And so we set off for Andorra – a new country for both of us – Vanya’s seventy first and my ninety eighth. We have visited more countries but for this count we only include countries which entail a stay of at least two days and require a sleepover (airport sleepovers not included).
No problem getting into Andorra. It isn’t a member of the EU but clearly has special status since there was no sign of immigration or customs as we drove across the border from Spain. It was different coming back when we were stopped by Spanish customs and asked how much alcohol and cigarettes we were carrying into Spain. There’s no VAT in Andorra and the Spanish are concerned about cigarette smuggling and the like.
The Principality of Andorra was formed in 1278 after a lengthy feudal conflict was resolved between the Comte de Foix (a position now held by the President of France) and the Bishop d’Urgell. That arrangement was updated in 1993 when a more appropriate constitution was formulated and today Andorra is recognised as a sovreign state and is the 184th member of the United Nations. It has the largest land area of all Europe’s micro states (468 square km) but only a small portion is urbanised; the great majority of it’s area being peaks, lakes and rivers. It’s capital, Andorra La Vella is Europe’s highest capital at 1,023 metres and it was to Andorra La Vella that we made our way.
Andorra La Vella has a small old town, the Barri Attic, but most of the city (and, indeed, much of the country) is modern and given over to tourism and shopping. The country’s initial prosperity was very much due to it’s tax haven status but with that status having been eroded by the European Union it is now more reliant on tourism (hiking in the summer, skiing in the winter and VAT free shopping throughout the year by nearby French and Spanish).
One intriguing feature of the city is the amount of modern art dotted around the place – the city has it’s fair share of museums and galleries but, honestly, there is enough on display on the streets and squares to keep me happy. The first examples we stumbled across were the Seven Poets by Jaume Plensa which stand on plinths at various heights in front of the Parish Council Building.
Some of the sculptures in the Barri Attic (but by no means all) have a more traditional flavour (the ‘Fountain of El Ball de Contrapas’ by Sergi Mas being one example).
My favourite of all those seen (and we saw many, many more – they are all over the city) is ‘La Noblesse du Temps’ by Salvador Dali which is down by the Pont de Paris Bridge in the newer part of the town.
We spent as much time in the new part of town as the old, window shopping and eating and drinking. We had one great evening at a restaurant right next to the Dali Bronze, sharing a Cheese Fondue and two bottles of Sauvignon Blanc. Another dish we saw included on a menu here and which I wish in hindsight I had tried was ‘Tartiflette’ made with the Reblechon Cheese we sampled when passing through Canet de Salars. Next time.
It was the old town, however, that most captivated me. There’s not a lot of it if you take away the Church of Sant Esteve and it’s immediate surroundings but it is this area which, for me, best reflects the lively cafe-bar culture that is very much representative of the city of Andorra La Vella.
I was never going to visit Andorra and not do a little hillwalking but, if I am honest, the trails I walked just outside the city are not that good. One particular walk to the ‘La Comella Viewpoint’ is supposed to offer “a spectacular panoramic view of of the Principality…and is one of the most photographed postcards etc” but it was a huge disappointment. The trail up through the woods to La Comella was never going to be straight forward after the heavy storm we experienced two days ago (fallen trees across the roads had quickly been removed by the local authorities but those which fell in the woods, and there were a great many, are a lower priority and will take weeks to dispose of) but, having made the climb, I found the views wholly unexceptional. They didn’t even warrant getting the camera out. Okay, so I did get the camera out and I did take some photos but they weren’t worth the effort.
I’ll not end this entry on such a sour note. Three days and two nights was time enough to see and enjoy the capital but there is clearly much more to Andorra and we are both keen to return We didn’t get to see the TdF because of poor planning on our part – perhaps next year?