Andorra – a unique place

My friend from my Masters study time in Belgium, Esrom, had recently moved to Tarragona to begin his PhD. So a few of us teamed up to go meet him, making it a reunion trip and also enjoying a nice weekend holiday. On Friday morning, Imad (flying in from Bristol), Esrom (by bus from Tarragona) and I (flying in from Dublin) met up at Barcelona airport. We had about two to three hours to kill before Jin arrived from Stockholm. So, we decided to go to a beach nearby – Castelldefels.

Centre of Castelldefels

Centre of Castelldefels

We grabbed something to eat and headed straight to the beach. It was delightful to feel the heat after being in Ireland all this while! But soon we had to hurry back to the airport to meet Jin … and start our trip to Andorra!
Tip: Driving via A2-C14 from Barcelona to Andorra is probably 10 minutes longer compared to via E9, but well worth it! You get to see views like these!drive
We arrived at the Spain – Andorra border at about 6 pm. We had expected some sort of border control. (Andorra isn’t part of the EU or Schengen area, but it does not have require a visa from anyone. But since the only way to enter Andorra is by land through Spain or France, a Schengen visa is required by default). But sadly, no one stopped our car. We pulled over just after crossing into Andorra and walked back to the border office, and asked the officers for a stamp on our passport. They were friendly and obliged chatting with us asking where we were all from, and they were surprised to know that we had four nationalities amongst ourselves (Bangladeshi, Chinese, Ethiopian and Indian). So, they stamped our passports and added that it is only an unofficial stamp, and that Andorra doesn’t have an official one!

Andorra passport stamp

We drove through the capital Andorra la Vella and reached La Massana where we were to stay for the night. We found a lovely apartment though Airbnb for just about €70 for four people, which was a great deal. The weather was a bit lousy with some drizzle, but the forecast for the next day was promising. We took a short walk through the town and also grabbed some dinner and breakfast items on the way. Then, it was jacuzzi time at our apartment!
On Saturday morning, we woke up to this :

View from our apartment on Saturday morning!

We had our breakfast and we left our apartment planning to hike to the Tristania lakes. The roads went from being like this :
Difference of 20 minutes and about 1000m of altitude

Difference of 20 minutes and about 1000m of altitude

to this, as we climbed up, in just a matter of about 20 minutes. We parked our car at a point after which we couldn’t go safely without winter tyres (about 2200m above seal level), and started to walk. We came quite close to the lakes, but it was so snowy all around that we decided to turn back. But it was a fun time playing in the snow, throwing snow balls at each other, making a snow man etc.
By now, we had worked up a good appetite for lunch! We had heard about this great buffet in the capital town from our Airbnb host, but we forgot to note down the address. But once we reached Andorra la vella and started walking around, we stumbled across it by chance! It was in the main shopping mall in the city which was called the Pyrenees. For €16 it is an all-you-can-eat buffet offering a huge variety of salads, main courses, sides, bread, cheese,desserts and drinks. Although it’s heaven for meat-eaters, it was not too bad for a vegetarian like myself. I helped myself to a hearty filling of a variety of salads, bread, cheese and dessert. I almost didn’t need any dinner later on that day!  After lunch, we explored the town a bit. Andorra was a curious place. Most people spoke at least three languages – Catalan (the official language), Spanish and French. And many spoke English as well. The capital city was filled with shops for people coming in from France and Spain for a duty-free shopping spree. We wrote a postcard to our old professor in Belgium and we were on back on our way crossing through Andorra. We drove the winding roads through the highest road pass in the Pyrenees – Envalira pass at 2408m, parked at the highest point in the pass and further hiked a bit reaching about 2500m (abour 8200ft) above sea level. This was the highest altitude I’ve been at! The surroundings were so peaceful that we enjoyed them for a good while.
Esrom at 2500m above sea level near Envalira pass

Esrom at 2500m above sea level near Envalira pass

We made our way down the other side of the pass and crossed over into France. This time we could not do the stamp trick again, because there was literally no one in the border even though there was a big checkpoint-building. It seemed like they were all off for the weekend. After a brief half an hour drive through France we were back into Spain. We drove on straight ahead to our stop for the night near the town of Besalú. We stayed at Can coromines, which was kind of in the middle on nowhere, and that turned out to be the best decision of the trip!
Continued here …. Catalunya in May

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