Welcome back to another edition of Long Weekends in Europe. Last time out we took a trip to the sunny Algarve for a late summer getaway, but the change in season means it’s time to start considering some alternative destinations for a long weekend away. As a cyclist, my mind immediately drifted to thought of a Pyrenean escape in Andorra.
Renowned for its duty-free retail and low taxation, the Catalan speaking microstate also has plenty of attractions for cycling fans and their families to sink their teeth into.
Where should I stay?
Andorra is one of the smallest countries in Europe, meaning that the choice of locations to stay in are limited compared to many of its neighbours. For this reason, the ideal place to setup camp is in the capital city of Andorra la Vella. The city is the highest capital on the continent at an elevation of over 1,000 metres.
Andorra la Vella is home to around 40,000 people, many of which have moved to the nation to enjoy its excellent infrastructure and low rates of taxation. The best place to reap the financial benefits of Andorran life as a tourist is undoubtedly Meritxell Avenue. This retail laden street is home to tonnes of notable shops and restaurants that can all be enjoyed duty free.
If shopping isn’t your thing, immersing yourself in Andorra’s history may be a better pastime. The most beautiful area of Andorra la Vella is the old town, home to the Casa de la Vall. Built in 1580, the building is home to the main court and chapel in Andorra. It is also seen on the Andorran Euro.
What is there for families to do?
A family holiday to Andorra certainly isn’t for everybody, however if you’re a particular fan of outdoor entertainment – it won’t disappoint. Alongside a plethora of hiking trails and ski resorts there are a wealth of amazing vantage points to view the majesty of the Pyrenees. The most famous such spot is the Mirador del Roc del Quer. Found a short walk away from the town of Canilo, on a clear day you can see out for miles – it will take your breath away.
For those who love a good museum, Andorra’s national automobile museum is a great one. Showcasing the evolution of vehicles since the late 1800’s, visitors can get up close to some iconic Formula One racers as well as Victorian steam engines. It’s only a small attraction, however it is widely viewed as one of the best collections in southern Europe.
Rather unsurprisingly, the cuisine found in Andorra is a fusion of Catalonian, Spanish, and French delicacies. The national dish of Andorra is Escudella, a hearty stew like meal that is often eaten in the latter part of the year to warm the locals during the Pyrenean winter. Escudella is made with a variety of meats including chicken, sausage, pig trotters, meatballs and veal. Partnered with potatoes, cabbage and chickpeas, it goes down a treat and is available in most of the local restaurants.
If you want to push your tastebuds, Andorrans also like to indulge themselves by eating snails. The local method of cooking them involves oven roasting in oil before dousing the slimy delicacy in garlic aioli and salt. Look out for Cargols a la lluna on the menu if you want to give them a try.
Cycling in Andorra
Cycling is a big deal in Andorra, which is hardly a shock given its proximity to some of the most iconic mountain passes in the sport. This means that many of the world’s top climbers base themselves in the Pyrenean heartland to train during the season. Stars such as Stevie Williams, Alex Dowsett, Egan Bernal, Julian Alaphilippe, Enric Mas and the Yates brothers are all known to have resided in Andorra during their careers.
In terms of actual racing, there are no major road races held in Andorra – however the nation regularly hosts stages of the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana on its slopes. Stage 15 of the 2021 Tour de France famously finished in Andorra la Vella following a testing ascension of the Col de Beixallis.
Andorra is also home to one of the best mountain bike centres in southern Europe – Pal Arinsal. The centre has hosted rounds of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup since 2008 and the World Championships in 2015. Given its altitude, the event is often considered one of the toughest challenges on the schedule.
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When should I visit Andorra?
The best time to visit Andorra depends on what you want to do there. For example, in the spring, summer and early autumn you can hop on your bike to take on the climbs around Andorra la Vella as you search for scenic vistas. Meanwhile in the winter, the snow comes down hard and the skis come out of storage. Andorra is home to some of the best ski slopes in the world and a weekend on the white stuff is an opportunity not to be passed up.
Continuing the winter fun, the annual SnowDance music festival is one of the most unique such events on the planet. Taking place at the Pas de la Casa ski resort – party goers are treated to three nights of underground dance music with the backdrop of one of the nations most popular resorts. It’s not for everyone, but it’s certainly an experience.
Getting to Andorra from the UK can be the trickiest part of a visit there. There are currently no direct flights from the UK to Andorra, meaning that visitors need to fly to one of the nearby airports in France or Spain. Flying into either Barcelona or Toulouse, you’re around three hours away from Andorra by road. Renting a car once you’ve landed is therefore the most efficient way of getting around the mountainous terrain.
If you prefer train journeys, you can travel from Barcelona to Andorra for less than ten Euros – the trip takes a little longer but is equally as scenic.
Have you been inspired to make your late-year escape to the Pyrenees? Yellow Jersey offer cycle specific travel insurance which is designed to cover emergency medical expenses, trip cancellation, trip abandonment, trip curtailment and a whole host of other benefits. Our annual multi trip travel insurance also includes up to 17 days winter sports cover.
If you are heading out there to shred some of the downhill trails and want to insure your bike for crash damage and theft, be sure to take out mountain bike insurance. We even offer short term cover for hire bikes! If you aren’t sure what you need, just drop us a line on 0333 003 0046