Catalan Road Trip – Spain to Andorra

Catalan Road Trip – Spain to Andorra

Catalan Road Trip - Spain to Andorra - Views along the roadWe had an amazing time exploring and hiking around Catalonia in Spain. But while we were in the area, we thought it might be interesting to explore another mini country, Andorra. Andorra is a Principality located in the middle of the Pyrenees. It is famous for tax-free shopping and amazing hiking in summer or skiing in winter. This Catalan road trip allowed us to see fantastic mountain views, sample tasty Catalan food and visit the only country in the world where Catalan is the official spoken language and dominant culture.

If you decide to do a similar road trip, Andorra was less than 3 hours drive from Vall de Boí (it is 2 hours from the capital of the province, Lledia.) It is a similar drive time from Barcelona, so you could easily visit Andorra on a Catalan Road Trip from Barcelona.

Saying Goodbyes in Vall de Boí

It was really fun to explore the area of Marc’s ancestors. We liked visiting the Romanesque Churches in the Vall de Boí, tasting the gorgeous Catalan cuisine and hiking through Aigüestortes National Park. The worst part was saying goodbye to Marc’s parents (they had to rush back to the UK, so they didn’t join us on our next mini adventure.) We started our day with drinks and pastries from the lovely bakery in Barruera before setting off towards Andorra.

Catalan Road Trip Map

Here is the map of our route to Andorra. I have added in icons so you can easily find the villages we stopped in, viewpoints, as well as the route.

Catalan Road Trip – Tips for Driving in Spain

If you’re used to driving on the right side of the road, then driving in Spain is not too stressful.
– Drive on the right-hand side of the road
– Speed limits in Spain are 120km/hr on highways, 90km/hr on smaller roads and 50km/hr within towns. There are plenty of signs, so it’s easy to find the limits.
– You’ll find some toll roads; we used a couple of them, and they were very empty. There are always non-toll road nearby though if you don’t mind taking a moire scenic route.

The main roads in Catalonia are pretty decent. They may be surrounded by huge cliffs, but there are plenty of bridges and tunnels to speed up journeys and allow you to zoom through the Pyrenees.

Catalan villages and towns

One of the nicest things about exploring this region is driving through such pretty small towns and villages. One thing you can’t help but notice at the moment is all the Som República signs and yellow ribbons. This region seems to strongly support Catalan independence.

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Gerri De la Sal

We stopped off to stretch our legs in the pretty village of Gerri De la Sal. This area has a long industrial history as they extracted and stored salt here since medieval times. I loved the Romanesque bridge over the river Noguera Pallaresa, but the whole village was incredibly charming. Spot the Catalan flag!

Santa Maria de Gerri

On the edge of the village you’ll find the beautiful Santa Maria Monastery. There’s a long distance pilgrimage route through this area, so we saw a couple of walkers, but there were no other tourists. Still, it’s gorgeous location, and great for a quick stop.

Sort, Lleida

This is the closest town to where Marc’s grandmother grew up (she was from a even smaller village called Llessui.) This is the view looking down to Sort from the road to Andorra. Isn’t it gorgeous? I missed visiting the family who still live up in Llessui as I was really sick for a day, still, I am glad I got to peek at the area.

To reach Andorra you have to drive up over the mountains, and then down again. You’ll drive through countless villages and see sooo many stunning viewpoints. This was my favourite viewpoint, near Guils del Cantó. Just after this you’ll meander down the mountain into the valley below and Andorra. While we here, there were around 20(!) bald eagles circling above us. I have never seen so many in one spot, it was amazing!

Introducing Andorra

There are some very cool things about Andorra, I have never been anywhere quite like it! It is a Principality located in the middle of the Pyrenees, sandwiched between France and Spain. Both France and Spain have Catalan regions, but Andorra is the only place where Catalan is the official language. The country is surrounded by the Pyrenees so buildings are squished into every valley and ravine. This means they build upwards so there are plenty of tall buildings, even out in the countryside. The easy access to high mountains also mean it is a haven for skiing and snowboarding.

