Route: Barcelona (Spain) – Ransol (Andorra) – Vallcebre (Spain)
30.08.2019 - 07.09.2019 20 °C
After a few weeks exploring the UK and catching up with friends, our adventures resumed. A flight from London Gatwick to Barcelona in Spain got us started. Then after a pleasant night in an airport hotel, we picked up our rental car and headed northwest, our destination was the tiny country of Andorra.
The drive out of Barcelona was on quiet motorways until we turned north into the Pyrenees Mountains. The scenery was now much more spectacular as the road cut through river valleys gaining altitude all the way. Crossing the border from Spain into Andorra couldn’t have been simpler; there was no-one checking documentation so we barely stopped.
Andorra is a small country, only about 35km from north to south and about the same east to west. So our journey from the border to our accommodation in the village of Ransol was fairly short, just 25km. After a bit of a problem locating our accommodation, but with the help of a few local residents, we were settled in our one bedroom apartment before nightfall.
The following morning dawned bright and sunny, and the view from our balcony allowed us to appreciate the magnificent scenery all around us. Ransol sits at an altitude of about 1700 meters and from our balcony we could see right down the valley, almost to the nearest town of Canillo.
Still a bit knackered from a busy few weeks in the UK, we decided to take it easy during our stay in Andorra. This didn’t prove difficult, as all the attractions are just a short drive away. With this in mind, checking out our local supermarket and a stroll around the nearest town of Canillo was the sum total of day one activities.
Thunderstorms were forecast for the afternoon of day two, so we just did a road trip to explore the east. It was beautiful mountain scenery again, all the way to the French border and back.
With the thunderstorms over, the following day dawned with blue skies and a sun eager to make an appearance. This meant it was time to resume our exploration of this beautiful country. Our first destination was Del Roc del Quer, a platform jutting out of the mountainside offering a great view of the central valley. But before we could enjoy the view there was a mountain road to negotiate. As with most mountain roads in these parts it is very windy, with numerous hairpin bends as it snaked its way up. However, unlike many mountain roads we have driven in the recent past, these were very well maintained and a joy to drive, also there was very little traffic this time of year.
Having finally dragged ourselves away from the magnificent views, we headed down the mountain to continue our day of exploration. Our decent brought us into the Vaira del Nord (northern valley), and after a brief stop at the picturesque village of Ordino, we started our drive up the valley.
Our aim was to enjoy the scenery as we drove up the valley and stop at a few attractions on the way down. The road ended at a ski station, Ordino Arcalis, which looked like a great place for a hike for another day. Then the drive back took in some memorable sights.
First was the Parc Natural de La Vall de Sorteny, a valley surrounded by 3000m peaks and with many interesting hikes on offer. Unfortunately, our limited time in Andorra would mean we wouldn’t have time to check them out.
Just down the road from the park entrance we made a brief stop at a waterfall, in the hamlet of El Serrat. Not a big waterfall by any means, but one of the most beautiful we have seen. Emerging out of a thick forest, the water tumbles over some large rocks, before descending under a bridge. However, what it lacked in size it made up for by it uniqueness. The rock that formed the main drop was porous, so the water seeped inside to almost immediately re-emerged as a tiny spouts, all underneath the main cascade.
Barely a kilometre further down the road we made another stop, this time to see a bridge. The bridge was over the Riu Vaira del Nord, the same river that formed the earlier waterfall. But what was interesting was it age, it is believed to have been built during the Roman occupation. The bridge was small, about enough room for a chariot to cross, steep sided and with rough stonework for its base.
Our final adventure for the day was another mountain road. Unfortunately this one didn’t have the views of the one earlier in the day, was narrow in places and not so much fun to drive.
The next day was another beauty, so we decided it was time for a hike, and yesterday’s ski station would be our starting point. Another enjoyable drive over the mountains and up the northern valley got us to our destination. From there a cable car transported us up to the start of the hike.
