25 Hours In Andorra!

andorraOver President’s Week break the Michael W Travels family headed to Barcelona.

Barcelona was the first European city I visited (around 20 years back) but it was the first visit  for the rest of my family. It’s fun to revisit places I’ve been but I still like to squeeze in a new destination, too.

While planning the trip back to Spain, I knew this was the perfect opportunity to finally make it to Andorra, a tiny UN member state up in the Pyrenees mountains, between Spain and France.

We had a few options for our visit. We could go on a long and pricey day-trip to Andorra, take the bus each way or rent a car.

The best option for us was to rent a car and make the 2.5- 3 hour drive (each way). This would give us the best opportunity to travel the way we like.

Once we crossed into Andorra, our first order of business was to grab something to eat.

(Here’s looking at you McDonald’s. This would be a good opportunity to see what local items might be on the menu and a way to make the kids happy after our long, non-stop ride.)Next, we made a quick stop at La Margineda Bridge. The bridge was built in the 14th or 15th century and allows you to walk across the Valira River.

We took a walk across the bridge, snapped a few photos and then headed to the town of Santa Coloma.We spent a few minutes walking down the paths between the  stone buildings and then turned back to make a stop at our intended destination.Santa Coloma Church is Andorra’s oldest and listed as a heritage property. It’s a cute little church when you take a look from the outside.

We headed inside for a look and it appeared to be like any old church- some seating, paintings, you get the idea. Sadly, I missed the best part of the visit.

I was afraid that the time on my meter would expire so I headed back to wait in the car. After I left, Kim, Lucas and Theo got to see a really impressive and modern light show inside, showing what the now removed murals of the church wall’s would’ve looked like inside, centuries back. (Theo was actually pretty scared of the lights.)We the checked into our hotel and headed out to wander around the capital, Andorra La Vella.

Ponte De Paris is an interesting, modern bridge with the highlight being the city’s name on it. (At night, the name was lit up- pretty neat!)Andorra is high up in the Pyrenees Mountains, nestled between Spain and France.

It’s a co-principality, meaning that there are two princes, one being the President of France, the other being a Bishop from Catalonia (Spain.)

I had read that the mail was handled by both countries and to look for mailboxes representing this. During our visit, I noticed two post offices close to each other. While wandering around, I spotted two mail boxes, one French, one Spanish right next to each other which I thought was really interesting.We then stopped by the Church of Saint Esteve, another of Andorra’s heritage properties.

This church dates to the 12th century. Rather than go inside, we just checked it out from the outside.Many people visit Andorra for great deals on shopping. While we weren’t in the market for anything, we made a pitstop at the Pyrenees Department Store.

I had read that it was one of the most popular stores but if you ask me, it was just a department store with a couple of restaurants inside.The most impressive part of the store was the massive supermarket inside.

You could purchase lots of different things including local specialties from both Spain and France. Most impressive was the butcher department. Displays like the hams above were really cool to see. (No, we didn’t purchase any.)After leaving the Pyrenees Department Store, we walked around the busy shopping streets.

We enjoyed coming across a few statues of Mickey Mouse which were on display to celebrate his 90th anniversary.

Dinner ended up being a bit of a challenge. Many restaurants don’t open until later in the evening. Also, when looking for tips on where to eat, common comments were, “there are lots of great restaurants“. However, we didn’t get one restaurants suggested to us!

After a bit of wandering, we came across a tapas place that looked pretty local. The staff didn’t speak English but a family sitting outside said it was very good. We ended up having one of the best meals of our trip at Lizarran. (After reading more into it, it turned out that Lizarran was a Spanish tapas chain.)

During Day Two, we made good use of the Andorra PassMusseu. (Find out how you can save money with the pass by clicking on the link.)Our first stop was Casa de la Vall, located in the capital. It’s a historic house where reservations are needed for guided tours.

The house was built in 1580 and is where parliament met for centuries. It moved to a modern building in 2011.

Sadly, no photos were allowed inside. We got to visit the parliament chamber on the second floor, which is a very impressive room. The first floor is the entrance which were originally stables. The court room is also located here.

Casa de la Vall is an interesting place to visit to better understand how the country is ran but if you’re traveling with kids, it probably won’t be of much interest to them.The Museum of Miniatures (in Ordino) is a must- visit if you ask me. We were amazed with what was on display in this small museum.

When you head upstairs, the first thing you’ll see are lots of Matryoska, Russian nesting dolls on display. For those unfamiliar with them, the dolls all stack inside each other in size order. This was fun to see but not overly exciting.

However, this was…Step up to each display, take a look with the microscope and you’ll be amazed.Look carefully and you’ll see camels and the pyramid created inside a sewing needle, small sculptures made from gold and other works or art on a grain or rice!
Other interesting creations included bottle which were painted on the inside. A video was shown about how the artist made these works; it still boggles my mind.Our final stop was the Tobacco Museum (in Sant Julia de Loria), located close to the border with Spain.

This wasn’t our first choice but it was highly recommended.The museum had a temporary display about comic books. We saw some of this when we walked inside.What made this museum so interesting was how the tour is done.

The exhibit is in a former tobacco factory, spread out on three floors. As you make your way through the tour, you move along as areas light up. Once this happens, the information is piped in through speakers.

When it’s time to go up to another floor, a museum staffer brings you along.

While tobacco isn’t of much interest to us, the information was actually quite interesting. Tobacco has been a very important part of the economy for Andorra. This museum felt more like an ethnographic museum than one just about tobacco.The temporary display about comics was a floor with various comics on display. We weren’t really interested in this but Lucas enjoyed taking a quick look.

Final Thoughts:

It was great to finally get a chance to check out the tiny country of Andorra. While most people will tell you that the only reason to visit is for shopping, there are many other things to do.

We enjoyed learning a bit about the country’s culture and stopping by some of the quirky museums. If we had more time, we would’ve probably went to a few others and also tried to take part in some sort of snow sport. (We’re not skiers but other options include dogsledding.)

Have you visited Andorra? If so, what did you do during your visit.

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