In the middle of the Pyrenees, between Catalonia and France, there is the small country of Andorra, bounded for centuries to the history and people of Catalonia.
During the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War, it resisted the invasions and preserved its neutrality. Neither France nor Spain achieved or willed to incorporate the small territory, hence it kept its independence and its status of an off-shore state and a touristic destination. The first sovereign government was created in 1982, becoming the only state to have Catalan as the only official language.
Since the second half of the XX century it has been a major touristic destination for Catalans for skiing, hiking and shopping, as it is only 3 hours away from Barcelona by car. Nowadays, as it lost its off-shore condition towards Spain some years ago, the main economic activity of the country is the exploitation of the Ski Resorts and all the touristic activities derived from it.
Andorra is a mountainous country, or a country fit in a valley. It occupies an area of barely 500 km2 but it has more than 65 peaks above 2.500m of altitude. Its amazing Pyrenean landscape makes it a perfect destination for outdoors tourism, being the skiing resorts its main attractions. There are two major Ski Resorts in Andorra: Grandvalira, the largest resort in the Pyrenees, with more than 200 kilometers suitable for skiing and access from 6 different villages, and Vallnord, on the opposite side of Andorra’s Valley, a much smaller resort, most adequate for beginners and less crowded. The offer of touristic accommodation in Andorra is enormous, compared to the size of the country, and it covers a wide range of budgets. Many tourist agencies set in Barcelona organize weekend ski trips to Andorra at very reasonable prices.
Another popular attraction of Andorra is the big Spa Resort called Caldea. When it first opened in 1994, sessions at the jacuzzis, saunas and spas were quickly fully booked, as it was advertised as the biggest Spa Resort in Europe. One might like it or not, but a Spa session is probably one of the best after-ski activities. The high building spike characteristic of the Center, is the tallest buildings in Andorra and has become a landmark of its landscape.
In the sixties and seventies, when Franco’s dictatorship censored some cultural goods, people traveled to Andorra to acquire music records and films that were prohibited in Spain. Afterwards, the free tax regulation on goods in Andorra, encouraged people to travel there to buy things such as sugar, butter, chocolate, cheese,… Nowadays, as food goodies don’t differ so much in price, the main shopping attractions are those who are highly taxed in Spain like tobacco, alcohol or care cosmetics, as well as technology.
Either for skiing or shopping, or just for curiosity, a trip to Andorra is something any Catalan does, at least, once in a lifetime.