The Tiny European Mountain Country You Need To Visit

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The Tiny European Mountain Country You Need To Visit

Andorra is Europe’s sixth smallest country, with 181 square miles of mountains and valleys squeezed in between France to the north and Spain to the south in the eastern Pyrenees. With a population of 77,000, it’s a rather sparsely populated country which swells to approximately 8.5 million each year because of visitors, mostly from Spain and France, who come to Andorra for three reasons: fabulous winter sports conditions, great walking, hiking and nature experience in the summer and … tax-free shopping year around.

Andorra does not have an airport, but the country is well connected by road and rail to her neighbors. I traveled to Andorra from Barcelona, a comfortable coach ride of 3 hours. The buses run every three hours and there are trains, too. Entry to Andorra is visa free and there are occasional border controls on the return because of the tax-free shopping.

Andorra isn’t only a romantic mountain country with beautifully preserved traditional stone houses and Romanesque churches, it also features exquisite modern art and architecture and one of the most stunning spas I have ever visited: La Caldea. It’s this contrast within a comparatively small and easily accessible space that I like best and you will too.

Andorra is not a member of the EU, but the currency is the euro. Languages that are spoken are Catalan, Spanish and French, but English is no problem, either.

La Vella, An Open Air Museum
Andorra La Vella is the name of the capital, at 3356 feet, the highest capital city in Europe. The Gran Valira River rushes through town, crossed by a few bridges. You have to climb up and down steps and streets to get from one level to another to admire the countless sculptures that made me call La Vella an open air museum. Starting with the massive “melting clock,” called La Noblesse du Temps by Dali, which is 16 feet high and stands in the Plaça de la Rotonda. Art lovers from all over the world come here just to see this masterpiece. Followed by The Seven Poets — white, opaque glass statues of poets, sitting on top of tall poles in front of the modern parliament building and, my favorite, The Alphabet Man, the sculpture of a male and female figure made entirely from letters. More huge metal sculptures stand near the river.

As if the spectacular outdoor art isn’t enough, there are also several museums and art galleries to be found in La Vella. The newest is the museum Carmen Thyssen and Art al Set Galleria is also dedicated to modern art.

Another place worth visiting is the Casa de la Vall, a stone mansion built in 1580 which today houses the General Council of Andorra but is open to visitors.

As we said, La Vella is a shopping paradise. Many French and Spanish from border towns just come weekends to stock up on tax-free alcohol, cigarettes, and perfumes. The main shopping areas are The Shopping Mile and Avinguda Riberaygua, all interconnected and partially pedestrian areas. It houses designer boutiques, souvenir shops, and jewelers.

Perfumeria Julia is the oldest and most prestigious perfume shop in La Vella and a must-visit because the shop doesn’t only sell precious scents, but also exhibits a huge collection of rare glass perfume bottles collected by the owner.

Spa Indulgence At La Caldea
The soaring, sparkling main tower of Europe’s largest thermal spa, La Caldea is a stunning landmark of La Vella and visible from just about every angle in the town. Opened in 1994 and designed by French architect Jean Michel Rois, the concept was to reflect the transparency of water as well as the mountain landscape of Andorra that surrounds the spa. Covered in thousands of mirrored sheets, this unique and avant-garde building is far more than just a thermal spa. It’s a work of art and a wellness oasis with views of the snow-covered mountains from all of the many pools that comprise the spa. The centerpiece is a circular aquarium.