Catalan Road Trip – Driving in Andorra

I didn’t drive in Andorra as blooming ‘eck it looked stressful! Drivers on this side of the border were far more assertive than they were in Spain. They zoomed into tiny spaces and changed lanes without indicating. We could see the  crazy difference immediately and poor Marc had to be really careful anticipating what other drivers might do next.

The roads are fantastic in terms of infrastructure, as they combine tunnels, bridges and roundabouts to make efficient and interesting uses of space.

– Drive on the right-hand side of the road
– You may need snow tires as Andorra is surrounded by high Pyrenees.
– Speed limits in Andorra are 90 km/hr in rural areas and 50 km/hr on urban roads. These may vary so just follow the signs.
– Emergency phone number (police/fire/ambulance) is 112

Using your phone in Andorra

Just as an extra note, if you’re used to European roaming charges; Andorra is not in the EU, so if you need to call someone or use data, it is VERY pricey. For my UK sim card it was £1.40 per minute to make a call or 99p a minute to receive calls. However you’ll find wifi in hotels and restaurants.

Andorra la Vella

We stayed in the capital, Andorra la Vella. As the principality is so small, it does not take long to reach anywhere. So if you want to hike, it would be just as good to stay outside the main urban areas. We visited during then shoulder season, so hotels were very reasonable. Just be aware, you’ll probably have to pay extra for parking as it didn’t seem to be included anywhere.

It is worth popping into the tourist information booth in Andorra la Vella. They speak multiple languages and have great advice, whatever you are interested in. We wanted to go hiking (of course) so they gave us maps with loads of different options. Just outside the tourist information, you can also see the nobility of time, a sculpture by Salvador Dali.

Andorra is famous for being a tax haven, and you won’t pay taxes on goods you buy there, so it can be a good place to indulge in a bit of shopping. Marc’s bag had been ripped up by our terrible flight to Spain (avoid Vueling if you can!) so we went searching for a backpack. We spent some time exploring the long pedestrian shopping street, Avenue Carlemany. It was a pleasant area to window shop, although sometimes it felt like a giant city-sized airport duty free shop. I have never seen so many perfume, cigarette and alcohol shops in a city center!

Church of Sant Pere Màrtir

If you keep wandering the whole way up the main avenue, you’ll reach Església de Sant Pere Màrtir. This church was built in 1956 in Neo-romanesque style, so it’s a new version of the gorgeous older Romanesque churches we saw in the Vall de Boí. This church is registered as part of the Cultural Heritage of Andorra so it is worth taking a peek.

Andorran Cuisine

We only had one main meal in Andorra, so we were keen to try something tasty. In the end we visited a small local restaurant called Plat’in, and selected one of their set menus. They stared with teeny soups.

Marc won the appetizer. I had total food envy when his goats cheese arrived. I had a deconstructed mushroom tart, which was also really tasty, but looks slightly less appealing.

My second course was roasted lamb which was fantastic.

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Then my meal finished with the best sorbet I have ever eaten. I almost didn’t get dessert as I was so full, but the waiter suggested I tried the sorbet as it was so small. Each sorbet was made in-house and tasted incredibly fresh.

Andorra is a fun place to explore, even if just for an afternoon. It is beautifully lit up if you like to explore more after dark. Just be aware, like Spain, many of the shops closed in the afternoon, (2pm-5pm), but then they re-opened until late in the evening.

The following morning we went on a hike in the rain up in the Andorran Pyrenees, so for now, I’ll leave this post as an introduction to Andorra. It is a fun place to explore on a mini road trip. I liked Andorra la Vella (especially the food), but if we go back it would be to explore more of the National Parks, hiking trails or skiing areas.

