October, 2022: As part of a larger European trip and in order to complete my last European countries, Andorra, and Monaco, my wife and mother-in-law flew to Barcelona, Spain. This was my second visit to Spain, my first being to Madrid in September 2006. The main reason for my return was to visit Andorra, and the most convenient launching point is Barcelona, which is only a 3 hour drive from Andorra’s border.

Madrid from my first visit to Spain 

We were also excited to experience Barcelona, which many of my friends had visited and raved about.  We flew into Barcelona from Copenhagen, Denmark, two European cities that both lie on oceans but are completely different from one another. We arrived in Barcelona in the evening and the first thing I did was give our airport taxi directions to an old 1000-year-old medieval abandoned castle-Torre Salvana that I had read about that according to legend is one of the most haunted castles of the region and is tormented by the devil. This naturally appealed to me, and we had to pay this place a visit.

Torre Salvana Castle

Since the castle was abandoned and not located on the side of a road but instead tucked away back into a grove of trees, oh and it was dark outside, it wasn’t easy to find but we eventually spotted it our taxi waited on the side of road with all of our luggage, while we ventured off into the dark grove of trees to the castle. When we arrived at the entrance, a wall of sheet metal spray painted with graffiti erected by the authorities to protect the castle, we were briefly accompanied by a small group of imbibing teenagers before they scurried off leaving the castle entirely to us. The castle was interesting, but I was a too worried about the taxi racking up a fare while waiting for us, and the long taxi ride into Barcelona to find our hotel so we didn’t linger and fully explore the castle interior.

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona is one of Spain’s largest cities and the city is huge. It has a rich history dating back to Roman times and was where Christopher Columbus launched in search of the New World. It is the capitol of Catalan, an autonomous part of Spain that speaks its own dialect and has been striving to become independent. This has and continues to be a source of derision between the Madris government and Barcelona for decades now. When we arrived at our budget hotel-Ilunion in Barcelona, we ditched our bags and quickly set out to explore the town on foot. It was night and it was a magical experience walking the dimly lantern lit narrow cobblestoned alleyways winding in between 500-year-old Gothic church walls and residential buildings. 

Barcelona Alleyways at Night

Visiting cities like Barcelona in the shoulder season of tourism in Europe is the way to go. The weather was still pleasant, and the crowds were significantly lower now than in summer. This allowed us to have the feeling of being some of the lucky few to experience the city when wondering its streets at night. During the two nights we stayed in Barcelona, we visited the Gothic church of Barcelona Cathedral, which I was enthralled with, and then ate at a tapas restaurant, and attended at flamenco performance in an old traditional theatre building. But the highlight I think we all agreed was eating the gelato, which we honestly could not get enough of.

Barcelona Cathedral-Gothic Cathedral

Old Traditional Flamenco Theatre

Of course we had to have the traditional drink, sangria

Flamenco Performance-a dance and guitar style mostly associated with Andulsia Gypsies that is inspired by influences that are Spanish, Arab, and Jewish. Few things in life are as beautiful as fthe passion and romance of flamenco music

Drive to Andorra

One of our goals was to visit the micro-state of Andorra, which was located three hours’ drive away in the Pyrenees Mountains in between Spain and France. Since we didn’t have a lot of time and I was still too jet lagged to handle the 6-hour drive round trip, we decided to join a bus trip to Andorra. Exploring a country independently via rental car is always my preferred way to go but I knew I would be too tired to safely handle the drive, so we did what I normally abhor, join the bus tour.

It was painful to pass the beautiful mountain scenery, small, picturesque villages and a few castles that appeared abandoned without stopping. The bus tour stopped along the way to Andorra at a few places. Our first stop was at the pleasant little Catalan village of Baga. The mountain town was sleepy and misty and only a few elderly residents were out and about. We stopped by a local breakfast cafe, where a few elderly men were drinking wine and reading the newspaper in the morning. 

Powerplant precariously located on a mountainside

Abandoned spanish castle

Catalan Village of Baga with Catalan Independance Flag Draped from a Balcony

Village Residents

Traditional brick buildings

Baga is an interesting little village and looked like a good place to relax for a few days and base yourself for further exploration into the nearby mountains. The village is reputed to be the home of the founder of the Knights of Templar, a militant group of medieval Christian crusader knights that fought for control of the Christian holy lands from the Muslims. There was definitely a Catalan pride there as we saw multiple Catalan independence flags hanging from balconies.

Narrow alleys and walkways in between the old stone buildings

An Abandoned building

The Pyrenees mountains were beautiful, and it pained me to not be able to get out and hike in them on such a beautiful day. We crossed through multiple long tunnels some over 10 minutes long through the mountains.

Pyranees Mountains

We left Spain and entered France, which had slightly different architectural styles. We visited the French village of Ax-les-Thermes.  This village is known for its hot springs and ever since Roman times, people have been coming here for treatment for an assortment of maladies from the healing properties of the hot spring waters. One such malady was STD’s that prostitutes and their customers would be afflicted by.

Abandoned Old French Building

Village Building

Pizza Parlour

About Andorra

The first king of the Holy Roman Empire in the 700’s, Charlemagne, who many historians call the father of Europe because he united much of western and central Europe, created Andorra as a reward to the Christian Catalan soldiers that were stationed in the mountains to defend against the Muslim Moors in Spain. Over the years Andorra has remained a remote mountain kingdom in the Pyrenees Mountains and its capitol, Andorra la Vella at 3,500′ is the highest capitol in Europe. Andorra is the only country with an official language of Catalan even though French and Spanish are widely spoken. The country unfortunately after World War II, removed most of its old buildings and today the majority of buildings that are present are new. After coming from the small medieval mountain villages of Spain and Barcelona, I was not impressed with the architecture in Andorra. Glass metal framed buildings, outlet shopping malls, and chalet style new apartment buildings were commonplace. Andorra is not part of the European Union, and it is significantly less duty taxes than its neighbors in Spain and France and as a result Europeans flood into the country to buy cheap goods and the country has become a tax haven. Andorra has also relied on its alpine geography for alpine skiing revenue and ski resorts were abundant on the drive across the border to the capitol. There are no airports or trains in Andorra and the only way in and out is via the road over a high mountain pass.

Andorra Location

Mountain Pass into Andorra on Europes higest paved road

Paula at the border of Andorra

Capitol of Andorra

We weren’t impressed with Andorra, and It was one of my least favorite places in Europe. There was non-stop construction, noise, a seemingly lack of any and everything old and it reminded me of the Colorado ski resort town of Vale more than a European alpine city. My opinion is also shared by many others including the travel author Rick Steve’s who said, “I visited Andorra so you wouldn’t have to”. But to be fair, the mountain scenery was beautiful, and our visit was via a long round trip tourist bus trip from Barcelona, and we didn’t have a chance to enjoy Andorra’s best attraction, its nature. There are a series of mountain nature reserves deeper into the mountains away from the groomed ski resort trails and shoddy strip malls. Visiting these places and camping no doubt would have resulted in a much different experience for us. One of my good friends visited one of the outer villages where he engaged in the hiking and his opinion of Andorra was vastly different than mine.

Sculpture by Salvador Dali 

After visiting Andorra, we slept for most of the return bus trip to Barcelona and spent our last night in Barcelona visiting the city and enjoying all that it has to offer.  Then during the next morning, we flew to Nice, France to visit Monaco.

Me desperately looking for something in the capitol to redeem my dissapointment

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