When we told people we were going to spend a few days visiting Andorra, we got a lot of blank looks. Andorra isn’t on most people’s radar. Actually, from our experience, most people don’t even know that it’s a country.
Travel guru Rick Steves tells his readers to give Andorra a miss because there’s not much worth seeing there. We strongly disagree, Rick. It IS worth setting aside a few days to see this little postage-stamp of a country. If nothing else, it’s worth visiting Andorra la Vella. Translated from Catalan, its name means Andorra the Town and it’s well named, as the country’s only city.
Andorra la Vella is a shopper’s paradise
Before we go any further, you should know that Andorra has special tax laws. Because things like perfume, tobacco and electronic items are tax free, parts of Andorra la Vella are just one big shopping center. So please forgive us: we have no fabulous photos of greater Andorra to share. You can see what we DO have in our Andorra photo gallery, though, and we think you’ll enjoy them.
I also want to make it clear that we didn’t focus on just visiting Andorra la Vella and getting out of the country. The October weather was perfect for exploring and hiking. We drove all over the country, even happily discovered a fabulous restaurant called L’Hort de Casa, which I wrote about last week.
By the way, thanks to its tax free status, gas is cheap in Andorra. So fill up before you leave the country. We did.
Visiting Andorra la Vella’s barri antic
We set aside an afternoon to walk around the city because we heard it began in the 1200s. We’re suckers for old cities, the older the better. Any time we hear words like “Gothic section,” “old town,” or “walled city,” we get excited. But why would a city like Andorra la Vella need walls? After all, it has the Pyrenees to protect it.
The oldest part of Andorra la Vella is the Barri Antic. That’s Catalan for Old Town. It still has the ancient winding layout, cobbled streets and buildings that were typical in the middle ages.
Some of the streets are so narrow they’re little more than a walkway fit for people on foot. They may have been wide enough to permit a cart to pass through back in the day … but modern-day drivers will have a hard time squeezing through.
Casa de la Vall
I don’t know if it’s the oldest building in town but the Casa de la Vall (Town Hall) is certainly the best-known. Built as a stately home in the early 1500s, it was purchased and became the parliamentary house in 1702. The Parliament no longer meets here, however; they recently moved to a modern glass structure across the piazza. I think this is a beautiful example of how Andorra has managed to honor its history while staying with the times.
A view of Andorra la Vella from above
Mere steps from Casa de la Vall we found another piazza with stairs. Like moths to a flame we couldn’t resist climbing them. They led up to a walkway that gave us a beautiful place to overlook and photograph the city in all directions. I started with a view south, toward Spain, from whence we’d come. OK, maybe not south, exactly. I kind of lost my way as we drove through those twisting roads. But you get the idea.
A shot west, across the street toward the mountains. Hey, there’s grass over there! Wonder if it’s a sports field…?
And finally, in the other direction, toward France. You can see how close Casa de Vall is. What you can’t clearly see in this photo is the massive shopping area beyond. But I promise: It’s there.
What’s Andorra la Vella look like?
Now when we’re asked what Andorra la Vella looks like, I tell them it’s like Gatlinburg on steroids: rustic stone and wood buildings in a rural mountain setting.