Andorra la Vella is the highest and one the tiniest capitals in Europe with a population of only 22,000 people but this is in no way reflective of what this place has to offer. Andorra la Vella is located in a valley surrounded by giants of Pyrenees with some stunning views.
The city is so small you can easily walk from one end to the other in an hour and see it all but it has some tricks up its sleeves that can keep you grounded for weeks. Don’t believe me? For a population of 84,000, the country hosts more than 10 million visitors a year, go figure…
The biggest attraction for people in Andorra is skiing, then shopping but the biggest reason I fell in love with this tiny country and its capital is clean fresh air, stunning views and the freedom it offers…
Toulouse to Andorra
As you know Andorra doesn’t have any airports or train service, you can only come in through the road from Toulouse or Barcelona. It might seem like an equal match but coming from Barcelona is much easier than coming from Toulouse with more busses available than its French counterpart. If you are posh enough they also have a Heliopad and you can come in with a Helicopter.
The best way is to book your tickets in advance through Andorrabybus which we used on the way back but there is another slightly risky option which is car pooling service BlaBlaCar which we used on the way to Andorra.
The bus is more like a shuttle service and takes roughly 3 and a half hours, it is more expensive (€37 ) versus carpooling which can be as little as £12 (€15) but you need to book the car pool closer to time and it also takes less time. (We arrived in El Pas de la Casa in roughly 2 and a half hours).
A few minutes’ drive outside Toulouse and you will start seeing the Pyrenees mountains and roughly 45 minutes later the mountains with snow clad peaks will start appearing and finally it will all be snow around with trees and tiny patches of grass peaking through.
From Toulouse the first stop is always the border city of El Pas de la Casa. The guys I was driving with dropped me in front of the Tourist office at the beginning of the town and inhaling the fresh cold air of Andorra got in to find out how to get to Andorra la Vella.
The guy in the office was very helpful, he explained about the public Wifi system and gave me access to office network and then explained how to take bus L4 from right outside the Tourist office to Andorra la Vella which was standing ready right outside as if waiting for me to drive away.
I think it has something to do with the mountains but people in mountainous regions are always much more sincere and helpful (I am from a very mountainous region originally ;)). The driver was very helpful again and told me when my stop arrived.
I got off outside Plaza Rotunda in Andorra la Vella in roughly 30 minutes which has another Tourist office and after another 30 minutes inside I was ready to check in to my apartment and was sorted for my stay in terms of what-to-do.
On the way back to Toulouse, things were slightly different and we got to see the most beautiful and fiery sunset ever Toulouse with the sky Red and Orange..
Andorra la Vella Old Town
We stayed at the edge of town almost in Escaldes – Engordany and after a quick check in and a shower we didn’t waste time sitting inside and went to check out the town which was glittering with all the Christmas lights with a lot of people happily going around with loads of shopping bags.
The city is divided into roughly two parts, the new parts with the malls or the shopping district and the old town. From Rontunda Plaza you take the Av. Maretixell until you reach Av. Princep Beniloch. You will see the Church of Saint Stephen there at the entrance of old town. It is a beautiful stone built church in Romanesque style with a simple but elegant interior. It was decorated for Christmas but the highlight was happening behind the church in Placa Del Poble with its small Christmas market. We walked there and almost shouted with excitement. They had actual REINDEERS and CAMELS and you could touch them and feed them and look at them for as long as you wanted. I was the happiest man alive at that moment.
It was my first time seeing a live reindeer and their skin was so soft and beautiful and their horns so long and twisty it was amazing. I almost felt like a child and to make things better Santa’s elves were handing out some grains you could feed these beautiful creatures and whilst all this was happening we heard the choir singing the Christmas carols in Catalan which sounded even more amazing within this beautiful valley. My heart just melted despite the -1 degree centigrade temperature around. Everyone just stood in a trance listening to the music and in that instant I realized why music has no language, the connection and ethereal, I can still feel Goosebumps.
Towards the edge of this platform like plaza you can see the beautifully lit Government building. Andorrans really know how to capture your attention even for a mundane government building.
