There are just a few places in the world that are countries entirely devoted to tourism and relaxation and Andorra just may be the coolest one – literally! We’ve visited some beautiful and unique small countries on our travels including; Vatican City, San Marino, Monaco, Malta, Macau, Montenegro and Cyprus. We’ve also visited some excellent ski resorts like; St. Moritz, Salt Lake City, Geneva, Lapland, Ushuaia and, of course, the iconic Whistler. Andorra however, an enclave between France and Spain in the Pyrenees Mountains, is the only small country that is also an excellent ski resort. That makes it an entire country devoted to fun, outdoor pursuits and relaxation!
Andorra is a principality; meaning that it is ruled by a prince (like Monaco). In fact, Andorra is ruled by two princes: one is the Bishop of Urgell in Catalonia, Spain and the other is the President of France. Yes, you read that correctly.
Andorra has been continuously inhabited since about 9,500 BCE when a permanent settlement was created at La Balma de la Margineda. The ancient Greeks and Romans knew Andorra well and Hannibal Barca marched his elephants through Andorra in route to ravage the Italian peninsula from his base in Carthage. Andorra was created as a political unit by Charlemagne who granted Andorra 5000 troops to keep the Muslim forces of Andalusia at bay from invading France.
During the early 20th century, Andorra began to organise as a tourist attraction because of its beautiful mountains, lakes and wonderful scenery. Today, this tiny country of just 77,000 permanent residents is a wealthy, hospitable enclave that welcomes more than 10 million visitors each year from all over the world to relax, rejuvenate and enjoy this wonderful place!
You may fly into Andorra-La Seu d’Urgell Airport, but it is small and does not offer a lot of air services. It is not even in Andorra but is instead in nearby Spain. More likely, you’ll fly into Toulouse or Barcelona and then either drive or take the train into the enclave. For a beautiful and thrilling flight, you can take a helicopter into three of the resorts. I’d recommend that you drive a rental car into the enclave but you can also rely on buses and local taxis which have somewhat limited availability.
Here’s a Pro-tip: The currency of Andorra is the Euro even though this city is not technically part of the EU. That makes it convenient and, much like its rulers, its currency is not from Andorra!
While the country is best known for its ski resorts, there are some other fun and interesting sites in Andorra. Here are my favourites:
- Centro Historico – this beautiful area of Andorra la Vella is full of Romanesque buildings, fountains and other ancient structures. I love walking through this Medieval cityscape and thinking about life more than 800 years ago.
- Casa del la Vall – this is a nicely curated small museum that shows what life in Medieval Andorra was like.
- Saint Esteve Church – this elegant and powerful structure is full of beautiful frescos and statuary. This place is awesome even if you’re not religious.
- Mirador Roc del Quer – this is a gut-clenching lookout point that hangs 400 meters above the valley below that make you feel like you are flying over Andorra.
- La Noblesse du Temps – this surrealistic sculpture by Salvador Dali decorating Andorra la Vella is made from 1400 kgs of solid bronze.
- Illa Carlemany Shopping Mall – one of the big pastimes in Andorra is shopping because the country is entirely duty-free. This means that high-end fashions, alcohol, tobacco products and similar luxuries are a great price. This mall is named after Charlemagne.
- Hiking – there are stunning lakes, wonderful vistas and quiet groves available on trails that are ancient. This is a trekker’s paradise.
Reflect on the beauty of Andorra!
Andorran cuisine has lots of Catalan and French flavours and spices. Most meals, as you would expect are hardy. Here are my favourite restaurants in Andorra:
- Borda Estevet – this classically styled Andorran restaurant features authentic Catalan meals in a beautifully rustic décor complete with stone walls and a big fireplace.
- Restaurante Celler d’En Toni – this iconic restaurant has been family owned for three generations since it opened in 1964. It offers wonderful local food with ultra-fresh ingredients and has the largest selection of wines in the country with over 12,000 different labels!
- Plat’In – this restaurant offers excellent quality food with Andorran and Catalan recipes that are served with a contemporary twist. Expect unusual combinations that surprise the palate.
As you would expect from a resort area, Andorra offers a fun Après Ski culture. That vibe continues throughout the year. Here are my favourite nightspots:
- Underground Bar – this club offers a wild party every night! The crowd is enthusiastic, the drinks are free during Happy Hour and the music is vibrant. Go here if you have a lot of energy to burn.
- Monopol 80’s Andorra – this retro-themed nightclub is straight out of the early 1980s with music and décor to match. The crowd isn’t old but it’s like stepping backwards in time.
- Eivissa Experience Lounge Club – this huge venue has many different rooms for activities from dancing to video games. Eivissa hops all year round but really comes alive during ski season.
Andorra has some of the nicest boutique hotels in the world with stunning views over the mountains and surrounding valleys. Here are my favourites:
- Sport Hotel Hermitage & Spa – This beautifully presented ski resort is world-class. The spa is wonderful and relaxing after a morning on the slopes.
- Hotel Plaza – this comfortable and welcoming property is conveniently located in the centre of the action in Andorra la Vella. I love the art in this super-cool venue!
- Park Piolets MountainHotel & Spa – this property is the perfect spot if you are visiting to ski. Amenities include a heated pool that is so relaxing, a full spa and wonderful restaurants.
Andorra has been inhabited for so long precisely because it is a beautiful and bountiful place. Enjoy this wonderful gem nestled between Spain and France.