If you like your countries monarchic, your cities few and your mountains snowy, Andorra is the place for you. Okay, my guess is that most of you have no idea what I’m talking about unless you’re really good at European geography. Andorra is a small country, but an extremely interesting one. This tiny country has one of the most unique histories and cultures in Europe, and there’s a surprising amount of interesting tidbits that you’d never assume from a first glance.
Andorra is the sixth smallest country in Europe but it’s pretty accessible if you’re visiting either southern France or northern Spain, especially Barcelona, as it only takes just under three hours to drive from Barcelona to Andorra La Vella, the capital, which at 1,023 metres (3,356 feet) above sea level. is the highest capital city in Europe.
By far, one of the reasons for visiting Andorra is for its location; it is located in the Pyrenees, the mountain chain that forms the boundary between Spain and France. So for any of you thinking about Spring skiing or even hiking in the summer, remember it’s not that far.
Andorra is also great for its location because it’s actually a country where Catalan is the official language, so you get the Catalan culture but also because it is so close to Spain and France you get that mix of culture as well. And the snow is definitely a reason to visit Andorra; the country is completely mountainous so there are plenty of options.
Andorra is not a member of most of the major European associations. Even though it uses the Euro, the country is not technically part of the Eurozone. It has a special relationship with the EU in which it follows the trade rules for industry, but not for agriculture. It’s also not a party to the Schengen Treaty, however, you can only access Andorra via Spain and France, which are party to the treaty. And since Andorra doesn’t have an airport, it’s de facto subject to the agreement.
Andorra is great because most of their economy is based on tourism; they use the Euro and make it super easy to ski. Nothing can quite prepare you for Andorra’s awe-inspiring views – they’re everywhere in this pint-sized country – almost everywhere you look. Some of the best views can be seen from up high while you’re skiing or hiking in among the mountains themselves. Think snow-capped covered peaks, sharp-edged green rocks, sparkling sapphire lakes and undulating ridges as far as the eye can see.
And if you’re super into hiking, Andorra is definitely a place to visit as anywhere which is mainly all ski resorts is going to have awesome hiking in the summer. There are mountain huts located all over the country if you would like to do multiple day hikes as well. Andorra offers amazing scenic hikes all over the country and is definitely worth it.
As well as winter sports or hiking, it’s shopping that perhaps surprisingly attracts many to this small country. The capital of the country, Andorra de la Vella, as well as the main road leading into Spain, are lined with department stores, fashion boutiques and hypermarkets – over 5,000 in total. One of the main reasons why the country became a shopper’s paradise is because it’s a tax-free haven, meaning it’s the place to grab bargains on typically expensive brands.
One fact that surprised me here is how much tobacco Andorra produces. It takes up a lot of what little farming space exists there. There used to be a cigarette factory in Andorra, and because of its status as a tax haven, you can purchase cigarettes there much cheaper than you can in Spain or France.
An interesting fact about Andorra is that it’s a co-principality. They have two princes who jointly share the title of prince. Surprisingly, neither of the two princes are from Andorra. One prince is the President of France, Emmanuel Macron. The other co-prince is the Bishop of Urgell, who is currently Joan Enric Vives Sicília. The position is a constitutional one similar to the British Monarchy and holds no real power. Except for limited things, the two princes must exercise their authority together, not separately. This is the only country where one of their heads of state (the President of France) is democratically elected by another country. The other prince, the bishop, is appointed by the head of state of another country (the Pope).
Andorra is also home to Europe’s largest mountain spa – the Caldea spa complex – rising from the city like a shiny rocket. It’s the perfect place to relax your muscles after a day on the slopes; it’s fed by natural hot springs and features a large lagoon, as well as Turkish baths, hydro-massage pools and saunas – and there’s even a special spa area for kids. At night, the complex turns into a discotheque-like environment with bright flashing lights, music and colour.
Although the prices are low in Andorra, don’t waste too much of your time wandering around shopping malls. The deals on the alcohol and tobacco may be amazingly low, but the magical landscape is what will stay in your memory forever.