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Adventure Travel in Stunning Andorra

Getting the Adrenaline Flowing

Article and photos by Lies Ouwerkerk
Senior Contributing Editor

Adventure hiking in Andorra.
Hiking towards Cabana Sorda Lake in Andorra.

To enjoy an adventure-packed week in the beautiful Pyrenees of Andorra, I joined 12 birds of different feathers, hailing from various countries in Europe, North America, and Australia, flocking together in the arrival hall of Toulouse airport in France. Mostly in the 30-40 age bracket, and slightly more males than females, we were all in eager anticipation of the adventures awaiting us.

Two complimentary jeeps drove us over the border to our end destination, the quaint village of Soldeu, predominantly known as a winter sport resort, and located at an elevation of 1710 meters above sea level in the tiny principality of Andorra. One of the oldest and smallest countries in Europe, sandwiched between France and Spain, Andorra spans an area of only 25 kilometers by 35 kilometers. It is also the only country in the world where Catalan is the one single official language.

Two and a half hours later, a perfectly blue sky, spectacular views of snow-capped mountains, a glass of wine, and a detailed briefing by our lovely hosts Nick and Nuria made for a promising start of a weeklong “being away from it all.” Our next seven days would be full of hiking, mountain biking, zip-lining, and white water rafting, as well as lots of camaraderie, laughter, eating Catalan delicacies to our hearts’ content, and plenty of restful sleep in Soldeu’s cozy family hotel "Roc de Sant Miquel."

Hiking in Andorra

Beginning of hike towards Cabana Sorda Lake.
The beginning of a hike, in the green, towards Cabana Sorda Lake.

Still a bit jet-lagged and not yet completely used to the altitude, we spent our first day trekking over the forested mountain slopes around Soldeu. In the pretty Incles Valley we hiked through meadows with wild flowers (among them the iris, alpine pasqueflower, and poet’s daffodil — the typical flower of Andorra). Then we did some huffing and puffing over a moderately sloped path through La Pinosa Forest, leading up to the Cabana Sorda Lake at 2,300 meters high and considered the most important glacial valley in Andorra. Because we hiked through snow patches and wet surfaces and it was pretty cold and windy above the tree line, our extra socks, jackets and hats came in most handy once we sat down at the Cabana Sorda refuge for our packed lunches and beautiful vistas. 

On a second day of hiking, we covered Siscaro National Reserve with its magnificent mountains and small lakes. At an elevation of 2200 meters above sea level, we enjoyed spectacular views of the Andorran peaks. We also spotted several griffon vultures. During our gradual descent back home, we crossed the Soldeu’s ski fields and got a good idea of the steepness of a World Cup black run.

Zip Lining

Apprehension was mounting when the day of zip lining rolled around, especially for those who had never done this activity before, or had some fear of heights. Our aerial forest adventure offered all sorts of heart-pounding thrills. We were flying at high speed on a zip line from one tree top to another (with cushions around the trees and platforms for soft landings), walking on a tightrope or over unusual ladders, crawling through barrels, climbing through hoops and nets, or crossing suspension or timber bridges — all done at heights of 5 to 10 meters above ground.

Before we started our acrobatic tour, a qualified instructor tucked each of us safely into a harness, provided a briefing on how to navigate the zip line course and use lanyards, snap hooks, and pulleys. He had us practice on a small zip line under his watchful eye.

And then it was time to test our balance and climbing abilities. One by one we zipped and whizzed away, always using both safety clips, holding on to the pulley with both hands, and making sure our next tree landing was totally free from previous zip liners so that we could safely swing into the padded landing cushions. A truly thrilling, adrenaline-filled activity!

Man zip lining in Andorra. Woman preparing to zip line.
Author zip lining.
Zip lining in Andorra, including the author (bottom).

White Water Rafting

The boat ride through the rapids of the Noguera Pallaresa River, just over the border in the Spanish Pyrenees and considered the best place for white water sports in Europe, felt even more exhilarating.

At “The Rubber River Rafting Company’ in the small town of Sort, we were provided with all-in-one neoprene wet suits (warm, but not waterproof) with matching boots, helmets, life jackets, and a lesson on how to paddle and save our skin in case we would fall overboard into the cold water. Then we stepped into inflatable rafts, eight people and a guide in each. To feel more safe and balanced, we could fit our feet in foot holders and hang on to a cord all around the boat. The 14 kilometer rafting ride took about one and a half hours to complete.

