Explore Andorra's PyreneesPosted on: 24 September 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves
Andorra is ideal for an affordable, relaxed holiday among the mountains.
Wedged up in the Pyrenees between France and Spain, the fifth smallest nation in Europe is the continent's highest country. It consists of 65 peaks over 2000 metres in height spread across the two ski areas of Grandvalira and Vallnord.
Tax free Andorra has been popular with skiers and snowboarders for many years, but bargain shopping and skiing are not all that's on offer.
During summer when the snow has melted and the bars are no longer bustling with revellers enjoying the 'apres ski', the mountains make a relaxed and reasonable value walking destination. For the last four years Andorra has also been developing a range of activities.
The sunny and hot summer contrasts with the snowy winter, yet the weather is still fresh and grows cool as you climb higher. August is the month for various festivals and events across Andorra which provide visitors with a unique insight into the culture and traditions of this friendly mountain country.
The Great Outdoors
Andorra's terrain is mainly made up of rugged mountains with an average height of 1,996 metres (6,549 ft), covered in conifer and mixed forests. Three valleys feed into the Valira river, and you can fish the lakes for trout with a permit.
The attractive natural scenery includes rocky waterfalls, babbling streams, tranquil pools and secluded dells, with pretty alpine flowers in season. On a peaceful walk you're likely to catch sight of butterflies and other wildlife, as well as bell-bearing horses and cows jangling along.
The highest peak in the country, Coma Pedrosa, rises to 2,942 metres (9,665 ft). However you can begin the climb from 1,450 metre altitude Arinsal, from where it takes around three to four hours to the top. Halfway there's a manned refuge where you can buy hot drinks and snacks, to fuel your ascent to the summit for vast views across the Pyrenees on a clear day.
Then there's plenty more of the Pyrenees to explore, in this 181 square mile state. Hardcore walkers can backpack along the ridges. Simple strolls include the Camí Ral d'Ordino in La Cortinada, the Camí de les Pardines in Encamp and the Rec del Solà in Andorra la Vella. Lakes that are easy to climb to include Tristaina in Ordino and Juclar, Cabana Sorda and Siscaró in Canillo.
Alternatively, cable cars ride up into the mountains from Arinsal, La Massana and other ski bases. You can use the cable car as the starting point for a hike, or enjoy a scenic trip in itself.
Andorra lacks the quaint architecture of many Alpine or Spanish villages, but Ordino is rather picturesque. You can walk or take a bus up to the town from La Massana. Bus services in Andorra are frequent and cost as little as one euro.
From Ordino the adventurous can climb one of Andorra's 'Via Ferrata' or 'iron routes', which is a ladder set into the rocky hillside. Other Via Ferrata locations include Canillo, Encamp and Pas de la Casa.
Aside from walking and rock climbing, the activities on offer range from world-class mountain bike trails, 4 x 4 and quad biking routes, to canyoning, canoeing and rafting. You can experience zip wires or abseiling, horse riding or clay pigeon shooting. The highest nine hole golf course in Europe opens on 15th September at Grandvalira Golf in Soldeu.
If all that exertion leaves you exhilarated but in need of a long, hot soak, why not treat yourself to a morning or afternoon in the Caldea spa at Andorra La Vella? Costing €32 (£25) for three hours, with various other packages on offer, you can enjoy the large indoor pool with its hourly fountain, sound and light display, or the outdoor pool where you can relax in the sun surrounded by mountains.
Naturally rich in sulphur and mineral salts, the 35 springs of Escaldes-Engordany, one of the seven parishes of Andorra, are the hottest in the Pyrenees. This thermal water is utilised as whirlpools, jets, jacuzzis, bubble beds, cascades and steam sprays.
At the ornate Indo-Roman baths you can alternate between a comforting 36 degrees and a 14 degree pool, which feels very cold, though it's worth taking the plunge as it's invigorating and no chillier than a dip at the British seaside!
Other facilities include a walk-through polar pool, circulation-stimulating ice to rub on, a sauna, a sumptuous sweet-smelling Hammam steam room, and a wood room with lighting, sounds and scents that's so soothing you'll fall asleep within minutes.
A range of treatments and massages is available but it's worth booking as soon as possible to secure an appointment. Choose between the tasty sounding wine or choco therapy, cocoa, coffee, gold or pearl wraps, stone or water massage, and a myriad of other luxurious options.
Afterwards you can unwind with a meal in the Michelin starred Aquarius restaurant, or enjoy a drink and panoramic views in the Sirius bar 80 metres (262 ft) up at the top of the glass Caldea tower.
Commerce & Culture
The capital Andorra La Vella is packed with shops, so you might take the opportunity to pick up some perfume, designer clothing, electrical goods, cigarettes or alcohol. It's duty-free as Andorra is outside the European Union. They use the euro currency though.
Among the historic attractions is the Casa de la Vall, the seat of parliament. Other museums in Andorra include those dedicated to perfume, post and miniature models.
As you'd expect in a country whose economy is 80 per cent tourism, there's often someone who speaks English. If communicating with the locals proves difficult, however, Spanish and French are as commonly understood as the official Catalan language.
Many hotels offer an all-inclusive package of breakfast, dinner and a packed lunch, which is extremely handy if you're out walking all day. Although Andorra has some superb traditional restaurants, don't necessarily expect fine food at your hotel. With a glass of wine costing a couple of euros (£1.50), Andorra is certainly affordable.
An example of a summer deal is the half board package at the well equipped four star Princesa Parc Hotel, with spa facilities and ten pin bowling, in popular Arinsal at €261 (£210) per person sharing a double room for five nights.
Travelling to Andorra is easy with many flights from all corners of the UK into the nearby airports of Barcelona, Toulouse, Carcassonne, Reus and Girona. There are regular and affordable scheduled bus services from Barcelona and Toulouse or value car hire from the other airports.
www.andorra.ad - Andorra information
www.vallnord.com - activities and details on 62 hotels and apartments across 14 locations in the Vallnord valley
www.grandvalira.com - activities
www.caldea.com - Caldea spa
www.easyjet.com - flights to Andorra
www.ryanair.com - flights to Andorra
www.ba.com - flights to Andorra
www.jet2.com - flights to Andorra
www.bmibaby.com - flights to Andorra
www.thomsonfly.com - flights to Andorra
By Cherry Butler
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