Walking and trekking
Andorra is a quirky little principality sandwiched between France and Spain and entirely within the Pyrenees. It has a very rugged backcountry, which in winter turns the mountains of the country white and dramatic, and in summer burns them brown, though nowhere near as arid as the mountains of southern Spain. This tiny country has a number of excellent destinations for walking, and is very aware of its status as a grand destination. In the northwest lies the Parroquia D’Ordino (Parroquia means parish, rather than park), which is perhaps the pick of outdoor Andorra, home to Sorteny Valley Nature Park. The diamond-shaped, 1080-hectare park is unusual in that it is a beacon demonstrating Andorra’s unique attitude towards sustainability and ecological preservation, and is of great botanical and geological interest. Both of these aspects can be enjoyed on one of the Parks’ many walking trails, which take you on impressively scenic walks to a series of mountain peaks, the highest of which reach impressive heights: L‘Estanyo (2,915m) and La Serrera (2,913m) both have heights within 50m of the highest peak in the country, and given a high starting point of 1,800m and Andorra’s national altitude (the lowest point in the country is 870m, where it crosses into Spain) the park offers a superb way to summit high peaks with moderate effort. There are three main treks in the park (detailed on a snazzy website, see links, below) which take in various highlights and highpoints in the park, the best of which being the Eastern Peaks route – an 8-hour circuit of both the highest mountains, and a number of smaller peaks and passes in an encompassing, park-spanning walk.
The country’s highest peak is Como Pedrosa (2,946m), at a height which is significant but doesn’t poke it’s head much above the rest of the country. To climb it is a walk, with little technicality beyond scree and steepeness in summer, with ice axe and crampons required in winter, as well as an awareness of avalanche danger – which should be followed deep into spring as snow tends to cling to this peak. It’s a big, grand mountain at the head of a forested valley, and is normally climbed from Arinsal. There is an excellent refuge on this route which provides accommodation, food and drink from June to October (tel. +376 327 955) and keeps a free room open outside of summer, though has no attendant during these months. The route lies close to the border with both France and Spain, and the summit offers great views into both, as well as across a good chunk of the rest of Andorra.
A number of the pan-Europe GR trails cross Andorra. Diagonally through the middle, the GR11 – one of the pan-Europe walking trails – passes through the country on its 840km traverse of the Pyrenees, which takes it from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. The Andorran sections of the trail are spellbinding, taking in every level of the country from the lakes of the south-east (‘Estanys’ in Catalan) to the highest mountain in the north-west before passing into Spain soon after. The GR7 trucks through the country in the south, whereas the GRP-1 stays largely within Andorra and almost circumnavigates it, taking in some very challenging and breathlessly spectacular terrain. Along all of the main trails are a smattering of refuges, most free and much like bothies, many dating from times before tourism to allow trashumancia (the seasonal migration of livestock across country) to be prevalent in Andorra’s farming communities.
From the capital of Andorra La Vella there are many walks which you can take straight out of the city, though despite being pretty, it has traffic congestion problems so you would be well-advised to get out of the city and explore the areas around the towns of Arinsal, Canillo, Llorts and El Serrat. The east of the country is the last developed, with a smattering of ski resorts and towns offering access to the remote lakes of the south-east and the mountains of the north-east. If you really want to experience Andorra and have time to spare, really consider doing sections of the long trails: they will give you focus and direction in a country with a lot to offer, and you won’t regret it.
Skiing is a big lure to Andorra, as it is cheaper than most other places in Europe. Pas de la Casta-Grau Roig and Soldeu-El Tarter are the places you’ll be wanting to go for this, though there are plenty of smaller, cheaper resorts too depending on what you’re looking for. There’s a great spa complex at Caldea, where a 600 square metre facility of pools, tubs and saunas take advantage of the natural thermal springs which keep the waters heated to a constant 32 deg C. Due to its status as something of a tax haven, Andorra has some great duty free shops, which make up most of the reason to spend any time at all in the distinctly uninspiring capital of Andorra La Vella.
The country has two official languages: Spanish and French.
FALSE: the official language is actually Catalan, though you will hear both of the above, as well as Portuguese, being spoken on the streets of La Vella.
The name Andorra means ‘little big country’. TRUE.
Andorra has no airports: TRUE. You have to approach from Spain or France.
Must see and do
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