Having finished our armchair travels in Spain you probably expected that we would head over the border into France. Well if we were giants we would probably step right over this little, lovely country or stumble upon the mountains and then realize we aren’t in France yet. The tiny country of Andorra is an independent principality located between France and Spain in the Pyrenees Mountains. It offers visitors great hiking and fishing and fantastic skiing in the wintertime. It’s awesome to know that they have duty-free shopping and you’ll find fashion boutiques and jewelers in the capital Andorra la Vella as well as some shopping centers. High up in the mountains you’ll find great ski resorts with plenty of cafes, restaurants, chairlifts and gondolas. car parks and even snow-making machines.
Visit the historical house Casa de la Valle located in Andorra la Vella which was built in 1580 and was home to a wealthy family. Since 1702 it has been Andorra’s parliament building. Housed here is the country’s one and only courtroom – El Tribunal de Corts and upstairs in the building you’ll find what is considered to be one of the cosiest parliament chambers in the world the Sala del Consell. At one time the Cupboard of the Seven Keys kept all of the important official documents safe. It could only be opened if a representative from each of the seven parishes was present with a key. You can choose to have a free guided tour that is available in several languages including English.
The Santa Coloma Church dates back to the 9th century and was built in pre-Romanesque style. It is Andorra’s oldest church and has a tall, freestanding bell tower with the 12th century bell still in ringing order. All of the 12th century Romanesque murals except for one called Lamb of God were taken to Berlin, Germany for safe keeping in the 1930s and are still there.
On top of a modern government office building in Andorra la Vella you’ll find the People’s Square. It offers fantastic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. This is a popular place to socialize in the evenings. There is a lift in the southeastern corner to get you up and down.
You’ll find Europe’s largest spa in Escaldes – the Cladea Spa Complex looks like something out of the far future. This is the place to head for after you have done with hiking and skiing. At the heart of the spa is a 600-sq-meter lagoon that is fed by hot springs and kept at a temperature of 32 degrees C. There are a series of other pools, Turkish baths, saunas, spas and hydromassage. This is all included in the three hour entrance tickets and you’ll leave feeling like you’ve been reborn.
For all automobile lovers there is the National Automobile Museum which offer 80 vintage cars and lots of antique motorcycles. Some of these cars will make you wish that you could take them on a heart racing spin around the Pyrenees. On display are also more than 100 bicycles from the oldest to some really nice racers.
Formed in a glacial depression is the lovely oblong Lake Engolasters. This is a great place to come for some relaxation. It is located near Andorra la Vella. The water in the lake is a lovely deep blue which nicely compliments the surrounding green meadows and pine tree forests. The lake is fed by the East valira and Madriu Rivers. Water that is stored in the reservoir provides hydroelectric power generated fromt he power station near Encamp village. A cable car takes people from Encamp to the lake. You’ll find 88 hotels in the area. This is the place to come for recreation. Along the lake shore is a popular 2 km stretch for hikers. The lake offers great trout fishing and is also home to fario and salmon.
Close-by is the Romanesque Sant Miquel d’ Engolasters hermitage looming over the lake. The Lombard bell tower dates back to the 12th century and at one time there were Romanesque paintings here. These are now in the Romanesque art museum in Barcelona, Spain.
This is one of the European countries to head for when you want to do some serious skiing. The Vallnord domain is located in the northern-most valley of Andorra. It’s a combination of three different ski resorts – Arcalis, Arinsal and Pal. Visitors can get access to all three with a single ski pass. Arcalis found in the Ordino Valley is the most alpine and here the snow stays great late in the season. Arinsal and Pal, above the parish of La Massana, are linked by a cable car. Pal can be reached by a gondola lift from the town center of La Massana. Family-orientated Vallnord offers leisure activities for all age groups. There are lots of places to get good food and you’ll find a vibrant night life.
So in your travels about Europe don’t pass up tiny Andorra. It has a lot to offer visitors.