I’m going to let you in on a little European secret. There is a tiny country that flies under the radar of many tourists. The French and Spaniards do not want me to share this information with you and you’re about to learn why. But trust me, it is one for the travel bucket list: Andorra.
Andorra is the 17th smallest country in the world, only 181 square miles right along the Spanish-French border. It is a favorite among Europeans for two big reasons: duty-free shopping and the great outdoors.
Shop till you drop
If you’re stationed in Germany, duty-free shopping is nothing new to you, given the German-American VAT agreement. But in Andorra, there are fewer restrictions and a lot less paperwork. If you’ve had your eye on a big-ticket item, like electronics, sporting equipment or designer clothes, Andorra is the place to go.
You don’t need to have high-end taste to enjoy Andorra’s shopping districts. There are stores for every budget. From luxury boutiques to more mainstream brands like Guess and Levi’s and even outlet stores. There’s a good chance you’ll find a good deal.
Visit Andorra’s prestigious Shopping Mile, a partially-pedestrian zone filled with stores bursting with deals on fashion, perfumes, cosmetics and more. Winter sports enthusiasts flock here to stock up on ski and snowboarding gear before hitting the country’s slopes. Don’t worry, there are dozens of cafes and restaurants for you to caffeinate and recharge while deal-hunting. For the true shopaholic, save your trip for late April or early November. The country hosts a shopping festival offering deep discounts, along with live entertainment.
Good to know:
No sales tax is added at the register, however, there is a 4.5% tax added before products hit the shelves. Items like food, books and art carry a 1-2% tax. It’s a far cry from the 19% added in EU countries. However, good news! You can still get that money back. Save your receipts and visit the VAT office at the airport for reimbursement. There are limits with what you can take over the border with food, coffee, tea, alcohol, tobacco and perfume. While Andorra is on the Euro, it’s not an EU country, so you will have to go through customs.
Andorra’s cuisine is unlike any other in Europe. It’s Catalan but with strong French and Spanish influences, giving your dining experience its own unique flair. Here are just a few things you’ll spot on menus:
Step out of your comfort zone and order something truly Andorran: “cargols a la llauna.”
Drawing from its French neighbor but with a Mediterranean twist, these are roasted snails often served in a paprika vinaigrette or with olive oil and aioli.
“Escudella” is perhaps the most popular dish in Andorra. This 14th-century dish is a hearty stew that is great in the winter. Each chef puts their own spin on this classic dish, adding beans, sausage, pork bones and occasionally pasta. However, its main character is the “pilota,” a large meatball with garlic and parsley. This could easily be your dinner’s main event.
While Andorra is technically landlocked, there is amazing seafood to be had, thanks to the Gran Valira, the country’s largest river. It’s chock-full of freshwater fish like trout. Keep an eye out for “trucha a la piedra,” grilled trout, wrapped in bacon and seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice and parsley.
“Crema a la andorrana” is everything you love about the French creme brulee with one key difference. Instead of the crunchy charred sugar on top, Andorrans prefer light fluffy cream or meringue. This provides a lightness to the otherwise heavy custard-based dessert.
The Great Outdoors
France and Spain’s natural border is the Pyrenees Mountains. Since Andorra is nestled between the two countries, this famous mountain range runs right through it, making this tiny country a hot spot for winter sports enthusiasts and hikers.
There are roughly 186 miles of ski slopes running through Andorra and you don’t have to look far to find a good deal for a day soaring through the snow. Day passes can run as little as 14 euros.
If you’re not a fan of barreling down a mountain on two skis, there is, of course, snowboarding. If you’re looking for something a little tamer there is also sledding, snowshoeing, snowmobile rides and mushing.
You can find even more thrills at Naturlandia EcoPark (also home to that 14 euros ski pass). The park has both summer and winter, indoor and outdoor activities. It’s also known for the longest nature slide in the world. Two-seater trolleys barrel down along three miles of track through the forest giving you breathtaking views of the mountains. You can even have your photo snapped while onboard! As long as the kiddos are taller than four feet, they can hop on.
- Area: 181 sq mi
- Language: Catalan (Spanish & French also spoken)
- Capital: Andorra la Vella
- Currency: Euro
- Why we love it: Duty-free shopping & winter sports
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