Andorra la Vella, Andorra

Photo: Andorra Turisme, SAU
Photo: Andorra Turisme, SAU

France or Spain? Spain or France? You’ve been going back and forth between these two countries as your next destination. It’s just so difficult to choose one. Perhaps a third option would be a nice middle ground. No, not Italy. Though that would be wonderful, too. Instead, it’s Andorra.

The tiny country in the Pyrenees was ruled by both the French and the Spanish–yes, jointly–until 1994. Catalan may be the official language, but French is widely spoken, and services–like postal, television, and internet–come from both sides. And there are only two main roads into the country, one from Spain and one from France.

Though Andorra has been influenced by both European powers, its natural beauty can’t be claimed by anyone else. Driving through the 180-square-mile country, which doesn’t even have its own airport, you’ll be surrounded by deep valleys and gorges, snow-capped mountains, and rocky rivers. Houses are built into the cliffs. And the ski slopes are just off in the distance.

The capital, Andorra de la Vella, is known for its tax-free shopping and historical buildings. Spend the morning wandering through the shops on Avenida Meritxell. There may not be many bargains, but you won’t walk away empty-handed. Stop for lunch on the terrace at Papanico. You can share the tapas, but order the chocolate crêpes just for yourself. Drop your bags off at your hotel, the Andorra Park Hotel, before exploring the Barri Antic in the afternoon. The old town has cobbled streets and stone houses. Casa de la Vall, the parliament house that was built as the home of a wealthy family in the 16th century, contains the country’s only courtroom. Sant Esteve, a Romanesque church, was built in the 12th century. And the best views of the area are found on Plaça del Poble on the rooftop of a government office building.

Photo: Andorra Park Hotel
Photo: Andorra Park Hotel

Between the valley views from the rooftop and the mountain and orchard views from your hotel, you’re probably itching to get out of the city. The ski season may not begin until November, but there are plenty of nearby hiking trails. Hike the La Nou Lake Trail. You’ll pass grassy meadows, granite rocks, and pine trees before reaching crystal-clear La Nou Lake. Unlike most lakes in the Pyrenees, La Nou is fed by river water. Or head toward Arinsal, where there are numerous mountain huts and mountain lakes within a two-hour hike. You’ll be rewarded with views of Coma Pedrosa, and the Noguera de Tor valley and the lakes of Baiau in Spain. With views like this, the decision just got easier.

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