France.
- Don’t worry about currency exchanges, if coming from the neighboring countries. The local currency is Euros.
- There’s no rail service in Andorra, so if you’re planning to visit the country without a car, your best option will be to take a bus from la Seu d’Urgell or Barcelona in Spain, or from Perpignan in France.
- The closest airport is Andorra-La Seu d’Urgell Airport in Spain.