Best known for duty-free shopping and skiing, the historic Principality of Andorra on the Iberian Peninsula has rightfully earned a reputation as a consumer and winter sports lover’s haven. With 2,000 shops and two major ski areas, the tiny principality boasts some of the most spectacular Pyrenees landscapes in all of Europe beyond its capital, Andorra la Vella, which is set 1,023 m above sea level.
Andorra, one of Europe’s unique microstates is owned in its entirety by the Spanish Bishop of Urgell. Set in the glorious eastern Pyrenees Mountains, the territory borders Spain and France and at 290 square miles, is the sixth-smallest European nation. The almost 800-year old principality is ruled by two princes, nominally the President of France and the Bishop of Urgell, and tourism is its major industry, with over 10 million visitors a year enjoying its ski slopes and tax-free status, not to mention its spectacular natural beauty.
The microstate’s summer and winter resorts are a haven for outdoor activity, with skiing the favorite pastime. The original small mountain villages on the slopes, including party hub El Pas de la Casa, are now combined into two major ski areas, Grandvalira and Vallnord, both of which are equipped with ultra-modern facilities. Andorra la Vella is the perfect base for summer hiking, walking and sightseeing, and in the capital’s old town, ski centers and charming villages are heritage sites, shrines, and ancient churches.
Andorra’s population of 84,000 speak mainly Catalan, the official language, although Portuguese, the Spanish dialect of Castilian, and French are spoken, as well. Life expectancy here is among the highest in the world at 82 years, which is unsurprising considering the amount of fresh mountain air and slow pace of life. A tiny proportion of land, around 2%, is cultivated, meaning most food needs to be imported and sheep breeding is the only livestock trade.
One of the joys of a visit to Andorra is its unique combination of tradition and modernity, within a tiny country seemingly a million miles away from the noise and bustle of the 21st century. Andorrans are proud of their long heritage as an independent state and are more than happy to share their varied and rich culture with travelers. Music, literature, art, folklore, Romanesque architecture, and the distinctive Andorran cuisine are all part of the country’s lifeline, and its museums safeguard its fascinating history.
With more than 300 sunny days every year, Andorra is a premier destination for tourists from France, Spain, and the UK, and is just a few hours’ drive from other vibrant European cities and glorious beaches. The mountains and deep valleys are beautiful in spring and summer, and sparklingly spectacular in winter. Andorra’s high standard of accommodation in modern hotels and traditional inns combined with a great choice of pubs, eateries, and clubs ensures an amazing holiday experience.
- The Casa de la Val in Andorra la Vella, originally a 16th century mansion, is now the country’s parliament building and only law court
- Andorra’s oldest church, the pre-Romanesque Santa Coloma, is worth a visit for its free-standing bell tower and historic interior
- Over 2,000 duty-free shops and department stores are located in Andorra, with the majority set along Avinguda de Meritxl and its continuation, Avinguda de Carlemany, as well as on Avinguda del Princep Beniloch
- Barri Antic, the heart of the city, is Andorra la Vella’s old quarter?home to narrow cobblestone lanes, traditional homes, and shops, restaurants, and bars gathered around a central square
- The Caldea Spa, located in Escaldes-Engordany spa town, just outside Andorra la Vella, is an ultra-modern, futuristic complex offering mineral-rich hot springs, a huge lagoon, Turkish baths, hydromassages, saunas, and delightful extras such as a nightly underwater music and light show
- For a breathtaking view across the Pyrenees, take a taxi, bus, or self-drive to the tiny hamlet of El Serrat, around 11 miles (18 kms) from Escaldes-Engordany