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When I booked my trip to Barcelona, I was looking at different tours I could do while I was there. There were so many to choose from like the Montserrat Tour, Tapas Evening Walking Tour or the Secret Corners Photoshoot Tour, but what really caught my eye was the Three Countries in One Day Tour. At first, I was confused at what the third country was. I knew Barcelona was close to the French border but had no idea Andorra was even a country until I started looking into this tour. I was intrigued and decided to go with it.
START OF THE TOUR IN BARCELONA
The tour started in central Barcelona at 7am and the itinerary included Baga, Ax Les Thermes and Andorra. We were scheduled to return around 7:30pm, so it was going to be a full 12-hour day. I met my handsome tour guide, Xavi (pronounced Chavi), and there were about 15 of us in his group ready to board the mini bus.
On our way to our first stop, Baga, Xavi told the group a little about himself and the history and current events of Spain. I really enjoyed learning every single fact he was telling us because I really had no clue what Spain was all about. Some interesting facts I learned:
• Barcelona has a population of 1.6 million people and is the second most condensed city in Europe. Paris takes the number one spot.
• La Sagrada Familia plans to finish it’s construction in 2026 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death but the locals do not see this happening.
• Catalonia is a nation without it’s own state consisting of four provinces: Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona. Throughout Barcelona and nearby areas, we saw yellow ribbons being displayed everywhere and these were meant to support and free the Catalan politicians. They were being imprisoned by the Spanish government for their role in organizing a referendum about independence from Spain. The question of Catalonia's right to independence is a long standing and contentious issue.
• Catalan (which sounds close to French) and Spanish are the main languages of Barcelona.
We arrived in Baga at 8:30am and were given 20 minutes to get some breakfast and use the restrooms at one of the two bakeries that were open. I ordered a croissant, donut and coffee from the larger bakery and sat outside on a bench. The donut wasn't that great but the croissant was amazing. After everyone got some breakfast, we met Xavi and he gave us a tour of the tiny medieval town with a population of 2000.
First, we stopped in front of the St. Esteve de Bagà, a Romanist and Gothic church that was built between the 14th and 15th centuries. Then we went up a hill with a gorgeous view of the mountain peaks from the Cadi-Moixero Natural Park. We turned a corner and stepped into Plaça Porxada, a little square built in the 13th century.
This little town was so quiet that it almost seemed like a museum. And this may sound odd but it reminded me of Epcot at Disney World because Disney mimics each country so precisely to the real thing. Now that I was visiting the real countries in Europe, everything seemed so fake and I felt like the 7 dwarfs were going to pop out somewhere at any minute and the tour was going to turn into a ride.
I wish we had a little more time to spend here because we just zipped through and left within an hour. But again, I get that we’re trying to fit in 3 countries in 12 hours, so we have to stick to a certain schedule.
We left Baga at 9:30am and headed to France. On our way, I learned some more interesting facts from Xavi about France:
- The Spain and France border control we passed by is no longer needed since Europe has become a union.
- The nickname of France is L'hexagone, which means “the hexagon”, as the country has six sides. Many French think that this a perfect geometric form and that it was created by God. They are very proud of their country.
- The current French president, Emmanuel Macron, is only 39 years old and the youngest president in French history. He married his high school teacher, Brigitte, and they met when he was only 16 years old. Brigitte, who is 24 years older, quit her teaching job and helped Emmanuel with his presidential campaign. Some say that he won because of her.
The drive to France was gorgeous as we passed by the Pyrenees mountains, which creates a natural border between France and Spain. We were easily able to tell we crossed the border when the housing and architecture completely changed. We arrived in Ax-les-Thermes at 11am and had about an hour and a half to spend here. Ax-les-Thermes is a beautiful town surrounded by the Pyrenees mountains and it is a popular spa and ski town.
The main thing I did in this town was soak my feet in one of the natural hot springs. The waters here were historically claimed to treat rheumatism and skin diseases and from there, a spa tourism industry was born. It was a very charming town decorated with colorful flowers everywhere and cute little artisan stores and restaurants.
I wanted to get some hand lotion at one of the stores but didn’t know how to say lotion in French, so none of the retailers could understand me. I was surprised that they didn’t know a word of English. If I ever come back to this town, I need to learn some basic French for sure.
At 12:30pm, we were on our way to Andorra. This was the country I was most excited to visit since it was a new discovery for me. Some fun facts about Andorra:
- Catalan is the official language of Andorra and it is the only country that speaks this language officially.
- Andorra is the sixth smallest country in Europe with a population of 77,000.
- It is known for its ski resorts and a tax-haven status.
- One of the most difficult countries to obtain a citizenship. Even if you were born in Andorra, that does not automatically confer citizenship.
- Andorra is the world’s only co-principality; meaning it’s ruled by two princes. One is the President of France and the other is the Bishop of Urgell in Spain.
- Every summer, the government pays for Cirque du Soleil to come to Andorra for a month. This is a free event to all visitors and in turn, the visitors usually buy from the shops in Andorra since things are generally cheaper.
When we reached the border of Andorra, Xavi asked if we wanted to get our passports stamped here and of course all of us on the bus wanted one. While Xavi took care of our passports, we had some time to step off the bus and take in the beautiful views of the Pyrenees mountains. The air was nice and crisp and since we were higher up in the mountains, it dropped about 20 degrees in temperature. It was a tad cold but refreshing at the same time.
At about 1:30pm, we made a quick stop in the mountain valley to take a look at what a typical house of Andorra in the mountains look like and how it’s built to withstand heavy snow. We enjoyed a very brief hike and then made our way to the country’s capital, Andorra la Vella.
Andorra la Vella is the highest capital city in Europe at an elevation of 1,023 metres (3,356 ft). It is known as the mall enclosed by mountains as their main street is full of shops surrounded by mountains. We stopped here for a couple of hours to do some shopping and eat lunch if we hadn’t done so in France.
Since I didn’t eat lunch in France, I walked around to find something to eat. I found a nice fast-food type restaurant called Vienna and ordered a hot dog (frankfurt) and fries. The hot dog reminded me of Iceland’s pylsur but Iceland’s was way better. I also had some fresh orange juice, which seems to be a common thing around Spain and it’s surrounding countries.
After my meal, I checked out the mall and walked to the end of the main street. Since I’m not much of shopper, I didn’t buy anything and I found this stop to be rather boring. I wish we would have spent more time in the mountains.
BACK TO BARCELONA
We left Andorra around 4pm and headed back to Barcelona. We took a different route and drove through the farmlands and saw more of the agricultural side of Spain. We stopped by a restaurant/bar for a little break and Xavi bought us all a round of drinks. We had a choice of cava, white wine, red wine, sangria, beer, juice or soft drinks. I chose the sangria (along with the majority of the crew) but I wish I had chosen the cava because Xavi later told us that it’s a sparkling white wine unique to Catalan and they are very proud of it.
After that, we had another hour and half on the bus and Xavi privately chatted with every single one of us on the tour to see if we had any other questions or any recommendations needed in Barcelona.
He gave me recommendations on restaurants and where to catch the best sunrises and sunsets. One of the restaurants he recommended and I tried is Bar del Pla and it was excellent!
This was such a fantastic tour and I can’t recommend it enough. I had a wonderful time and learned so much about each country we visited. Xavi was very knowledgeable not only in the history and culture of each country but in the politics too. If you get Xavi as your tour guide, you’re in luck!
COST: $152 (I booked through Viator and received a 10% discount, making it $130)