Our side adventure to country number 16, Andorra
After an extended stay in Malta over Christmas 2019 & New Year 2020 we spent 4 days travelling to Spain consisting of 2 x 24-36hr ferries and a day driving up the west coast of Italy. We were exhausted when we finally arrived in Spain in the early hours of 24th January, a day or so after huge storms had battered the Mediterannean, hitting the west coast of Spain hard! A few hours sleep in a public camping spot and we moved on to ‘Area Camper Barcelona Beach‘. A new camper stop with fully automated entry & payment. Clean, efficient, well equiped and right next to a supermarket at train station to Barcelona centre. After 5 weeks of wild camping in Greece and struggling to find places to park up in Malta, Spain was looking extremely well prepared for motorhomes.
I have to preface this next part with “I am not a fan of cities”. I would generally prefer to be out in the countryside, next to a lake or up a mountain. We had heard wonderful things about Barcelona, it’s culture, architecture and atmosphere but also to be wary of pickpockets & thieves. We took the train into Barcelona, went one stop too far, got lost and had to double back on ourselves. Not a great start. When we finally arrived in Barcelona centre we decided to explore using a Secret City Trail, which we had found to be a brilliant way of finding out about a city’s history, culture and unusual places during our travels in other places. Unfortunately, this one was disappointing. Maybe we chose the wrong one (out of the 4 available trails), maybe it’s because we were tired or just because it was a city. We didn’t enjoy ourselves, didn’t feel particularly safe and couldn’t wait to get back to the campsite. Sorry Barcelona, maybe we’ll have a better experience next time, should we ever return.
The following day though our spirits were lifted by meeting and talking to Dan & Marlene from Mali Mish, who have been travelling since 2008, with their 3 children in a Sprinter sized van. They have been pretty much EVERYWHERE! It’s always great to meet fellow full time vanlifers, especially when they have been travelling long term and are full of knowledge, stories and tips. We love following other people’s travel journeys on social media too. If you’re thinking about travelling with your children in a vehicle they are a great source of information and inspiration.
One thing we really miss whilst travelling is our friends. Social media is a great way to keep in touch but it’s not the same as just hanging out and making memories. We try to keep in touch with fellow travellers that we meet on the road, as well as our friends and family back in Jersey. We met Cony & Ari (Get on Trip), from Argentina, whilst we were in Greece, two months earlier. We had spent only 5 days together exploring Mount Olympus, Sikia and the surrounding area but we just got on so well. They were in Spain so came to meet us. It was wonderful to see familiar faces again!
They drove down to Cubelles with us and introduced us to José and Cristina from Cactus Garage, who had spent a lot of time travelling in their van in South America. Whilst we were in Malta we had the van serviced but we had a couple of things that still needed fixing & José helped Callum to do that. We had planned to only stay a day or two before driving further south but we were immediately welcomed by both our new and old friends, who invited us to Andorra with them that weekend. Vanlife rule number 2: Say “yes” more often.
We hung out in Cubelles for a few days then headed up to Andorra where we would meet up with Cony & Ari and two of their friends, Carla & Xavier. The drive up there was through the most incredible countryside; lush green valleys, mountains and forests. Neither of us had ever been to Spain before and I was expecting hot, arid landscapes and sunny beaches, not this. We left Cubelles at a very warm 22°C and drove through snowy Andorra, to our hotel up in the mountains, where it was a freezing 2°C!
Our friends had bought a package that included the pet friendly Hotel El Pradet (since they travel with their dog, Jagger, which was perfect for us with Theodore), a day at the swimming pool/spa complex and ski passes. Our package didn’t include the ski passes so after dinner and a night at the hotel, the next day they went off to the ski slopes and we went to explore Andorra on the buses and we found Naturlandia. Naturlandia is an adventure park offering lots of different activities for all the family including an animal park, skiing, high wire etc. It’s split into two levels & moving between them is a bit difficult (shuttle buses going in one direction and not the other, for example). We bought our tickets in the town (they were quite expensive: €60 for the two of us), took a taxi up the mountain and a shuttle bus back down. If we had planned our day better, we would have just driven up in the motorhome. The roads are quite narrow and winding but definitely doable. Our motto is usually “If a bus can drive up there, so can we”.
Naturlandia was AWESOME! It was reasonably quiet, with some queuing and we only did 2 of the paid for activities: the Tobotronic toboggan run & the high wire course, with zip wire descent but it was a great day out. The scenery was, again, breathtaking. We went on the Tobotronic twice, and had a ‘trolley’/toboggan each (usually it’s 2 people per trolley). The Tobotronic winches you 5.3km up the mountain, through the forest. It gets a lot colder as you go up towards the snow-capped summit so wear a hat and gloves! Once at the top you are released into a freefall, down the rails, with only handbrakes to provide any element of control. Wow! It was certainly an adrenaline rush!! Of course, we had to queue and do it a second time.
If we’d got to Naturlandia earlier we probably would have done it another couple of times, or gone to the other level to see the animal park. Instead we moved on to the high wire course and zip wire, which were also great, then had a snowball fight and made a snowcat (of course) before we headed back to our friends. It was so strange to think that just 24hrs earlier we’d been sunning ourselves on the beach in Cubelles and now we were rolling in proper, fluffy snow!
On our last day with our friends in Andorra, we went to Caldea spa & swimming pool. We didn’t really know what to expect but we certainly didn’t have this in mind. We walked into a HUGE domed area with an enormous pool (lagoon, they call it) in the middle and stepped pools leading to the glass roof. Each of the stepped pools massages a different area of the body with water jets. Every hour they have a light & fountain show with music. Surrounding the pool are little areas for spas, saunas and a hidden grotto. At the bottom of the pool there’s a tunnel leading to an outside area with more massage jets and a lazy river. Swimming in a hot spa surrounded by snow capped mountains is defintely one thing ticked off the bucket list. If you’re going to build a public swimming pool, THIS is the way to do it!
We were so glad we said “yes” to this little side adventure to Andorra, even though it had eaten up a week’s budget in 3 days. We highly recommend Naturlandia and Caldea if you’re ever in Andorra. Our few days in Andorra were quite expensive but we squeezed in a lot. There’s a lot more to explore in the way of nature, hiking and mountains, but that’s for another visit. Apparently most people go to Andorra for the tax free shopping. We thoroughly confused the customs official at the border when we tried to get back into Spain without having bought any cigarettes or alcohol. “Not even Whisky?!”