For full transparency, Andorra may not be everyone’s cup of tea. My parents joined us for this road trip, and although they loved the scenic drive, my mum wasn’t keen on Andorra la Vella at all. She found it too built up and mentioned it felt too modern and busy. If you prefer the rural Catalan villages and mountain views, it is probably better to skip the capital city and stay in the countryside.

Catalan Road Trip - Spain to Andorra - Views along the road  Catalan Road Trip - Spain to Andorra - Andorra la Vella  Catalan Road Trip - Spain to Andorra - Andorra Architecture

53 thoughts on “Catalan Road Trip – Spain to Andorra

    1. I think the sign said that the monastery was built in the 12th century, but wikipedia says it was founded in 807(!) so it has a 1200 year history!!

      It’s the same here in Canada, you don’t get temples or churches quite as old as the ones I am used to from Europe or Asia!

  1. Another quirky fact on Andorra is that it’s co-prince is the president of France I think, probably making him the only president of a republic to hold a royal title. Grand Valira is a great ski area too 😊

    1. Oh no! I may not have been very clear. The Dali sculpture is the melting clock. The snails are a more modern art installation (there were loads of them!!)

    1. Yeah, it was actually really easy to reach! I know you’re not into visiting places just to add an extra country, but it was quirky (and crazy) enough that I think you’d love it!

  2. It looks like a beautiful drive! How neat to visit a mini country like that too. So interesting that it’s not in the EU! I loved reading about Andorra and learning more about it! I can totally see why the city vibes might not be for everyone. Nice there’s the option of the countryside too!

    1. It’s funny, I thought the city was great, although (although it is strange to see it so squished in between mountains…) But the countryside was stunning!

  3. This looks like a lot of fun! When I was in Andalucia I saw a lot of vultures (I think?) above the mountains and it was very cool, they are kind of fun to watch. Andorra sounds like an interesting place to visit, the sorbet you had looks so yummy! Both the melting clock sculpture and the snail are really neat sculptures. I love how the snail is a vibrant red.

    1. Oooh yes we saw quite a few vultures (I think so anyway!) as well, but on walks in the Spanish National Parks. They are sooo impressive!

  4. What a great road trip. I visited Spain a few times, but never really drove, as it was so easy to move to another city by train or bus. I am tempted though, to make my next visit to Spain a road trip. You get to stop whenever you want or see something interesting, and there are so many cute little towns along the way you wouldn’t necessarily visit. Plus from what I observed, driving in Spain seemed pretty easy. Good to know it’s not the same in Andorra 🙂 Although living in the Boston area, I’m not sure it’s worse than here :):)

    1. Up until now we have always been the same, travelling mostly by train or buses. It felt a bit luxurious to hire a car and go exactly where we wanted. It was pretty awesome for stopping off and seeing cool little towns and viewpoints. 😀

  5. Andorra looks so nice. The food…I want all of it! Wow! I love the art work. I’m a big Dali fan so always hunt out pieces of Dalinian art when I travel, especially in Europe where there’s so much of it. The melting clocks are just so iconic.

    1. You have good taste Emma, I think you will love Catalan cuisine!

      I have to admit, I had no idea Dali did sculptures of the melting clocks. I have seen them in plenty of his paintings, but it was pretty cool to see them in 3D!

  6. Haha, I think driving through almost all of Spain seems pretty stressful! But I’d love to witness that many eagles flying! Great post – I’ll be coming back to read more of your blogs!

    1. Thanks Kim!!

      We spent ages watching those eagles, then after a while (as it seemed like they were staying close) i went to get my big lens out to take photos of them… Of course as soon as I got the lens out, they all flew away. Doh!!

  7. The food looks so AMAZING! I cannot wait to hear about your hike. Spain has been on my bucket list for awhile. I have been fortunate enough to visit many countries in Europe, just haven’t made it there yet. Thanks for your informative post! Need to book a trip ASAP.

    1. Thanks Chrissy!

      Oooh if you like the idea of hiking in the Pyrenees, please do take a peek at my other recent posts. The hike we did in Andorra was fun, but the Spanish hikes were even better. We had such a blast up in the high Pyrenees.

