Europe is as we all know home to many different countries. Some are small - really small. The smallest is Vatican City with only a few acres of land. But of Europe's microstates, the largest is the Principality of Andorra. This is a tiny country tucked away in the Pyrennes Mountain ranges that separate Spain from France. It has only a population of some 77,000 inhabitants and a land area of only 180 square miles. If you are looking to fly to Andorra, you need to fly into either France or Spain and then drive there - there's no airport.
Background To The Principality Of Andorra
But it is as stunning as it is quirky. Whereas fellow European microstates like Monaco and even the Isle of Man have made their niche as tax havens or gambling bastions, Andorra is very apparently a glorified ski resort with 80% of its economy coming from tourism. The largest town is Andorra La Vella with more than half the population of the country. One bizarre fact of its politics, the actual heads of state (yes there are two heads of state) must be the head of state of France and the Bishop of Urgell in Spain. Today these are Joan Enric Vives i Sicília and President Emmanuel Marcon of France - they are technically co-princes of Andorra. Although in reality, the Principality of Andorra manages its own affairs.
The official language of Andorra is Catalan (the language of Barcelona), although everyone also speaks Spanish. English, Portuguese, and French are also well understood. If you're thinking of immigration and visas, then don't worry - if you can visit Spain and France you can visit Andorra. That being said, Andorra is not part of the European Union or the Schengen Zone. So there are immigration booths on the road (strangely enough in practice they are often not even manned with no one to check your passport on entry)!
The Main Ski Resorts Of Andorra
This alpine microstate is just bristling with ski resorts. It feels like the whole country is little more than a couple of valleys of ski resorts. In fact, with only a population of fewer than 80,000 people, it draws in some 7 million skiers every year! Come in the summer and the ski slopes are turned to alpine hiking trails and there are various shelters or cabins for you to stay on overnight on the trail.
Come in the winter and everything is in full swing and the mountains are overflowing with skiers from all over Europe. You will be spoilt for a choice of resorts to stay at - and there are many. The ski season runs from around early December through to mid-April.
The largest ski region in Andorra is Grandvalira and it includes the resorts of Soldeu el Tarter, Pas de la Casa/Grau Roig, Encamp, and Canillo. Andorra's other big ski region is that of Vallnord and it has Pal, Arinsal, and Arcalis resorts.
Perhaps the ski capital of Andorra is "Soldeu el Tarter." This large ski resort boasts 57 miles of ski runs made up of 14 green, 15 blue, 12 red, and 11 black runs serviced by 29 lifts. This village is dominated by 4 and 5-star hotels (although there are 3 and 2-star options). These hotels come with all the services and luxury you expect from an exotic European ski vacation.
The main 5-star hotel is Sport Hotel Hermitage & Spa prices here range from around $440 per night up to around $900 per night for a Leader's Club Exclusive room.
Another very notable resort is "Pas de la Cas/Grau Roig". This resort is famous for its lively nightlife and its party atmosphere drawing a younger crowd. It is particularly popular with those aged between 18 and 30 and has even more lifts than Soldeu el Tarter with 31 lifts and 62 miles of piste. You will find a lot of young British skiing and partying here.
To list one more top resort, the next is "Encamp". It has an elevation of over 4,900 feet and is more certain to have snowfall. It is serviced by 29 lifts and has some 63 pistes (29 green, 23 blue, and 11 red).
Andorra La Vella Is The Prime Location
Andorra is very small, so if you have your own car, you can drive just about wherever you want within minutes. In fact, to drive the full length across the country, it only takes around 1 hour and 10 minutes. From the French border to the Spanish border it is only 33 miles - including the many winding roads around the mountains. Andorra La Vella is also in the middle of the country, meaning you are well placed to get wherever you want to go in the country in less than 40 minutes. Unless you are seriously looking to get out of the way of things and be alone in the mountains. Perhaps staying in Andorra La Vella is a great option as it is basically little more than an alpine ski resort town just with more shopping and other activity options than the remote alpine hotels.
And the last major factor drawing the crowds to Andorra is duty-free shopping. People come from far and wide to take advantage of the cheap duty-free goods for sale in Andorra La Vella. This town is a stunning and beautiful place tucked into a small valley flanked by mountains rising abruptly on all sides. The center of this town is basically just shopping, shopping, and more duty-free shopping. In summer, by day people hike and by evening they shop. In winter, by day people ski and by night they shop.
Andorra is an opportunity to ski in luxury in Europe and enjoy their fresh alpine air. It's also a great alternative to notoriously expensive Switzerland.
In summary, Andorra is little more than a couple of valleys dominated by stunning ski resorts that by the quirks of history have become a country - with President Marcon as co-prince!