Tucked away in the eastern Pyrenees, the tiny Principality of Andorra is a land of narrow valleys and mountainous landscapes that’s popular for skiing and trekking. Its pretty villages and hamlets – dotted along the main road that traverses the country – are filled with Romanesque churches and houses, built in a unique, local style and preserved through the country’s seclusion.
Tracing its roots back to Ancient Greek times and Polybius’ mention of Iberian Andosinos, Andorra is not short of history. Tradition has it that Charlemagne rewarded the Andorrans for fending off the Moors by granting them a charter. It’s this peculiar independence, somehow enduring over the ages against successive threats, that has allowed Andorra’s beautiful architecture to remain so unspoiled.
Liberal snowfalls and an undulating chunk of the Pyrenees make for great skiing conditions; those who love winter sports will find some of Europe's best pistes here. Politicians and royalty of Spain choose Andorra’s white peaks for their skiing holidays – and prices are certainly geared towards the well-heeled. During milder spells, Andorra also offers excellent hiking conditions, with sweeping valleys, challenging ascents and charming vistas.
The diminutive nation is administered from the capital city, Andorra la Vella, with two ‘Co-Princes’ as joint heads of state: the President of France and Bishop of Urgell in Catalonia, a tradition that dates back to the 13th century. The capital might not be to everybody's taste (think chock-a-block traffic barging between more shops than could possibly be required), but just a brief distance away lie some rural gems.
Villages such as Pal, a medieval settlement with an 11th-century church, are well worth visiting. The Iron Route – by foot or bus – is also popular, taking visitors around the old town of Ordino. Andorra sees an incredible 10 million visitors a year, but wander off the beaten track and you’ll find many secluded Pyrenean spots to call your own.