Duty-free, Mountains, and skiing are a few things we instantly relate to Andorra, but besides these what is Andorra famous for?
Located in the Iberian Peninsula, in the heart of the Pyrenees, Andorra is a landlocked country that borders only France and Spain. With an area of only about 468 km2 and roughly 77 500 people, Andorra is considered a micronation. In fact, it is considered the 6th smallest state in Europe and the 16th in the world.
Despite its tiny size Andorra is a popular destination, both in Winter and Summer. Attracted by the beautiful nature, the mountains, the skiing, cycling, and hiking opportunities, but also to buy cheaper gas and duty-free goods. In total, about 10 Million people visit Andorra each year.
But, without further delays, let’s illustrate what is Andorra known for!
9 Things Andorra is famous for
Andorra is the “country in the mountains”. This was their tourism slogan years ago, but it still is true. It will always be true. So, when someone asks us, what is Andorra famous for? The Mountains are our first thought. And by mountains, we mean the Pyrenees mountain range.
Andorra is nestled in the Pyrenees, so it’s completely marked by the mountains. With an average altitude of about 2000 meters, it is the highest country in Europe and one of the highest in the world. Furthermore, Andorra La Vella is the highest capital in Europe, and the lowest part of the country lies at an altitude above 840 meters.
So, everything in Andorra is in mountains and sometimes at a really high altitude. You will find excellent hiking and cycling opportunities in Summer and some of the best skiing in Europe in Winter. Though, be aware that it’s a high mountain with mountainous weather.
Ski and snow sports
Andorra is well-known for its skiing options. It is usually presented as a relatively low-cost ski destination, but don’t let that fool it. It has more than 300 km of skiing pistes, modern lifts, and extensive free-ride terrains.
There are only three different ski resorts: Grandvalira, Ordino Arcalis, and Pal-Arinsal (Vallnord), but they offer opportunities for beginners, intermediate, and advanced skiers. With 210 km, Grandvalira is clearly the largest in the Pyrenees and among the largest in the world. It spreads through several villages Encamp, Canillo, El Tarter, Soldeu, Grau Roig, and Pas de la Casa. Pas de la Casa is the oldest resort in Andorra, and sitting above 2000 meters is a sure place to find snow.
Naturally, the ski season can’t be predicted for sure, but in Andorra, it usually starts at the beginning of December and extends into March or early April.
Ski is the main winter sport, but it isn’t the only one you can enjoy in Andorra. You can also take ski raquettes, dog sled, or snowboard.
If wintertime is a synonym for skiing in Andorra, summertime is the time of cycling and hiking. Cycling is particularly popular in Andorra, as it offers some wonderful, hard road climbs but also many BTT possibilities.
Besides the natural setting and the mountain passes, Andorra has perfect conditions for receiving amateur cyclists. Although much more popular in spring and summer, the routes can be cycled all year round. They also have excellent asphalt, informative panels, a cycling lane, and constant signs advising drivers that it’s a cycling area.
Andorra may not have a famous professional race, but it usually attracts two of the most famous ones, the tour de France and La Vuelta a España. Both races regularly go to Andorra and feature one or several climbs there. Some of the most popular climbs include Coll de Ordino, Beixalís, and Port d’Envalira.
With 21 mountain passes, Andorra is truly a mountain cyclists’ paradise. Besides the amateur cyclists, it is also home to many professional cyclists who choose to live there, both because of altitude training and the lower taxes. This takes us to the next thing Andorra is famous for… duty-free.
With more than 500 stores, Andorra is a shopping heaven. People flock to Andorra to buy products at a cheaper price because Andorra doesn’t charge import taxes and has a very low VAT tax. Though that being said, there are strict limits on what one can bring from Andorra freely.
So, you will find a multitude of shops and large supermarkets selling a huge array of goods, particularly alcohol, cigarettes, and cosmetics. Oh, you will also notice that Andorra has a large number of petrol stations. As it has cheaper gas than Spain and France, visitors always fill up their car when going to Andorra.
We really enjoyed the weird vibe of the mountain village Pas de la Casa, located right on the border with France, but Andorra’s major shopping streets are Carlemany and Meritxell. That’s where you’ll find the large shopping malls with jewelry, sports equipment, boutiques, electronics, cameras, and much much more.
