Halfway the Coma de Arcalís my legs begin to feel the elevation. Earlier today I cycled up the Coll d’Ordino, but that climb was a lot shorter and easier to ride. Honestly, I was warned that cycling in Andorra would be challenging. But also that nature over here is incredibly beautiful and that proves the view I have while cycling! Another four kilometers and then I’ll be at the top of the Arcalís. (Lees deze blog ook in het Nederlands)
About cycling in Andorra
Where I am? In Andorra. The Principality of Andorra to be precise, a microstate in Southwestern Europe between France and Spain. Due to its location in the eastern Pyrenees mountains, Andorra consists for the most part of mountains with an average height of 1996 meters. There are as many as 65 peaks that extend over 2000 meters, the highest of which is the Comapedrosa, with 2,946 meters. No wonder that Andorra is a true ski paradise in winter. Less known is that the country is also good for cycling or hiking, and you can enjoy unspoiled nature in the summer too.
And so I get on the airplane to Barcelona. A bus transfer takes me to La Massana, near the capital Andorra la Vella. In front of the hotel I pick up my BMC rental bike and go straight to La Comella, a short climb that starts right outside Andorra la Vella.
It’s only a short ride, about 20 kilometers, but long enough to find out that the Andorran roads consist of smooth asphalt and – how different from the roads just across the border in Spain- the car drivers allow you lots of space on the road. They are rather driving behind you for a couple of kilometers than overtaking you. So my first impression of cycling in Andorra is definitely a good one.
Coma de Arcalís
The next morning I’ll find out whether Andorra is a real bikefriendly country or not. Two climbs are awaiting us. The Coll d’Ordino and then the Coma de Arcalís. The first one has an average gradient of 5.1%, I was told in advance. That doesn’t seem that much until I start noticing that there’s a descent just before the top of the mountain, so that brings down the average gradient quite a bit.
With its 2,229 meters the second climb, the Arcalís, is much higher. We have to ride about 10.5 kilometers to reach the top of the climb. But it’s worth the effort! The more hairpins you cycle, the more widespread and more spectacular the view becomes. We can’t ride up all the way to the top of the mountain, but hikers can can reach this point. So whilst resting from the climb, we see the hikers walking in a long ribbon on the flanks of the mountain.
A little later I’m descending the Coma de Arcalís. It’s probably one of the best descents I have ever experienced. The asphalt of the road is smooth and the only downside is that occasionally I have to brake for cars that can not take the hairpin bends as fast as I can. Until the beginning of this year I for sure wasn’t the best descender, but I learned to love it and without thinking about the speed I race down the mountain.
Once back in La Massana, I quickly get dressed. In a few hours the third stage of the Vuelta wil finish, the Spanish brother of the Tour de France, that travelwriter.nl also visited this year. The Vuelta a España has been in Andorra before and this year they’re back for two stages. The third stage of the race will finish in Andorra la Vella. Tomorrow the cyclists will start the fourth stage in Escaldes-Engordany.
Full of excitement we are waiting for the riders to arrive. With some help from our VIP wristbands we find the perfect place to watch the race, right below the sign indicating the last 100 meters to the finishline. The Vuelta publicity caravan drives past and we look at the big screens showcasting the race. We see how Froome and Chaves attack on the final climb and a few minutes later, Nibali is the first one to cross the final corner. Andorra la Vella explodes when the Italian rider wins the stage.
The next day we will see the departure of the nearly 200 kilometer long etappe to Tarragona. Before the start I admire the bikes of the Astana team. They’re staying in the same hotel as I do. I take a selfie with Damiano Caruso and see how Froome, Aru and Nibali sign the start list. Froome gets an applause, but everyone gets crazy about seeing Alberto Contador, who will retire as a pro cyclist after riding the Vuelta a España.
These days turned out to be a brief insight to what its like to be a cyclist at the Vuelta, and it was great to experience the Vuelta from up close. The mountain stages in Andorra may attract fewer spectators than stages starting or finishing in larger cities, but over here you have the opportunity to see all the teams, make a selfie with your favorite riders and stand front row at the finish line.
Andorra and cycling: a perfect combination
Microstate Andorra might not boast on famous cols such as the Stelvio or the Alpe d’Huez, but with so many mountain passes scattered over Andorra’s limited 470 square kilometers, Andorra is a true cycling paradise. It offers the perfect conditions for a beautiful two-wheel discovery trip in summer.
The Andorrese roads are like a billiard sheet, smooth and ideal for riding a road bike, and the bikeparks in the mountains scream for a descent on a mountain bike. A big advantage of riding in Andorra is the safety. Motorists give you enough space and many tunnels through the mountains even have bike paths. Even though the first day I probably was cycling through a tunnel which might not have been open for cyclists. But even here I felt safe on the bike.
If the mountains and the roads haven’t convinced you yet, the quietness will. Andorra is not as crowded as Mallorca or bicycle mecca Girona . On a sunny weekend day I only met one group of cyclists and a few loose duo’s. Also on the more famous clims of Andorra it is not crowded and you do not end up climbing to a place full of tourist stalls, such as at the Stelvio or the Alpe d’Huez. What doesn’t mean you should avoid these climbs, in contrary.
Finally, in Andorra you will find plenty of bicycle-friendly hotels with a place to rest for you and your bike, plus a spa for relaxing after your ride. Plus in the mountains there are plenty of restaurants where you put down your bike and eat something. In the heart of the Pyrenees in the small Andorra there’s plenty to choose for more active vacations. Andorra’s landscape is beautiful, with green valleys and high mountains. Did I find a new cycling paradise? Certainly! But do not tell anyone else, it’ll be our secret!
Practical tips for cycling in Andorra:
- You’ll find over 30 bike friendly hotels in Andorra which are specialized in cyclotourism. This means that the hotels have at least one enclosed and camera-controlled room where you can park your bike at night, plus a space to clean the bikes with sufficient tools that you may use.
- My tips voor bike friendly hotels in Andorra: In La Massana you’ll find Hotel Màgic Massana, on a few meter distance from a bicycle rental. Hotel Nordic in El Tarter has all facilities for your bike, like bicycle boxes. And if you ride your bike, you can leave the kids at the English School. When you’re cycling, they learn English. If you don’t want to ride a bike but you do want to visit Andorra? Then you can choose the luxury suites of Centric Atiram Hotel in the middle of Andorra la Vella. You prefer a spacious appartment? Then the Apartaments Sant Moritz in Arinsal might suit you. For wellness lovers there is AnyósPark in Anyós near La Massana, with more sport facilities than you’ld expect in a hotel ánd it has a great spa! Design lovers will choose Hotel Palomé.
- Dinner tip! La Borda Secreta in La Massana is one of the more authentic restaurants of Andorra, and I’ll also recommend the restaurant of Hotel Palomé.
- You can perfectly combine your cycling holiday with a day full of wellness at wellness center Inuu / Caldea in Andorra la Vella.