  8. Andorra looks lovely! I had heard of it but had thought it was in Spain. So interesting to find out it is its own country! Seeing all the charming villages has intrigued me to put this on my list of places to visit. Great info on where to stop and what to see along the way! 🙂

    1. Yep, it has a really interesting history as it kept swapping being part of Spain/ France. Now it has strong ties to both countries (and a prince from both!)

  9. A friend of mine taught in Andorra for a little while and to this day he raves about it – I NOW KNOW WHY. Those views are just incredible! I’d love to visit Sort, my mind is blown! Sorry to hear you weren’t feeling well for it though! I think you’ll have to go back so you can truly experience it… and take me with you HAHA.

    1. We all took it in turns to have one epic sick day (that is why I only did a short hike in the Lake Maurici area before this mini road trip.)

      Oooh Andorra must have been a fun area to teach in! They would be able to travel to mountains within half an hour, or go to Spain/France whenever they fancied.

    1. I hope you can get to Spain at some point Natasha!

      I love seeing all the old buildings like that. I guess you don’t see similar old stone-work like that so much in North America.

  10. I clearly know very little about Andorra – I had no idea it was so modern and built up! I think I’d prefer exploring its national parks more than the capital, but it would be cool to check out such an unusual place! This sounds like such a fun road trip, especially the part through Catalan. 20 bald eagles at once?! What an incredible moment!! And those views are just divine!

  11. Great article and thank you for clear directions for this epic road trip! We looove road trips and think that’s one of the best ways to explore Europe! Planning our big Europe vacation for next May and can definitely use some of your notes and learn more about Andorra – this country was on my list for quite a while now…
    Otherwise if you are ever visiting Canada and Pacific West Coast specifically – I have quite a few hiking guides and road trip itineraries on my blog 🙂

    1. Oooh exciting! Do you think you’ll add the Pyrenees into your trip? I hope you can, although, to be fair, road-tripping through Europe will be epic wherever you end up!

      We live over in Vancouver now, and I mostly write about hikes near here, so we must have some of the same trips/hikes! I’ll take a peek. <3

  12. Wow, I had never heard of Andorra before but this trip looks incredible. Definitely seems like a hidden gem in Spain. Very detailed article and I loved all of the pictures!

  13. This reminds me of some hiking we did in the Pyrenees on the Spain side. I have such fond memories and your post made them come flooding back. We love doing road trips in Europe, visiting those small out of the way places and always having a funny story or memory at the end. I hadn’t know much about Andorra and it definitely looks like a hidden gem of that part of the region.

  14. It’s nice that your mom were able to join your trip here. I love how you mentioned the distance of the trip. I can do both I love to go in the city then visit the countryside. After wandering the busy street it’s good to relax and unwind in the mountain. How about you? Do you like both?

  15. I’ve never heard of Andorra until now. I loved your last post hiking in Spain and this ones just as great. We had the same things with our EU sim cards when we went to Montenegro!

    Enjoy your trip and hiking in the Pyrenees! 🙂

    Dom

    1. Thanks Dom!

      These non-European countries within Europe are always a bit confusing for the SIM cards!! What was Montenegro like? Do you have a post about it? I always assumed it was super expensive there…

  16. Thanks for the tour. I’d heard that this area is beautiful and the food is great, and you’ve confirmed that. Being from a left side of the road country, I’m not sure about driving in Europe.

    You mention Andorra is not part of the EU – does that make border crossings difficult? Visa needed?

    1. That is a good question! Andorra is not part of the EUs Schengen area. However they also don’t require (or issue) visas, so it’s basically like being part of the Schengen area, but with border checks for customs.

      It is part of the EEC, and they do use Euros, so it’s a very European place that is not part of Europe!

      I know what you mean about driving on the right! We both learned to drive in the UK, but now we live in Canada we’ve slowly trained our brains to be happy to drive on either side of the road.

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