Andorra La Where?

Andorra La Vella? Andorra? Sounds familiar but where is it?

That was the question we got from most people when we told them of our visit to our three night stop at this tiny nation of just over 78,000 people in the Pyrenees mountains.

Andorra was off our radar.  Like most people I had heard the name but couldn’t quite place it.

The husband on the other hand knew of Andorra via the UEFA Euro qualifying rounds.

View of Andorra La Vella from Engolasters

So when, Andorra showed up on the list of places to see around Barcelona – which we flew into in early December – curiosity about this tiny nation got the better of us and we slashed our time in Spain and booked three nights in Andorra La Vella – the capital of Andorra.

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The Gran Valira river runs through Andorra La Vella

We thought three nights would suffice. What was there to do within 400 sq km (the land size Andorra) anyway? A lot apprently – if you are a nature lover, history buff, winter sports fan or bargain hunter.

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Salvador Dali’s ‘Nobility of Time’ in Piazza Rotonda

It’s capital Andorra La Vella which boasts of being the highest capital city in Europe (1,023m), is a duty free shipping haven – frequented by the French from the north of the Pyrenees and the Spanish from the south.

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St Esteve Church, Andorra La Vella
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Shopping Street: Avinguda Meritxell
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Props at ‘Bon Nadal’ Christmas market

This unassuming country has a very odd administrative system with its own Parliament, and joint monarchy – the Bishop of Urgell (in Spain) and the President of France.

This circumstance is a spillover from the European feudal system – where in 1268 the Bishop of Urgell and the Count of Foix joined forces to strengthen their hold and resolve dispute over the territory. The Count of Foix subsequently succeeded the French throne.

After the fall of the monarchy in the French Revolution, the French head of state took on the role of co-prince of Andorra together with the Bishop of Urgell.

In 1993, Andorra became a parliamentary democracy and with this has the world’s latest constitution.

The two co-princes play a role of having to ratify laws passed by the Andorran parliament which is made up of two members from 14 parishes in the country.

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Old Parliament Andorran Parliament and Court

 

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Old Parliament Andorran Parliament and Court
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Old Parliament Andorran Parliament and Court
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TheConsul General Building, Andorra La Vella

The quiet farming community is now stretched to accommodate the influx of shoppers and tourist from the region mostly. English is widely spoken here, together with French, Catalan, Spanish and Portuguese.

Andorran hiking trails, that in ancient times used to be horse trails linking villages in the area,are mostly located along the Gran Valira river, lakes and beautiful countryside.

A great summer activity but might be too cold and frosty in winter.

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Snowfall at Tarter just 20 mins drive from Andorra La Vella
There are beautiful old buildings, churches and villages if you at into history.
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St Michael, Engolasters, Andorra
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Ordino, Andorra
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St Martin, Ordina, Andorra
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Village of Pal, Andorra
But if shopping is what you like, there at are good bargains in Andorra. Most shops are centred along the Avinguda Meritxell – a very long high street.

On the average, without taxes, shopping items like clothes were about 5 Euros (RM24) lower than in Barcelona (though you can get a tax refund at the airport before you leave Spain – a hassle nonetheless).
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Preparations for Christmas Market
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It also has one of the largest thermal spas in Europe (Caldea Spa) in addition to smaller ones scattered around..

Our curiosity over this tiny nation paid off. I loved Andorra.

Am not much of a shopaholic, but I liked the fresh mountain air, the medieval buildings, old churches with frescoes and ancient villages in the rural areas of this country.
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Recreation of original fresco at St Michael, Engolasters
You would have to rent or book a car to get around if you want to explore outside Andorra La Vella though.

We missed out rides on the skycabs/cable cars that will take you up to the mountains and ski resorts due to time constraints.
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Skycab to ski resorts in the mountains
One of my favourite classic stories is Heidi by Johanna Spyri, and I now fully understand why little Heidi missed the crisp cold air in the mountains, despite having all the comforts in the big city of Frankfurt.
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Sunset, Massana, Andorra
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View from Canillo, Andorra
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Massana, Andorra

For me Andorra is essentially all about that – a rejuvenating getaway, fresh mountain air and beautiful scenery.

 

Read more on Christmas in Andorra and the Bon Nadal Christmas Market:

Bon Nadal Andorra La Vella

Catalan Christmas tradition:

Meet ‘Tio’ the Pooping Log

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