Many years ago I was working as an impoverished flying instructor at a country airfield, it was a job that enabled me to use the club’s Cessna plane and I loved to fly to France as often as I could.
On one trip I took my boss with me and we landed our little aircraft at Toulouse aerodrome, weaving our way carefully amongst the constantly arriving airline traffic. We were allocated an isolated parking stand and secured the aircraft to the ground with rope as protection against the gusty wind. We hired a car and set off in the evening dusk to discover this rather intriguing place, setting off for the Pyrenees Mountains and arriving in the land locked country of Andorra, right up high in the hills.
Andorra is the smallest independent country in Europe at just 181 square miles. It has the highest Capital city, Andorra la Vella, in Europe at 1023 metres above sea level. Andorra also has the seventh highest life expectancy in the world at 82 years. It’s a difficult place to get to. There are no airports. The nation is served by Toulouse airport in France and Barcelona in Spain. Both of these are a three hour drive away by car. There is a railway service but it passes short of the national border by about 10 kilometres. The trains are run by SNCF and connect to several major French cities. Roads are limited with only two major highways into the centre. Internal country roads though are serviced by a good private nationwide bus service. If you want to visit Andorra, it is best to use a car.
The politics of Andorra are odd to those of us used to having one leader. The country is a sort of duo Principality presided over by two separate Princes. One is the democratically elected President of France. Only the French get to vote for him though. The other is the current Bishop of Barcelona, appointed by the Spanish Church. They both oversee a separate government or council that is internally appointed by the Andorran people.
Andorra is a member of the United Nations but not of the European Union. It does, however, operate under an agreed association with the EU. The national currency is the Euro. The country is bounded, high up in the hills, by France and Spain and shares their joint cultures. The national language is Catalan but French and Spanish are widely used and children learn all three languages in school.
Due to its high elevation Andorra can be rather cool. It has a sort of Alpine climate with much snow in the winter and good skiing; it has lower average temperatures than southern Europe in the summer. Football is a national sport.
Andorra is a tax and duty free haven although this is undergoing a change. The national economy is largely based on tourism due to its attractive tax haven reputation and annually it has around 10 million visitors. Andorra is rather quaint and charming with classic mountain timber style buildings and there are plenty of very reasonably priced hotels and hostels. In the capital there are plenty of shops, restaurants and nightlife. If you love mountain scenery, tranquil little villages, old churches and somewhere that really is off the beaten-track, then Andorra will charm you.
Bob Lyons is an ex pilot turned travel writer.