It was then a steady climb up the mountainside to reach a plateau, and there lay three lakes glistening in the mountain sun. The next stage was to traverse each one of them, not much elevation change at this point but a lot of rock scrambling though. The lakes were glacial and filled with crystal clear water, all interlinked by small mountain streams. It was a beautiful place and an ideal spot for us to stop for a picnic lunch. It was then a decent back down to the cable car station where we had started.
Although now a bit tired we couldn’t resist going higher, so we boarded a chairlift and started a further accent. The chairlift took us from 2,200m up to 2,700m and amongst the surrounding peaks. The ride was tranquil and very peaceful, all you could hear was a gently breeze and cow bells from the valley below us. The cowbells were unusual in this instance, a common sound in European mountains, but these were around the necks of horses. Farm horses we imagined put out to graze on the lush mountain pastures.
Once at the top the views were spectacular. Mountain peaks all around us, small glacial lakes wherever there was an indentation and even Bearded Vultures circling above our heads. It was truly amazing.
After short walk around at the top, our legs wouldn’t allow much more, we descended via the chairlift and took the cable car back to the car park. It was then a drive back to Ransol, this time on the main roads, and a reflection on another incredible day.
With aching limbs from the day before, a more sedate pace was now required. Our first port of call was the Juberri Gardens. A private garden that extends up into the forest, covered with sculptures of all types. It wasn’t quite what we were expecting from the tourist guide, and was obviously designed for children. Nevertheless it was very well done and worth the visit.
From the gardens we descended the mountain and went into the capital to have a look at its historical centre. The historical centre of Andorra le Vella is small so this activity didn’t take long. In fact we spent less time looking around the centre then we did negotiating the capital’s traffic and finding our way out of a supermarket car park (there was some strange ticketing arrangement if you shopped in the store).
Now fully recovered, the next day we headed back up into the mountains for another hike. This time we were in the south east of the country, and in the Vall del Madriu-Perafita Claror. This is a secluded valley with no road access, so the further you are willing to walk the more remote it gets. Now, as much as we would like the remoteness our energy levels dictated that we wouldn’t venture beyond it outer limits. Even so, we had a steep climb through dense forest just to get a glimpse of one of its beautiful secluded mountain meadows. But it was worth the effort, just for the views.
And so it brought us to our last full day in Andorra. The time had raced by and we still had lots more things to do, so it was tough to select just one. We finally selected a hike in the Vall d’incles. A beautiful walk along the edge of the River Incle, with mountain slopes either side of us and clear blue skies above our heads, made us realise this was a good choice. However, although the sun was shining the wind was particularly cold, which reminded us it was getting near the end of summer. As usual the views were magnificent, but the sight of sheep dogs rounding up sheep and the hardy breed of Bruna d’Andorra cattle grazing (although that had all decided lay down by the time we reached them), made it even more pleasurable.
And that was Andorra, a gem of a country and one we will definitely revisit in the not to distant future. It was now time to cross the border and explore northern Spain.
Personal Observations & Interesting Facts
Andorra is a small country wedged between France and Spain. It is the sixth smallest nation in Europe (16th in the world), covering an area of 468 square kilometres and with a population of around 80,000. Its whole land mass is situated in the Pyrenees Mountains with an average altitude of 2,000 meters and a highest peak of 2,942m. Its GDP per capita is one of the highest in the world, with most of its income being generated from tourism, but also from financial services (Andorra is a tax haven) and, surprisingly, tobacco.
Andorran Postal System
Unique to Andorra, it is the only country in the world not to have its own postal system, but does have its own stamps. The postal system in Andorra is run by the French and Spanish national postal services, but can only be used if an Andorran stamp is attached to the letter, postcard or parcel. It is also free to post items within the country.
Andorra has its fair share of roundabouts, which aid the traffic flow. But it seems that the Andorran are very proud of their roundabouts, as each is adorned with a sculpture, floral display or other form of decoration.