Encamp & Grandvalira

The longest cable car in Europe starts at Encamp and ends at Solanelles in the Grandvalira ski resort. The cable car is 6 km long and takes you from point A to B in just 18 minutes with a stop in between for some more panoramic views.

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Encamp

Encamp is located just 5kms from Andorra-la-Vella and Escaldes-Engordany, the main urban shopping area and I took L2 from the city centre to Encamp that took only 10-15 minutes and drops you right in front of the cable car. Encamp itself is quite small and is a little sleepy but it is at such an angle you get to see the sunlight in the morning. If you are a skiing enthusiast this will open the world with the largest ski slopes in the whole if South Europe and Pyranees mountains.

The bus dropped me in front of Funicamp cable car station and I bought the tickets which were roughly €12 return without skiing. The station is well equipped with lockers, WiFi and 8 levels of parking and the day I went was quiet so no long queues.

Funicamp

The cable car is just as exciting as the views on the top. I waited for 5 minutes and managed to get on a cable car alone and then the journey began. It takes you through thick forests up to where the snow sporadically appears to thickly covered snowy mountains. The climb up is quite vertical and at times you feel like you could touch the tree tops but obviously its quite far below. You can see the beautiful valleys of Andorra below at at 25 km/h it is quite calm and serene.

You will reach the first stop which has a restaurant and a viewing area but I didn’t bother stepping out because I was hungry and more interested in eating on the top.

On the way back I took a hyper lapse video of the journey, it is below, enjoy the views..

     

Solanelles (GrandValira)

Finally I reached the top after 15-20 minutes from the start of my journey and 30-40 minutes from my residence which is pretty impressive considering how far off it is.

The views on the top are just breathtaking, I popped into the skiing school and the cafeteria next to it and ordered my awesome four cheese sandwich and cappuccino. The food was good but the view was just breathtaking. You can see vast valleys, snow clad mountains and luckily it was quite sunny on the day so the views were even better.

The skiing resort is absolutely stunning, if you love skiing you can get more detailed information here.  I saw a lot of people skiing in different directions and there were two or three different chair and standing lifts to bring them back up to the top.

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I walked slightly up to the top of the mountain in the middle and saw the beauty of this tiny country in a single glance. You cannot stop yourself from falling in love with the stunning views. I made my way down after a couple of hours of roaming around, soaking up some sun. (Don’t forget to put some sunscreen on, sun that high up is very harmful for your skin).

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I managed to get back on the cable car alone and finally reached encamp and headed back to Andorra le Vella to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening in Caldea..

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Andorra

Andorrrrrra is a beautiful micro state sandwiched between Spain and France. It is located high up in Pyranees mountains and the total population of the whole country is around 80,000 people. The whole country is mountainous and most of the towns are in the valleys. Andorra la Vella is the capital of Andorra and it is the highest capital in the whole of Europe.

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Grandvalira

Andorra has a few very interesting features that give it a distinct status; despite being a small state it has maintained its identity as a state since very long. It is also part of Europe but not EU. The country has no train system or airports and the only way to get in is either through the roads or helicopters which are quite rare and obviously expensive.

It is also a tax haven and due to its tax free nature it is very popular for shopping and the most important part of Andorra is the tourism. This small country sees more than 10 million visitors a year mainly due to its stunning snow clad mountains perfect for skiing.

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Caldea

While the country is close to both France and Spain the major influence comes from Catalonia with Catalan being the Official language and while most of the population speaks Catalan French sometimes is as foreign as English but most people are multilingual.

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Beautiful Ordino

The Racism Factor 

With everyone busy in shopping and so few people around who are locals, no one has the time to be racist. It is a country of peace and tranquility and it is evident from their history with almost no active wars throughout the time no matter who ruled the place. People are really nice and will try their best to accommodate you in whichever way possible.

