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Andorra, one of the world’s smallest nations, is nestled in the border between Spain and France. It is a unique place that delights shoppers, nature lovers and those who enjoy winter sports, as more than 90% of its surface is covered by forests.
Small Principality in the Pyrenees
The Principality of Andorra, as it is officially known, was founded by Emperor Charlemagne in 805, in gratitude to the people in this area after their heroic struggle against the Saracens. But it wasn’t until 1288 that this territory officially became a country. At present, its form of government is a parliamentary co-principality, and the heads of state are the bishop of the nearby Catalan city of La Seu d’Urgell and the President of France.
Considered the highest country in Europe, it is situated in the Pyrenees where there are peaks over 15,000 feet high. The small nation is a very safe place and has one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world. Through trade, tourism, and banking, the economy is booming.
A visit to this tiny country should begin in the capital, Andorra la Vella, one of the seven parishes—administrative divisions—that comprise the principality. Although the area is slight, more than 1,200 boutiques selling everything from technology, sports gear to perfumes, and beyond, are concentrated there.
This profusion of outlets is due to the fact that the products are duty free up to a favorable limit stipulated by customs, which explains the significant presence of Spaniards, French and international travelers who come here just to shop.
Also, haute cuisine aficionados should know that in Andorra la Vella there are excellent restaurants serving delicious Andorran food and the best Spanish and French cuisine. The Andorran capital boasts the largest spas in the south of Europe: Inúu and Caldea. The area is supplied by underwater streams laden with minerals—such as sulfur and sodium—which sprout at 150 degrees Fahrenheit and have analgesic, healing, decongestant and antiallergic benefits.
If you are a fan of winter sports, you will find your personal paradise here, as the snow in Andorra is constant in the winter months. During the season, the Vallnord and Grandvalira stations are frequently visited by expert skiers. And the most familiar stations, such as Naturlandia and Parador Canaro, are filled with skiers from around the world.
As soon as spring arrives, nature displays a veritable explosion of colors. It is the time to enjoy trekking in its three parks, Madriu- Pedrafita -Claror (declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2004), the Natural Park Vall de Sorteny (with over 700 species of flowers and plants), and the Les Valls Communal Natural Park, where we find Comapedrosa, the highest peak in Andorra, at 9,000 feet.
It is also advisable to visit the beautiful villages that seem immersed in the Middle Ages such as Massana and Ordino, located in the northern valleys, where one can still observe how Andorrans lived centuries ago.
If you are not particularly fond of driving on high mountain roads, Andorra Tourisme offers guided bus tours around the country, which will allow you to enjoy the hospitality of the locals, their ways and customs, the old towns with their beautiful Romanesque churches, and the traditions of a unique nation that is not easily forgotten. ■