An hour passed being a kid with so many kids around and we started getting hungry. The old town is full of beautiful restaurants and we chose one ‘L’Arrosseria’ which was recommended by our host. The menu looked amazing; it was all Spanish and after a heart meal of fish, Garlic prawns and Catalan burnt cream (Catalan version of Creme Brulee) we set out to explore the rest of old town which is quite small.
The houses are all built of stone and most of the ground floors have been converted to restaurants or bars but there are still small beautiful squares that just bring the whole place together and give it the feel of a town.
A few drinks later we headed back to our apartment through the town and got ourselves ready for Grandvalira and the cable car adventure next morning.
After a morning in the gorgeous mountains in Grandvalira and Solanelle we took the bus back to Andorra la Vella which dropped us close to Caldea. The building has quite a few claims to fame. At 6,000square meters it is the largest spa in Europe as well as the tallest building in Andorra with 18 floors.
The building complex is very modern with its glass exterior and inviting charm and houses restaurants, cafe’s, gym, sun lounge, massage services and what not! Caldea is the name of the big complex but the building has two different spas; Caldea and INUU.
Caldea is the general spa where you can enter with family and kids and is quite busy. It is also the cheaper option of two. It is quite a busy place with a massive main hall with its beautiful white decor and a zig zag Jacuzzi bowls stacked all the way to the top and every hour there is a water show.
Through the main pool, you can also venture outside where temperate are freezing but the water keeps you absolutely nice and cosy. The views for Andorra from here are really beautiful.
The other spa is called INUU which is the more exclusive place and only adults are allowed inside. It also features multiple thermal pools, a sun lounge and water beds and great atmosphere. The interior is more steely here with pools changing colours every few minutes.
Through the right hand side you can move out to INUU exterior which is an amazing steaming & bubbling pool outside. Since this pool is much higher up the views are much better and stunning and the submerged steel beds make it easy to chill out for quite some time.
In all honesty, the outdoor pool is the only thing that is better when it comes to comparing the two places. INUU is twice as expensive but I didn’t find the exclusivity to be that interesting. Caldea was more lively and fun. If you don’t mind kids and families choose Caldea but if it is a more romantic environment you seek choose INUU. The Japanese/Thai restaurant on the 1st level is quite awesome and I highly recommend it compared to the ground floor cafe..
All in all, it was an afternoon very well spent splashing around in the pools, absorbing the beauty of mountains in a hot pool, a great massage and great food. I just felt like not going back at all…
Tip: Send them an email and call them to book any treatments or massages but don’t bank on their website unless you can read French, Spanish or Catalan. There is no English translation.
We came out roughly after 10pm after a fun day and the building looked even more funky with the top of pyramid changing colours with the pools in INUU and the staircase lit beautifully. On the walk back to the apartment we saw the Andbank building and you just can’t refrain from admiring it. The building is made of black glass with a few red lines added so perfectly the building comes to life, genius!
You cannot come to Andorra and not shop!!! It is one of the must do’s while here as much as skiing and trust me there’s something for everyone from clothes, bags, shoes, perfumes, cosmetics, electronics to gadgets and the biggest attractions tobacco and alcohol! Andorra is a duty free country and the prices for alcohol and tobacco are much cheaper compared to mainland Europe and a lot of people come here just to buy these two items from neighbouring two countries.
The main area next to Rotunda plaza is full of shops and shopping malls in each direction whether you are moving towards the old down or up the hill. The malls are endless with ways opening to more malls and shops but be careful of the counterfeits. Generally the prices reflect if the product is a real or fake and we didn’t feel like the shopkeepers were cheating us but some of the stuff was too close to call.
I absolutely loves perfumes and I bought myself a few to add to my collection without thinking about the airport security because I was travelling with hand luggage only. Luckily none of them was more than a 100ml and the security staff was nice enough to let me carry two bags of liquids, love the people of Toulouse…
A couple of days spent in Andorra la Vella were truly memorable and I can’t wait to go back and explore this tiny but beautiful country some more…