Visiting Andorra is not easy since the country is only accessible via car. Bounded by France and by Spain, Andorra is among the southern peaks of the Pyrenees Mountains. The traveling time from either Perpignan in France or Girona in Spain is about three hours. Once our family spent a 10-day holiday in Côte Vermeille and the Pyrenees, we took the chance to visit Andorra before our visit to Llivia in Spain, which is only about an hour of driving.
Andorra is known for its tax-haven status, which encourages duty-free shopping. Therefore, Andorra la Vella, the highest capital in Europe, is primarily a retail shopping centre for goods imported from Europe and Asia. Besides, it is also a skiing resort. But what else has made Andorra unique?
After visiting Andorra, we discovered three things that make this small mountainous country standing out:
- Historic Centre with the smallest parliament in Europe, Casa de la Vall
- Two Postal Systems serving around 20 thousand inhabitants
- Numerous signposted hiking trails with breathtaking mountain views
Historic Centre with the smallest parliament in Europe, Casa de la Vall
Casa de la Vall, one of the oldest parliament in Europe
The historic centre of Andorra la Vella includes several monuments with traditional Andorran architecture. From 1702 until 2011, Casa de la Vall was the former parliament. It is not only the smallest parliament but also one of the oldest in Europe. Built in the Catalonian style, it dates back to the 1500s. It looks like a small castle with towers, turrets, high walls, shuttered windows, and narrow slits.
New parliament building
Opened in 2011, the new parliament building was inaugurated by the Co-Princes of Andorra in 2014. It is right next to the old one. The new parliament building opens towards the landscape of the valley.
Church of Sant Esteve
In the centre, the Sant Esteve church has a Romanesque semicircular apse and a bell tower. The frescoes which once decorated the apse are today at the Art Museum of Catalonia. Inside this church, there is a beautiful wooden beam from the same period and baroque altarpieces. It is one of the city’s most important landmarks.
Shops and restaurants
The historic centre has small shops selling, such as Jewellery, watches, perfumes, electronics, fashion, and accessories. In the meantime, plenty of restaurants offer traditional food as well as international cuisines. Some game dishes use, for example, wild boar or hare (stewed with wine and chocolate). And when it is the mushroom season, restaurants will offer lots of wonderful mushroom-based recipes.
Two Postal Systems serving around 20 thousand inhabitants
The only country without its postal system
You can always see two post boxes next to each other but in totally different shapes and colours. They represent two postal systems, the Spanish and the French postal service. As an independent state, the country does not have its postal service but is the only country in the world having two postal systems.
A unique postal code system
Operating side by side, the postal code system introduced in July 2004 has a different format from those of either Spain or France. The Andorra postal code consists of the letters AD, followed by three digits. Both postal services in the country offer the same advantages and service as any post office in Spain or France.
Unique designed stamps
Both postal administrations issue their postage stamps for use in Andorra with a unique design. However, such stamps are not valid in Spain and France. Besides, the stamps only apply to international correspondence since the postal service in Andorra is free.
Numerous signposted hiking trails with breathtaking mountain views
The breathtaking mountain views
Situated in the Pyrenees mountains, Andorra consists of a cluster of mountain valleys characterized by its glacial landscape, steep valleys, nature parks, and open pastures. We drove back to France via the main road CG-2 and stopped at several places to take photos of the rolling mountains and lush greenery. Facing the breathtaking mountain views, we had a strong desire to spend a couple of days hiking there.
Well signposted hiking trails
Andorra is a paradise for fans of hiking. Thousands of kilometres of signposted trails go through natural spaces that cover 90% of Andorra’s territory. On this Andorra website, you will find detailed information on the main hiking routes, such as a map, the duration, difficulty, elevation gain, the mountain shelters along the trail.
Two easy trails around Andorra la Vella
The duration of the hiking varies. If you are visiting Andorra la Vella, you can do the CAMÍ DEL SERRAT hiking route. It is a short stroll surrounded by different kinds of plants and trees without leaving Andorra la Vella.
Tristaina Lake Trail is another easy-to-take hiking trail and is also not far from the Andorra la Vella. It is a 4 km long loop walk and goes through several mountain lakes, sightseeing areas, and even a good restaurant.
Visiting Andorra travel tips
Where to stay
In the Andorra la Vella, two hotels have good ratings:
For the nature holidaymakers, the following hotels are good choices:
How to get there
- From Barcelona, you can join a tour to discover three countries in one day, including Andorra.
- The nearest airports are, for example, Toulouse in France and Barcelona, which offer minibus services or coach services to Andorra.
- If you travel by car, the driving time from the cities such as Barcelona and Perpignan is about three hours.
- French rail operator SNCF runs trains to Gare Andorre L’Hospitalet just outside of the country. You have to take the connecting coach service from the Andorra Bus.
- Spanish rail operator RENFE offers connections to Lleida. From there you take a connection bus with Andorra Bus.