Summer is coming. Wherever you are in the northern hemisphere, things are about to get hotter than usual. Rather than spend all your money running your air conditioner 24/7, we have a cooler alternative — Andorra.
No, it’s not a cat. That’s an Angora. But Andorra is also small and gorgeous, and its cool alpine climate will have you purring compared to the heat stroke you’re enduring at home. Curled up in the eastern Pyrenees, with an average elevation of 2,000m above sea level, Andorra borders France to the north and Spain to the south, and its summertime highs are a very comfortable 77-degrees (25 C).
The Principality of Andorra (its official name) is a landlocked microstate of approximately 85,000, making it the sixth-smallest country in Europe, but its low tax, and duty-free prices will allow you to live large like a fat cat. And while not a member of the EU, Andorra conveniently uses the Euro for currency. Perhaps it’s only drawback is Andorra has no airport and is only accessible by road.
The easiest itinerary to visit Andorra likely begins from the Barcelona Airport where you can rent a car and enjoy an incredibly scenic 2.5-hour road trip through Spain and be famished for lunch upon your arrival. We recommend stopping at a “borda”, converted Andorran barns that serve hearty Alpine food typically prepared in an open fire. Gorge on grilled meats (wild boar and hare) or graellada de muntanya, a hot slate platter of various local meats and sausages. Whatever you do — absolutely try the oven-roasted snails “a la llauna” eaten either with olive oil, salt and garlic aioli.
After your mountain feast, resist the urge to take a siesta (or dare we say – a cat nap) and instead burn some calories with a breath-taking hike. Andorra is the perfect destination for outdoor adventures with jaw-dropping scenery at every turn and three beautiful national parks — Valle de Sorteny, Valls del Comapedrosa and Madriu-Perafita-Claror, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Among the best mountain lake trails is the intermediate-level, 2.5 hour Estanys de Tristaina route. Be sure to carry ample water and some borda leftovers to relax and recharge lakeside.
After your hike, check out the cobblestone streets of Andorra la Vella. Perched at an elevation of 1,023 meters (3,356 feet), it is the highest capital city in Europe and although it has a tiny population of only 22.000, it is packed with duty-free shopping and luxury spas. It’s also home to some quirky public art. Finest among these is one of the city’s most visited attractions, Salvador Dali’s “Nobility of Time” sculpture.
If the unique stimulates your interest, Andorra has some truly off-beat museums, including the Perfume museum, the Postal museum, and hands down the most appropriate for such a diminutive country— the Miniature museum, housing 13 master works of the great Nikolai Syadristy, a micro-miniature artist who created art on a human hair, on a grain of sand, as well as a caravan of camels inside the eye of a needle.
A slightly larger work of art is the completely picturesque and charming city of Encamp and its Santa Eulàlia Church. Equally serene and spiritual is the glacial beauty of nearby Engolasters Lake. It’s an easy, 2-hour hike well worth enjoying. For another breathtaking experience, try the Mirador Roc del Quer, a suspended observation deck that makes one feel almost like you’re wing-suit flying. If that isn’t inspiring enough, check out The Ponderer, by artist Miguel Ángel González, who sits beside you fearlessly admiring the view.
Just a six-minutes midway between Encamp and the capital is Caldea, the largest mountain spa in Europe and a perfect summer “après-hike” oasis. Its geodesic glass mirror design houses indoor/outdoor lagoons, saunas, Jacuzzis, a “grapefruit” pool, an Aztec pool and Roman baths fueled by the natural hot springs emanating from the mountain. Open until midnight, the glass design allows you to star gaze while you soak.
Whether body, mind or soul, Andorra is about reverence. As many spas as there are, Andorra is home to 40+ stone Romanesque churches. These impossibly picturesque churches are required viewing. Check out the Church of Santa Coloma or the Church of Sant Esteve. The Church of Sant Joan de Caselles is one of the best examples of Andorran Romanesque architecture with its rectangular nave, semicircular apse and bell tower. One of our favorite churches, Sant Antoni de la Grella, is reached by crossing a ridiculously charming stone bridge, across which you discover a tiny, plain stone church capped with a tiny bell. What makes Sant Antoni so unique is it is literally wedged in between the mountainside and the Valira del Nord River.
Nothing feeds a traveler’s soul quite like amazing food. Luckily, Andorra’s cuisine is influenced primarily by Catalonia, France and Spain. Best described as the national dish, escudella is an earthy stew made with pasta shells and a variety of meats (sausage, veal, chicken or even meatballs). While trinxat is a potato dish made with cabbage and chunks of pork that garners comparisons to English “bubble and squeak”. Being landlocked in the Pyrenees, there’s not much seafood, but one should nevertheless indulge in the region’s specialty, Truta a la Andorrana, fresh water trout from local rivers topped with Andorran gammon. While your waistline will do surely penance, those with a sweet tooth must experience Torrijas —bread soaked in milk, honey and spices, then dipped in egg and pan-fried similar to French toast.
Whatever your taste for outdoor adventure, Andorra is the perfect treat to beat the summer heat. If you want an even cooler getaway – visit in the winter as this tiny country has world-class skiing and snowboarding, not to mention an Igloo Ice Hotel. Book your next holiday with ENTERTAINER getaways on your ENTERTAINER app! You’ll get to enjoy your vacation with up to 60% off your hotel stay!