We 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.