Andorra. How beautiful that sounds – and beautiful it is. Andorra is a country that I’ve always wished to visit, but I can’t even count how many times I’ve heard the questions “what’s Andorra?”, “is that a part of Spain” or “how can there be a country in the Pyrenees?” whenever I’ve mentioned my desire to go there. Unfortunately for them and many other people, they have never heard of this beautiful little pearl called Andorra. But Andorra does in fact exist and it’s not a part of Spain or France, it’s a country on its own, located in the middle of the Pyrenees mountain range.
I’ve always been interested in the unknown and unexplored places of the Earth, so Andorra has naturally always been high on my list of places to explore. This summer, I finally had the chance to explore the small country. My family and I were on holiday in Spain in July for my parents’ Silver Wedding anniversary and on their special day, we decided to rent a car and drive the four hour journey to Andorra from Malgrat del Mar, where we stayed in Spain. I couldn’t have been more excited! Finally, I was going to explore Andorra and even for a special occasion!
On the way to Andorra, we passed the beautiful blue lake Pantá de la Baells near Cercs and made a stop to take some pictures. If you’re ever in Costa Brava and want to do the trip to Andorra, this lake is a perfect place to stop halfway for a break. It’s easily seen from the main road and there is plenty of room to park the car nearby.
At just 468 km2 and with a population of only 85.000, Andorra is indeed a small country. Once we crossed the border, we soon reached the capital city, Andorra la Vella. It’s easy to just continue on to another city without realizing that you ever left the other city – that happened to us quite a few times that day, haha.
Andorra la Vella is the highest capital city in Europe at an elevation of 1.023 m. above sea level. It has a population of 23.000 and is therefore one of the smallest capitals in the world.
Even though Andorra la Vella is known as a shopping haven due to everything being duty-free and therefore a lot cheaper than in most other European countries, I didn’t do any shopping apart from the obligatory magnet and postcard. I’m quite amazed that I could control myself 😉
Instead, we spent a few hours feeling the atmosphere of the city, having the best sandwiches ever at The Family Arms in the center and going sightseeing in the old part of town, where we visited the beautiful Romanesque styled church Església de Sant Esteve, rested on the Placa del Poble (English: People’s Square) with the most amazing panoramic view of the entire city and surrounding mountains and visited the historical building Casa de la Vall, built in 1580, which is the headquarters of the General Council of Andorra. The old town is a beautiful area with many quaint streets to explore and also offers great views of the city from the many look-out points. The old town is definitely the number one must-see on a trip to Andorra la Vella!
After exploring the capital city, we wanted to see a bit of the Andorran nature and since I really wanted to see the only World Heritage Site in the country, the Madriu-Perafita-Claror Valley, a glacial valley in southeast Andorra, it was our original plan to find and explore that. But unfortunately, we found out that the valley is only accessible by foot, so instead, I took a chance and wrote “Església de Sant Miquel d’Engolasters” on the GPS. I knew that the church was outside the parish of Escaldes-Engordany and therefore had to have some sort of nature surrounding it – and also, how can you go wrong with a church? Churches are always beautiful and the Andorran ones that we had seen so far had all been really quaint and beautiful to look at.
The GPS took us along the Valira d’Orient Valley through narrow roads up the mountains and had us stunned at the amazing views of Escaldes-Engordany and Andorra la Vella. We had to stop several times so I could take pictures. We finally reached Església de Sant Miquel d’Engolasters, which didn’t fail to impress us. It’s an adorable little church in Romanesque style built in the 11th-12th century. The church has a very interesting history that a nice church worker was kind enough to share with us. Inside is a beautiful reproduction of an old mural painting of the Master of Santa Coloma, which was originally painted in the 12th century.
The church man told us to continue to the top of the mountain, where we could walk to Lac d’Engolasters, an artificial lake created by a dam. We stopped at the adorable Restaurant Camp del Serrat at the top of the mountain and then walked for 10-15 minutes to the picturesque lake, where we had a short photo session before heading back to the car and then back to Spain for the Silver Wedding meal.
Andorra was without a doubt as beautiful as I had expected, and while I loved Andorra la Vella, I definitely recommend to also head to the mountains to see some of the countryside and small villages as its sure to win most people over with its pure beauty.