Having made the decision that we would waste the better part of an entire day to country bag Andorra it would have been far better for us if the rental car had refused to start. We were spending a couple of nights at Mas El Guitart, a spa hotel in L’Hostalnou de Bianya – this location on the lower reaches of the Pyrenees Mountains made for a short two and a half hour drive to the tiny, independent principality of Andorra. My justification for leaving Spain for a few hours were the countless small medieval towns we would pass through en route!
Leaving our extremely cute accommodation we headed off into the hills, first destination Oix and a short while later Beget. We really should have joined the many Catalonians out hiking on this glorious day, experiencing these picture postcard towns by two feet instead of four lazy wheels. Judging by the countless trail markers, arrows pointing off in every direction, there are far more kilometers for foot traffic than vehicle. In our pursuit of another tick on the country list we barely stopped to breathe in Oix, missing out on a fancy stone bridge with views through of snow capped mountains, and if I hadn’t read a random review about Beget that picturesque town could well have gone the same way! As it was Beget was most definitely worth the coffee break.
We wandered through the narrow cobblestoned streets in search of an illusive cafe, not knowing if one even existed, passing by a fancy looking but closed restaurant and buildings that didn’t justify them being around for many hundreds of years. Many photos later and we did discover a perfectly located watering hole. Sitting on the patio of Hostal El Forn de Beget, sun shining down on us, second cup of coffee in hand, omelette and Pa amb tomàquet (traditional Catalan Tomato Bread) on order, was at that moment in time sheer bliss. To top it off paying just over five Euros for three hot drinks and an omelette was the bargain of the day.
Continuing on, our good fortune continued when we stumbled upon the small town of Camprodon, once again complete with a picturesque bridge in the same medieval design as Oix and Beget. Unlike the previous sleepy villages this town was alive with masses of locals, more than enough of a reason to find out what bought them all here. Surprising to us was that the day was Sunday, siesta was imminent, yet the addictive smell of salamis, cheeses and fresh bread poured out from every open doorway – we were in heaven. The temptation was too much to resist and we felt obliged to buy more cheese, more salami and dabble with the locally made Porquets and Birba typical sweets. This region sends taste buds into overdrive and its totally irrelevant if our stomachs are full; there’s always room for more!
It would have been extremely easy to detour into every village and small town as we made our way to Andorra but with time ticking by we had to get a move on. Two and a half hours to go and we decided to stick to a slightly more major road with no distractions.
Snow covered peaks had begun to get closer and closer, hopefully not an indication that the only road out of Spain and into Andorra was going to be a problem for us. We had not verified with Budget that we could even take the car out of the country, and if we had I’m sure we would be paying a rental surcharge for this simple border crossing. Due to Andorra not being in either the EU or the Schengen Area we theoretically needed passports to cross over, alongside whatever documents the officials deemed necessary for the vehicle – we could well be screwed at kilometer zero! What was more concerning was the constant flow of Spanish plated cars crossing back over after having spent their hard earned cash in the endless duty free stores. Andorra has a tax-haven status making it a shopping mecca for the French and Spanish, a place where electronics, fashion, and high end goods are considerably cheaper than what they pay back home.
Leaving Spain was simple enough, a mere wave of the uniformed officers hand, followed by the same efficient process to enter Andorra – they didn’t care as long as we spent lots of Euros! The 10km drive to the center of the country’s capital, Andorra la Vella pretty much took us halfway across the tiny principality of Andorra, and the welcome view for almost half of that was the huge queue of cars waiting to leave. We were certainly in no rush to join them!
Within minutes of parking we wished to be in any other mountain town in Europe; no snow covered peaks in sight, endless stores selling everything possible, MacDonalds, and lots of people on a mission to buy the town dry! This was exactly what we didn’t expect, although we absolutely should have after reading the warning signs – Andrea had read that Andorra made last place in a list of microstates worth paying a visit to in Little Europe. Although somewhat biased after only spending two full hours in probably the worst place Andorra has to offer we should have at least made the time to drive a further ten kilometers towards the French border – there is definitely a lot of skiing going on somewhere and we’re sure there must be vistas and quaint little mountain towns nestled away, this does after all sit in the heart of the same Pyrenees that make people flock to Spain and France.
Almost exactly two hours after arriving we were back in the car making our way towards the border, hoping for a dozen other cars in line, expecting more like a thousand. The latter it was! Forty bumper to bumper minutes and another exit entry breeze and we were hauling ass back towards Olot, certainly not expecting the slowdown that was to come. We were high up in the Pyrenees and it was 6pm on a Sunday night and many people had probably been skiing all weekend and we know that thousands were leaving Andorra, so why the hell were we surprised when we came to a halt! It wouldn’t have been so bad in daylight so we could take in the scenery but following endless tail-lights on the narrowest of country roads made for a painful drive.
- Lines from hell to exit the country
- Vodafone SIM from Spain wouldn’t work
- Most of the city we walked was ugly and drab
- Shops, shops and more shops
- Cheaper gasoline at 1.11 EUR per Litre over Spain’s 1.22 EUR
- Face paste for Andrea at 22 USD over US pricing of 56 USD
- Reasonable car parking at 4 EUR for 2 hours
- It can only get better outside of Andorra la Vella
I think that with trial and error both my photography and website design are getting progressively better so hopefully these newer, better quality images will inspire you to get out there and travel. Click HERE to see more and if you like the content then feel free to comment.
February 18th – February 18th 2018