Andorra: The Smallest Country in Europe
Located between France and Spain, snuggled in the Pyrenees, lies Andorra, the smallest country in Europe. It only covers 468 square kilometres. Although it holds the title of the smallest country in Europe, it still manages to bring in 11 million tourists a year.
Language: Catalan – but French and Spanish are also widely spoken.
Capital City: Andorra la Vella
In 20th century history, Andorra has managed to remain somewhat isolated. In 1993 Andorra adopted an independent democratic parliamentary co-principality. Previously, it was jointly ruled by a French prince (now replaced with the French President) and Spanish bishop as co-princes, whose powers have now been greatly reduced. In 1994 Andorra joined the Council of Europe.
Being smack in the middle of the Pyrenees Mountains means Andorra is a great place for winter skiing and summer hiking.
December to March is the best time for skiing. Andorra has several ski resorts, among them Sodeu-El Tarter and Pal-Arinsal. Most of the resorts now use a lot of man-made snow during the spring and summer seasons, but nonetheless, a lot of area is opened up to other mountain activities during those periods. Hiking, fishing, mountain biking and horseback riding are all available. Permits can be bought at the local tourist office.
Andorra is tax-free, which means it has duty free shopping. Shopping is a major source of revenue for the country, and neighbouring residents from France and Spain often come across the border to stock up on tax-free goods.
Accommodation and Transportation
Because of the limited number of hotels, it’s recommended that you reserve in advance. Check out andorramania for a list of good hotels.
Surprisingly enough, Andorra does not have its own airport. It is a three-hour drive to the nearest airport, in Toulouse, Barcelona, Girona or Perpignan. There are no trains but there is a bus service between Andorra la Vella to L’Hospitalet train station in France and La Tour de Carol in Spain.
Driving is the most obvious and practical way to get around Andorra. Although be advised that the capital gets incredibly congested during peak tourist season. And it doesn’t help that Andorra only has three major roads.
Andorra la Vella
The capital of Andorra has a population of just over 22,000. The town has been somewhat overrun with duty-free retailing, and at times it makes it hard to appreciate some of the city’s finer features. One such feature is the Casa de la Vall, House of the Valley, which is Andorra’s parliament building since 1702. It’s a stone structure dating back to 1580. The lower floor holds the only court room in Andorra and the upstairs, in the Sala del Consell, is where parliament meets.
The National Automobile Museum has over 80 vintage cars, a number of antique motorcycles and over 100 bicycles. There are also a number of somewhat random museums, including The Pin Museum - with over 75,000 pins - and The Miniature Museum.
Santa Coloma Church is one of the oldest churches in Andorra. Its architecture is particularly interesting as it has been altered a number of times. Although built in the 9th and 10th centuries, it has a 12th-century bell tower and 17th-century portico. The church is home to a 12th-century statue of the Virgin of Coloma. It was also previously home to an impressive Romanesque fresco that is now located in the Prussian State Cultural Museum.