Cosily located between France and Spain, and nestled in the snowy peaks of the Pyrenean Mountains, Andorra may be small but it is definitely worth a visit for those looking for premium skiing terrain, hiking opportunities, and lush scenery. The capital Andorra la Vella has a vibrant arts and food scene, as well the largest spa complex in Europe and much of the rest of Andorra is made up of scatterings of picture perfect villages and towns set amidst a backdrop of spectacular vistas. Architecture lovers also won’t feel out of place here, as there are medieval and Romanesque buildings in abundance, many set on imposing hilltops or hidden away at the end of mountain lanes. Perfect for exploring at your leisure in a bid to uncover as many hidden gems as possible long the way. Let’s have a look at the best places to visit in Andorra!
1. Andorra la Vella
The capital of Andorra, Andorra la Vella sits in the Pyrenees. The city has a population of just over 20,000 people meaning that it is small and compact and yet there is much to see here for discerning tourists. With a lively bar and cafe culture, Andorra la Vella has a vibrant main artery in the form of the main street that has galleries showcasing local art, handicraft shops, and restaurants. For those looking to get a glimpse of the history of Andorra, there are guided tours of Casa de la Vell, a historic building dating from the 16th century famed for its period artwork and historically significant documents. Also of note in Andorra la Vella is the Sant Esteve Church, built in the 12th century that features ornate wooden decorations. To enjoy all that Andorra la Vella has to offer, head over to Plaça del Poble, the main square of the city that sits atop the roof of an administrative complex, and visitors can ascend to the square and take in the unspoilt views over the city and beyond.
Head over to the town of Encamp to enjoy this picturesque spot that is bisected by the Valira d’Orient River. The town has a wealth of pretty historical buildings for visitor to explore, as well as quaint cafes, restaurants serving local fare, and boutiques selling art and crafts. One of the big draws in Encamp is its National Automobile Museum that has a vast collection of vintage automobiles including steam powered cars and motorcycles. The town is also the starting point for several key locations in Andorra, such as the Pic dels Pessons Mountain, and those who enjoy hiking and rambling can explore the area easily in a day from Encamp. Come ski season, there is a ski lift that takes visitors to Grau Roig or Pas de la Casa in order to hit the slopes in style.
3. Pas de la Casa:
Nestled on the border with France, Pas de la Casa is one of Andorra’s top ski resorts, and now features 31 ski lifts to allow visitors access to all areas below the Pic d’Envalira. Unlike some of the other ski resorts in Andorra, Pas de la Casa better serves intermediate or advanced skiers as there are a number of red pistes that span the surrounding terrain. There is also a focus on nightlife and après-ski here, making Pas de la Casa popular with younger travellers looking for some lively venues to relax in after a long day of skiing. If you want to do some shopping then there are a number of warehouses along the pass between France and Andorra that sell duty free products.
Come to the town of Meritxell for the stunning Basilica Sanctuary of Nostra Senyora de Meritxell. The sanctuary is Romanesque in style and originally dates from the 17th century, and has been lovingly preserved and restored after a fire in the 1970s. The basilica is known for its ornate statues of patron saints (one for each parish in Andorra) as well as its cloisters and a spectacular mirror room. Part of the ancient chapel now houses a museum that features historic objects and artwork that celebrates the basilica and the Virgin of Meritxell.
The dinky village of Anyós sits in the La Massana parish and provides an enjoyable afternoon of sightseeing about one kilometre outside of La Massana proper. If you happen to visit Anyós in July you may witness the village’s annual carnival which features the blessing of a carriage in the village square. Also worth a visit is the Church of Saint Christopher that dates from medieval times in homage to the patron saint of the village. Popular pastimes in the surrounding areas of Anyós include bird watching and fishing, and this is the perfect place to go for a stroll and take in the local Alpine flora and fauna.
6. El Serrat
If you want to get out of the city of Andorra la Vella and really want to get away from it all then look no further that El Serrat, a tiny little village in a quiet corner of the Valira del Nord Valley. The village is located up in the mountains which means that whatever direction you look in you will find stunning views of the surrounding countryside, and nature lovers should definitely not miss the opportunity to ramble in the region, particularly for those who love Alpine scenery. Popular activities in and around El Serrat include bird watching, hiking, and in the winter months the area is blanketed in snow and you can indulge in cross country skiing or snowboarding in the downhill areas.
7. La Cortinada
Famed for being a place of almost unparallel natural beauty in Andorra, the delightful village of La Cortinada sits amongst flower meadows, fields, and imposing mountains, and is known for its ornate historical buildings. For an example of Romanesque architecture in La Cortinada, walk over to the Sant Martí de la Cortinada church and enjoy the vibrant frescoes and a dovecot. There is also a carved wooden alter that dates from the 18th century as well as a sculpted confessional and elaborate carved wooden decorations throughout. After visiting the town proper, there are a number of walking trails that encircle the village if you want to check out the views and the local plant and wildlife.