The guide, in the back of the boat, kept shouting instructions: “forward, backward, grab the rope, stop” and we crew members would follow his orders immediately to safely navigate the sometimes forceful rapids and bumpy rocks. Of course, things did not always go as smoothly as intended. Sometimes the paddles were totally uncoordinated and clashed with each other, or they were discarded in the intensity of a high wave splashing over us. Other times, people would indeed fall overboard and had to be lifted back into the raft before they could quickly grab their lost paddle and help to steer the boat in the right direction once more. A super-exciting and often hilarious trip, with a comforting hot shower at the end of the ride!

White-water rafting in Andorra.
White-water rafting close-up shot.
White water rafting on the Noguera Pallaresa River, Spain (courtesy of Foto Aventura Pirineu, Sort).

Mountain Biking

Equipped with mountain bikes and helmets provided by our hosts of hotel "Roc de Sant Miquel," the jeeps drove us one sunny day to the stunning Cortals Valley, about 30 minutes away from Soldeu. There we jumped on our bikes and rode down to Engolasters Lake where we cycled over various dirt paths through the woods around the lake.

Jeep bringing mountain bikes to the Ordino Valley track.
Jeep bringing mountain bikes to the start of the Ordino Valley track.
Mountain biking around Engolasters Lake.
Mountain biking around Engolasters Lake.
Cycling around El Serrat, Andorra.
Cycling around El Serrat.

A few days later, we were driven to the Ordino Valley, where we began our descent in the still snowy mountain village of El Serrat, towards Andorra’s old "iron route," a dirt track along past old mines, mills, and forges. While cycling along this rather bumpy off-road track, we discovered several art pieces of Andorra’s Land Art, a movement that closely ties artistic creation with the country’s natural heritage. Equally interesting were the Land Art works "Els Miradors" (the viewpoints) on top of the Roc del Quer, which we spotted during our thrilling descent along the "Coll de Ordino route" back into the medieval town of Canillo.

Land Art in the Ordino Valley.
Land Art in the Ordino Valley.
Land Art on the Coll de Ordino.
Land Art on the Coll de Ordino.

Additional Activities in Andorra

On the last day of our stay, we were free to choose from optional activities we had not tried yet. Some of us walked along the relatively easy "Gall de Bosc" or "Chicken Run" (named after the wild chickens that could be spotted here) to unwind a bit from all the intense activities of the week. It was a lovely 6½ kilometer-long path through the woods and hills between Soldeu and nearby Canillo. Others chose total relaxation in the thermal baths of La Caldea or visited the spa facilities of a neighboring hotel.

But the most confirmed adventure junkies among us could not resist the lure of the "Via Ferrata," essentially a protected climbing route on an otherwise unclimbable mountain. Equipped with a harness, helmet, and various carabiner clips, and attached to a cable, which in turn was attached to the mountain face they climbed, these thrill-seekers scaled new heights by pulling themselves up via the cable, also using additional supports such as steps and pegs. Originally, the "Via Ferrata" became famous during WWI, when these vertical mountain courses were used in the Italian Dolomites to carry soldiers, weapons, ammunition, and supplies over the tops of mountain peaks.

Climbing Via Ferrata on the Coll de Ordino
Climbing Via Ferrata on the Coll de Ordino.

At night, during our last scrumptious dinner, celebrating the success of this action-packed week, we were given a filled porrón — a glass wine pitcher with a very pointed spout, up to 50 years ago commonly used for large groups at festive occasions, to share wine kept in the same vessel.

The porrón went from hand to hand for everyone to test one’s “aiming” skills: bringing the spout very close to the mouth and slowly tipping up the pitcher so that the liquid would come out, then distancing the pitcher more and more and pouring a thin stream of the wine directly in the mouth without touching the spout with the lips. Everyone did a great job, but as the evening wore on, more and more wine-stained clothes could be spotted…

For More on Andorra

The activity week in Andorra was organized by Intrepid, and enthusiastically and skillfully executed by Hotel Roc in Soldeu.

International airports closest to Andorra are in Toulouse, France and Barcelona, Spain. Both cities are excellent destinations to spend some extra days after the nine days of organized lodging in Andorra.

Lies Ouwerkerk is originally from Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and currently lives in Montreal, Canada. Previously a columnist for The Sherbrooke Record, she is presently a freelance writer and photographer for various travel magazines.

Related Topics
Adventure Travel
Special Interest Travel

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