Andorra is a small principality, nestled along the border of Spain and France, with only 85,000 residents. But for such a small country, it has huge appeal, drawing 10.2 million tourists each year to take in the beauty of the Pyrenees at its highest elevation and the Gran Valira River at its lowest.
If you find yourself in the region, you might want to consider a stop at the photogenic church of Our Lady of Meritxell, who is the patron saint of Andorra. Situated near the village of Meritxell, the name is derived from the Catalin word merig, denoting a pasture full of sunshine. It's an apt name for a country that has over 300 days of sun a year.
Legend has it that sometime in the 12th century, villagers found a rose blooming out of season with a statue of the Virgin and Child at its base. They moved the statue to a church in Encamp, but the statue returned to the rose overnight of its own accord. The villagers saw in this a sign to construct a new church in a pasture untouched by winter snow.
While the 12th-century structure was destroyed by a fire in the 1970s, the community quickly rebuilt, and the church is now comprised of two structures — the old sanctuary and the new temple where a replica Virgin and Child stands. The Taller de Arquitectura was commissioned to rebuild the church, and they took a modern approach to their design.
Nodding to the theories and traditions of the Romanesque style, they reinterpreted these through the use of vertical lines, repeating arches, dramatic scale and negative space. The open-air cloister, in particular, provides a sense of harmony with the surrounding environment. Your eye, and that of your camera, will be drawn up and out.
While picturesque in any season, plan your visit to coincide with the feast day of Our Lady of Meritxell on 8 September to take part in the mass, dances, choir and procession around the sanctuary. And at the end of the day, there’s cake and chocolate for everyone.