With a surface area of only 468 km2, Andorra is one of the microstates of Europe. Because of its size, it is a great challenge to discover the whole country in a week of hiking. However, the principality is situated in the middle of the Pyrenees, which means that you have to be prepared for a lot of altitude metres. A small country but not a small challenge. You can choose to hike around the country via the GRP route (GR de Pays), a long distance footpath that makes a round through the whole country. However, it does not pass through the capital Andorra la Vella, where it is easiest to stay. To miss little of the country but still be able to hike around Andorra, there is an alternative.
This alternative starts in Andorra la Vella and during the first stage of this hike around Andorra you'll climb via the GR7 towards the guarded mountain hut: refugi de L'illa. The route starts on the outskirts of the country's capital, in the neighbouring parish of Escaldes-Engordany. Escaldes-Engordany is one of the seven provinces (parishes) that the country has, during the hike you walk through the whole northern part of this province. The route ends just across the provincial border in Encamp where the final destination refugi de L'illa is located.
The capital, like all other cities in the country, lies in a valley. The hike therefore starts at an altitude of 1,080m. From there, you literally walk 12.8 km up into the mountains, every step of the way uphill. It is therefore wise to undertake this hike only if you are in good condition. Your final destination lies at an altitude of 2,490m. During the hike, you will pass the tree line and walk from the wooded area towards an environment that is increasingly rocky. It is not unwise to take enough time for the hike. The number of kilometres seems to be doable, but your speed is low because you only walk uphill the whole day.
The entire walk runs not only through the province of Escaldes-Engordany but also through the Vall del Madriu-Perafita-Claror nature reserve. A nature reserve that belongs to the World Heritage and there is a reason for it. The area consists of breathtaking nature where dense forests, mountain meadows and rocky areas alternate. On this route, you follow the river uphill and there are many different wild animals to discover. Like deer, snakes, birds, rodents and many others. But to see them, you need to have some luck and/or patience. You have the chance to see alpine marmots. Yes, they also live in the Pyrenees ;). One thing is certain, when you hear the tinkling of bells you know you are near grazing cows. You are guaranteed to come across them on your path.
You have the possibility to adjust the length of this route yourself. Because in addition to the guarded mountain huts such as refugi de L'illa, you will also find unguarded mountain huts in Andorra. You can use these for free. The huts are equipped with running water, a possibility to make a fire and steel bed frames in which you can sleep. You will have to carry your own comfort in your backpack, but spending the night in a hut like this will give you the ultimate outdoor experience.
Do you want a lighter backpack and more comfort at your destination? Then choose a guarded mountain hut (or refugi as they are called in Andorra). You pay for your night here but you sleep in a heated hut with the possibility to shower. And you can choose to have breakfast and dinner as well.
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