Andorra is well known as a prime skiing location, and no more so than at Vallnord, and visitors from all over Europe flock here for the crisp snow and pristine skiing conditions. Vallnord, part of the Pyrenees, caters for skiers of all levels of ability, so whether you just want to try one of the beginner trails or take to the professional slopes, there is something for everyone to enjoy here. Families also head to Vallnord to take advantage of the ski schools and family activities such as tobogganing and snowshoeing, or you can even whizz around the area on a snowmobile if you are so inclined.
9. Les Escaldes
Located just outside of the city of Andorra la Vella, Les Escaldes is the place to come if you enjoy hot springs and soothing thermal waters. The springs here are known for being rich in sulphur and nitrogen that can be used to treat a range of health issues, and are naturally heated underground. Back in the day, the waters were discovered and used by the Romans who believed in their healing properties, so don’t miss the chance to soak in a Roman bath in Les Escaldes. Aside from the waters, visitors can also check out Les Escaldes fortress named Capilla Sant Roma, as well as take in the views over the town from the Pont dels Escalls Bridge, a place of historical significance that makes you feel as if you have stepped back in time.
10. Valira D’Orient Valley
Due to its size and compact geography, Andorra is easily visited by car, and tours are common here to allow guests the chance to explore different areas of the region. As you move through the Valira d’Orient Valley you will find charming little towns and villages scattered over the region, as well as period buildings that seem to emerge out of nowhere. These include the San Miquel Engloasters, a Pyrenean church that is yet another stunning example of the Romanesque style. Located nearby the church is Lake Engloasters, an artificial lake that offers fishing and boating opportunities, and the surrounding scenery makes this the perfect spot for a leisurely stroll and a picnic.
11. Santa Coloma
As you drive from Andorra in the direction of the border with Spain, you will find the sleepy yet dainty village of Santa Coloma, which is known for the Santa Coloma church, another Romanesque building in Andorra that’s unusual due to its circular rather than square shape. The church dates from the 9th century, and visitors travel here for its ornate features such as a statue, said to date from the 12th century, of the Virgin of Coloma. There are also some splendid frescoes on display as well as ornate arches, and a font said to date from medieval times. Also in Santa Coloma is the Sant Vicenç d’Enclar Castle, built in the 12th century, and just a short walk from Santa Coloma Church. The location of the castle is stunning, as it sits atop the Roc d’Enclar, and stands guard over the village below.
12. Centre Termolúdic Caldea
When you visit Andorra la Vella it probably won’t take you long to find the Centre Termolúdic Caldea, a towering pyramid made from glass that easily pierces the city’s skyline. The centre is also notable for being the largest spa complex in the whole of Europe, and stretches over 6,000 square metres so that guests have plenty of room to enjoy all that the spa has to offer. There are both indoor and outdoor lagoon areas for guests to swim and float in, as well as sauna, hot tubs, and a range of in-house features that provide unique treatments. Some of these include mini-waterfalls to massage tired muscles, marble treatment rooms that are said to have healing properties, and Roman style baths. The waters in the spa are packed with minerals and originate from a thermal source under the city.
If you are looking to get back to Andorra’s roots then make for the charming village of Canillo. To the north of the village you will find the Sant Joan de Caselles Chapel, built in the 11th century in the Romanesque style. Constructed from local stone, the chapel has made its mark due to its exquisite craftsmanship that includes a range of preserved frescoes and sculptures including one of Jesus Christ made from stucco. A visit to the chapel also combines well with a walk in the countryside to take in the spectacular scenery that Andorra is famous for, as well as an opportunity to try the local fare in one of the rustic local restaurants that dot the area.
14. La Massana
Come to La Massana in the winter months if you want to experience some outdoor premium sports and enjoy some fun in the snow. La Massana is larger in size than most other ski resorts in Andorra, and is found at an elevation of 1500 metres, although its slopes continue up to 2500 metres. There are 89 kilometres of downhill ski trails including 41 pistes, and 26 ski lifts. The resort is also joined via ski lifts to other ski areas such as Arisanal. Depending on your fitness levels and enthusiasm, you can go skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and even try your hand at a combination of skiing and paragliding!
For those who want to explore more of the Valira del Nord Valley, the town of Ordino is an essential stop off point. The town lies at the base of the Casamanya Mountain and has a laid back atmosphere and a rustic charm. One of the top draws in Ordino is the Casa Plairal d’Areny de Plandolit, the former home of Baron de Senaller, that originally dates from the 17th century. Visitors can tour the house and enjoy the period touches such as an ornate iron balcony, and even a former armoury that includes a barrel-organ. As you move through the home you will also find a historic blacksmith’s studio, a library that features coats of arms of famous families in Andorra, a private chapel, and even a period bakery. Other things to look out for are original copies of the national anthem of Andorra in the music room, as well as the decorated private chapel.