The Gay Factor 

Sandwiched between two very gay friendly countries, Andorra is quite liberal and while I didn’t get to meet any gay locals, it was a very safe place and I didn’t feel threatened in any which way. There are no gay specific bars or clubs but that’s got to be because of the size of cities which are really small. Grindr however is quite common and guys were as liberated as any big city like Barcelona or Toulouse. I also did see the gay rainbow flag on the doors of a few shops which was adorable despite the shops having nothing to do with gay things.

Value for Money 

Andorra can be quite cheap or quite expensive depending on how exclusive you want your things. For accommodation, if you book a bit in advance it can be quite cheap. The cost of coming in and going out is almost negligible especially with so many people using BlaBlaCar. (You can get a return booking for £20-25 very conveniently).

The shopping scene is mad though and you can save a lot on perfumes and electronics and to some extent clothes as well. The most important items being Alcohol and cigarettes which are dirt cheap compared to UK. Food is also quite cheap and you can get a three course meal for €15-20. Public transport is also very cheap and quite accurate.

Itinerary

I visited Andorra for 2 and a half days during December 2016 with a friend from Toulouse. The first day, we got in and explored the city and gathered info and chilled out. The second day we visited encamp and Grandvalira and the famous Caldea spa and the last day we explored the village of Ordino and shopping in Andorra la Vella.

Accommodation

We got an apartment near the edge of Andorra la Vella and Escaldes -Engordany and not so far from the Caldea spa. The location was perfect to get around and everything was a few minutes walk away. Andorra la Vella is the best place to get around the whole country and ski resorts and also for shopping.

Food

Despite there being a lot of restaurants the food was generally quite mixed. The best food I had was Spanish and Thai and the worst was Mexican. There are a lot of Japanese places as well but generally food is a bit of hit and miss and again depending on your budget can be very different.

One peculiar thing we noticed is the difference between A la Carte and set menus where set menus are comparatively very cheap (roughly €15 to 20) bu the portion sizes are in not reduced in any way, we loved Andorra after that…

Phone & Internet 

This is probably the biggest issue we faced throughout our stay. There is only one company telecom company in the whole country and since it is a monopoly it is quite expensive starting at €30. Also because Andorra is not part of EU (It is part of Europe but not European Union (EU)) so the roaming caps do not apply and it can be very expensive so unless you’re staying a week avoid getting a sim, more details here.

The cities generally have free public Wifi spots and a lot of bars and restaurants have free wifi as well. The whole of Andorra le Vella is covered by free wifi and it is very good so take advantage of that. You also need to check with the accommodation about it because we didn’t check and it was an issue because we actually had to spend more times together which was very awkward 😉

Cash & Cards 

Andorra uses Euros as its currency. This makes things much easier for price comparison and from payments perspective. Card payments are quite common and even contactless cards are quite widely accepted. You should keep some cash just in case because a couple of places didn’t have card machines. Cash machines are also quite easily available even in far off places.

Tips

  • Book your spa experience at Caldea beforehand especially if you want a massage.
  • Pack your swimming trunks for the spa or be prepared to buy some expensive undies.
  • Pack for heavy winters as the temperatures can instantly drop.
  • It is unusually cold in one part of the day than other because most cities are in valleys and depending on the direction sun comes out very early or leaves very early, be prepared.
  • There are a lot of cheap counterfeit electronic shops, always check thoroughly before buying something expensive.
  • Public transport is quite good and frequent, if you can avoid getting a car unless you plan on going to some far off places.
  • Andorra is as hilly as it gets with barely any flat ground so make sure you prepare mentally for the uphill walks, stairs and grab your shoes accordingly.
  • The shopping centres are endless and once you get inside you will end up buying something just like I did, its better to give in than cry later, things are generally cheap.
  • Don’t forget to pack some sunscreen for high altitudes because UV rays are more dense at mountain tops.
  • The public transport almost stops after 10pm so it won’t be ideal to get stuck somewhere at night especially with almost no taxis around.
  • There is no train system or airport in the country, don’t go looking for one.
  • Do not called Catalan Spanish, it is very offensive.