Chapter III- Andorra la Vella
After our one day experience in Toulouse we traveled south, in search of new wonderful lands. We were now going towards where we truly feel like home, up in the mountains, where the air is strong and clear and the view breathtaking.
The Pyrenees mountain range separates what is the Iberic Peninsula from continental Europe and also forms a natural border of more than 490 km between France and Spain. It is here where the Principality of Andorra gathers roughly 85 000 inhabitants that are scattered over an area of ~490 square km, the majority of which live in the capital Andorra la Vella.
Coming from France, the road winds uphill along the Ariege river until it reaches its highest point at Pas de la Casa (2080 m), the border between France and Andorra.
Although we were the only passengers in the mini-bus, the driver didn't want to stop for, let's say, freshening up after 2 hours of driving so we were only able to take some shots through the dark-blue window. Luckily we were able to salvage most parts of the photos and bring back the beautiful landscape.
Andorra la Vella is a small yet elegant city. It has maybe two main streets and many narrow alleys going up the steep slopes. The only way of getting in and out is by car/bus/motorcycle/bike/walk, but either option you choose it will definitely make it worth your while.
Residential buildings start from the bedside of the Valira river and continue upward to houses built on high slopes, served only by walking paths and narrow roads. The people here have efficiently exploited the available land with winding roads, walking paths, terraces for subsistence agriculture and many many stairs that lead you under the mountain.
It is by excellence a city of tourism. Excluding the fabulous natural attractions that generates millions of tourists yearly that come either for skiing or hiking, mountain climbing etc, Andorra la Vella is a landmark for those shopping addicts that come here for cheap, tax-free products, especially cigars, liquor and electronics.
For those who want to avoid the inner city congestion, there are easily accessible walking routes that go along the level curve and offer a splendid view of the city and of the entire valley.
Our host here in Andorra la Vella was Francisco, a calm, organized and yet passionate hobbyist with a great sense of humor. We didn't know a lot of things about Andorra beforehand but he methodically and very patiently explained what's going on in this tiny little state.
The city is apparently a magnet for Russian folk who either come for work during skiing season or stop by just for some ruthless shopping sessions.
We undoubtedly place Andorra la Vella among the three most beautiful European cities in an imaginary ranking of capitals visited so far and yet to be seen (please visit again for periodical updates). The city itself and the surroundings can take at least 1-2 weeks to visit, that is if you really want to feel you walked the Pyrenees, but we promised ourselves that we shall return soon enough.