A BACKPACKER’S GUIDE TO ANDORRA
This little-known principality is tucked into the Pyrenees Mountains between Spain and France. It’s known for its mountains and valleys, skiing slopes and tax-free haven status — including cheap cigarettes and booze — is a nice little country to tick off your bucket list. It’s also the location of Stoke Travel’s marvellously messy ski weekenders, by virtue of it having amazing ski slopes, and its location just up the road from our Barcelona headquarters.
FACTS ABOUT ANDORRA
Andorra’s Population: 77,000
Tourists to Andorra in a year: 7,800,000
Andorra’s biggest cities: none. Andorra la Vella is the biggest “city” with 22,000 inhabitants
Languages spoken in Andorra: Catalan is the only official language, although it’s location means that Spanish and French are widely spoken
Average wage in Andorra: €2000
Price of things in Andorra: dinner for two in a pub €37, lunch menu with drink €13, pint of beer €3, packet of cigarettes €2.95
Average summer high temperature in Andorra: high 25.1°C, low 14°C
Average winter low temperature in Andorra: high 10°C, low 0°C
There are plenty of festivals in Andorra every year, especially for a country of this size. These range from the Andorra Jazz Festival to the Andorra la Vella Festa Major, held every summer in the capital. The best festivals, however, have to be the Stoke Travel Big Snow Weekends, that squeeze in extra hours on the slopes, and more importantly in the clubs and bars at the bottom of the slopes.
GIven its size and mountain location, there are no airports in Andorra. This means that you’ll be driving in when you arrive, either in a hire car, or on a bus. Stoke Travel organises private coach transfers for our ski weekends that leave from, and return to, Barcelona. The trip is around three hours, but can be longer depending on traffic and hold ups at the border.
ACCOMMODATION IN ANDORRA
There are plenty of hostels and hotels in Andorra la Vella, as well as in the many ski resorts and the villages that surround them. During the ski season these hotels fill up quickly, and prices are high, as Andorra attracts skiers and snowboarders from around the world. Hikers will find a variety of mountain huts available for a nominal fee in the summertime.
ANDORRA FOOD AND DRINK
The Pyrenees, in which Andorra is located, are famed for their top-quality farming and produce, in particular their meat. Being located practically inside Catalonia, we find many of the dishes famous in Barcelona and Spain here in Andorra. Nevertheless there are some dishes that are unique to this mountain principality, like trinxat, a bubble-and-squeak-like mixture of last night’s dinner, potato and bacon fat, and truta a la Andorrana, which is local freshwater trout, served with a slice of pork on top. They also have a tradition of making paella with squirrel meat, although backpackers would be lucky(?) to find somewhere serving this peculiar delicacy.
There are also a small number of Andorran wineries, which is surprising given how many vineyards there are on either side of Andorra, in both the cava regions of Catalunya and the rosé wine areas of southern France’s Languedoc.
GENERAL ANDORRA ADVICE
Scams and dangers in Andorra: Andorra, being a very small country, is overwhelmingly a safe destination. The main dangers in Andorra are self inflicted, usually the result of falling on the ski slopes, getting lost when hiking through the Pyrenees, or injuries sustained when partying too much after a big day in the mountains.
Driving in Andorra: driving in Andorra is the same as elsewhere in Europe, with noticeable differences being the often confusing alpine and valley roads, as well as the often-long traffic jams going into Spain and France when leaving Andorra, the result of Andorra’s tax-free status and its cheap alcohol and cigarettes. Remember that if you are caught entering Spain and France with more than 300 cigarettes, 1.5 litres of spirits, or four bottles of wine, you could be fined.
Best way to access and use money in Andorra: the euro is used in Andorra and there are plenty of ATMs to access your money.
Visa options for and how to stay longer than the allocated three months in Andorra: while it doesn’t have closed borders, Andorra is not a member of the European Union and visitors to Andorra will be leaving the Schengen zone are allowed a stay of up to three months without a visa. Entry to Andorra is only through Spain or France, as there are no airports, so all visitors must be allowed travel elsewhere in Europe.
PLACES TO VISIT IN ANDORRA
The best places to visit in Andorra are its famous mountains, valleys and ski slopes, whether for hiking, or participating in snowsports as a part of Stoke Travel’s Andorra Ski Trip, and Big Snow Weekends.