There are six countries in Europe that are labeled micro states because of their size. They are – from smallest (.17 sq. miles) to largest (181 sq. miles) – the Vatican City, Monaco, San Marino, Liechtenstein, Malta, and Andorra. I wrote about Monaco a few months ago – today I’ll tell you about Andorra.
My daughter and I drove from Barcelona, Spain, through Andorra, to Bordeaux, France. We stopped in Andorra le Vella, the capital city of Andorra, along the way. We drove through the micro state from south to north, covering about 27 miles of the main road. The views out of the car windows were stunning – they seemed to get better with each bend of the road.
Andorra, the Country
The country of Andorra is about 181 square miles and is somewhat circular in shape. It is located in the Pyrenees Mountains, which form the border between Spain and France. Thus, Andorra is bordered on the south and west by Spain and on the north and east by France.
Getting Around in Andorra
There is one main road that travels from Spain, in the south, to the capital city of Andorra la Vella. The road then splits so that from this city, you can travel west to Spain and east to France. These roads and a few smaller ones cover a total of about 125 paved miles. In addition there are about 50 miles of unpaved roads throughout the country.
There are no trains that travel through Andorra, but there are daily buses to and from Barcelona and Toulouse, France. Although there are several per day, the buses are not as frequent as you might assume. Check the schedule carefully. If you want to travel from Barcelona to Toulouse via Andorra, plan for a little over three hours for each travel segment and two to three hours hours in Andorra la Vella. If you’d like to stay overnight, or want to travel round trip from Barcelona you will have a couple more options. We thought about using the bus, but opted instead to rent a car.
Tourism is the main source of income in the country of Andorra, drawing over ten million visitors each year. It provides about 80% of the gross domestic product (GDP). The main attractions for visitors are nature, skiing and shopping.
Hiking and biking are popular in Andorra because of the beautiful landscape throughout the country. There are many designated hiking trails, as well as organizations that provide guide services. Trails through the mountains provide challenges while offering spectacular views. Rock climbing, and iron ways are also available.
Bikers are welcome on the well-maintained, asphalt roads of Andorra. Passes through the mountains provide an elevation challenge. At times, the routes have been used for stages of the Tour de France and the Vuelta de España. In addition to road biking, mountain biking is also a popular sport in Andorra. Miles of rugged bike trails are available.
Skiing is the most popular sport in Andorra, bringing in over seven million tourists a year. There are over 180 miles of ski runs. As we drove through the country in May, we saw several ski chalets, hotel and hostels that were using the off-season to spruce up their accommodations for visitors that would be joining them in the new season. Many were also open for bikers, hikers, and other summer visitors.
Andorra, the City
Andorra la Vella is the largest city in this small country, housing over one quarter of the country’s population. The city is surrounded by mountains, giving the impression that it is located in a valley; however, it is actually the highest (in elevation) capital city in the world.
The main street – and entire central area – is home to banks, jewelry, perfume, and other stores, and restaurants. The banks offer a tax haven for the world’s investors. Banking and insurance provides about 19% of the GDP – with tourism at 80% there is not much room for anything else, but the country of Andorra has a small amount of manufacturing and farming (tobacco and sheep).
Tourists visit Andorra la Vella for duty-free shopping. We enjoyed a little window shopping, as we walked around, but did not figure much shopping into our budgets. In addition to jewelry and perfume, cigarettes are popular – we found it ironic that among the signs advertising the low prices were larger signs warning people that smoking was dangerous for their health.
After wandering around, we found a restaurant for a delicious late lunch and then continued on our drive through the beautiful country.
I’m glad we decided to rent the car for our trip through Andorra – I’m not sure we would have had the same views of the surrounding landscape if we were riding on the bus. We spent a little over an hour in the town, which was enough for us, since we weren’t shopping, hiking or skiing.
I imagine that the area would be amazing for skiers – if you are a skier, definitely plan more time. We were a little rushed on our drive to and from Andorra le Vella. I wish we had budgeted more time so we could have stopped to enjoy the views and take more pictures.
If you are in the area, I recommend traveling through Andorra, If you are a shopper, stay the night. If you are a hiker, biker, or skier, spend a few nights in this beautiful country!