Andorra is famous for tobacco for two reasons. First, because it’s cheaper than elsewhere and people go there to buy it as explained above. But also, because Andorra actually produces tobacco! Plus, up until recently, it used to be one of the main sectors of its economy, with a large part of its inhabitants involved in the elaborate and traditional manufacturing process.
Cultivating tobacco became crucial to Andorra’s economy in the 17th century when smuggling cigarettes to Spain was really profitable. A large part of Andorra’s production was packaged in bales and smuggled into Spain. Despite this illegality, tobacco remained the main economic driver until the mid-20th century, when tourism, financial institutions, and duty-free shops appeared.
Only about 2% of the land in Andorra is suitable for producing crops. Andorra still produces tobacco and still uses much of its small arable lands for it. However, it is now a mechanized and modern production. So, despite not being a crucial activity anymore, it is still one of the most iconic goods produced in Andorra.
Unique head of state
We have talked about a few famous things about Andorra, but the most fascinating and intriguing thing is its head of state. Andorra is a parliamentary principality, which is not that strange or fascinating. Well, in fact, it is a co-principality, which means it has two heads of state, “two princes”, co-princes.
Two co-princes is a bit unconventional, but that’s not enough. The two princes don’t come from a Royan family. Andorra doesn’t have a royal family. Well, they aren’t even Andorran, they are foreign, and they don’t even come from the same country. One comes from Spain, the other from France. So, Andorra has two princes as head of state that don’t come from a royal family and aren’t Andorran… So, who are they?
First, there’s the Bishop of Urgell (a city in Catalonia, Spain) thus, whoever acts as the Bishop or Urgell is also co-prince of Andorra. Quirky, but who’s the other? The president of France… So, when the french people elect its president, it also elects the co-prince of Andorra.
In conclusion, Andorra has two heads of state, one is selected by the catholic church, while the other is elected by the french people, not the Andorran! Andorra has an elected monarch – elected by the french but still elected…
Oh, and just in case you haven’t fully assimilated it yet, Emmanuel Macron is a prince (co-prince), at least while he’s the french president.
Another intriguing peculiarity of Andorra is its official language. Andorra is located between France and Spain, so naturally, both French and Spanish are widely spoken in the country. Portuguese is also widely spoken because of the huge Portuguese migration influx. However, the official language is Catalan, the only official language.
Catalan is a Romance language derived from Latin. It has about 9 million speakers, of which about 4 million are native speakers. It is obviously mostly associated with Catalonia, but it is the official language of Catalonia, the Valencian Community, and the Balearic Islands. As all of these territories are part of Spain, Andorra is the only independent country in the world that has Catalan as the official language.
Caldea thermal baths
Apart from the ski resorts, the Caldea thermal baths are probably the most attractive in Andorra. Located in Escaldes, Caldea opened to the public in 1994 with a revolutionary thermal spring leisure concept with outstanding facilities, including waterfalls, jacuzzis, hydromassage jets, and many others.
With 18 floors and over 30 000 m2, it is the largest spa center in Southern Europe, offering great opportunities for relaxing in a stress-free atmosphere. It is popular year-round, but it is amazing during winter, after a day of skiing.
Combining the concepts of health and wellness with fun and entertainment, it is organized around four spas: the Thermal Spring Leisure Spa, the Inúu spa, the Origins Spa, and the Likids spa. Caldea uses natural healing waters rich in sulfur, sodium sulfates, and calcium.
With 80 meters in height, Caldea is also Andorra’s tallest building.
The co-principality is also known for its romanesque art, particularly churches. The secluded territory favored the conservation of the buildings allowing us now to enjoy their simplicity and sobriety. They are the preserved essence of medieval Andorra.
The Andorran Romanesque are typically small, simple constructions with a single nave and porch at the entrance. They aren’t decorated but have bell towers and belfries which had a defensive purpose but were also used to communicate between villages.
Some of the churches still have the original 17th and 18th-century altarpieces and colorful paintings of disciples of Catalan Masters of the past.
There are over 40 churches and other monuments spread throughout the country. Some of the most popular include:
- Sant Joan de Caselles Church
- Meritxell Sanctuary
- Santa Coloma Church
- Sant Esteve Church
- Sant Climent de Pal Church