Andorra | Driving the Pyrénées into Andorra from France
Want to know which country is the worlds 11th smallest (population) or 40th smallest (by land mass)? Well, you’ve probably guessed it by the title…. Andorra!! With a population of only 80,000 and a country that measures only 468 sqkm, the stunning yet tiny principality of Andorra is located high in the snowy peaks of the Pyrénées between France and Spain. So with a day to spare in our packed schedule, we thought we’d check it out from our base at Thuir, France.
Having recently driven across the North of Spain, we’ve now headed northwards from Playa Montroig in Tarragona. To entertain ourselves on the journey north, we’ve gone through all our blog article back to August 2015 and calculated that we’ve been lucky enough to stay at over 200+ campsites across Europe. However whilst we all love the facilities and locations of campsites… we still really love discovering new cheap overnight aires too….
Always on the look out for another hidden gem, we prefer ones that are quiet and brilliantly located to enjoy some of France’s fantastic scenery….. so here’s a few below from our previous trips that we thought we’d share with you.
Crossing the border into the Pyrénées-Orientales, we’ve headed for the easily accessible ‘CampingCarPark’ aire just outside Thuir. This time aiming to approach the Pyrénées from Perpignan along the picturesque N116 /N20 mountain passes.
Needing to find out more about this tiny country before our visit, we’ve found out 10 interesting facts about Andorra we felt we should share with you :-
- Andorra hasn’t been at war for over 1,000 years
- It has its own Olympic Team and seat on the United Nations
- It has a thriving tobacco industry due to its tax haven status
- It’s not in the Schengen Zone… but you’d have to access via France/Spain which are
- It’s reputedly the 14th oldest country in the world
- The countries military budget depends on voluntary contributions!
- Andorra la Vella is the highest capital city in Europe (just over 1,023m)
- Andorra was an important smuggling route between France & Spain in World War II
- Residents of Andorra have the 8th highest life expectancy of any country in the world
- Andorra has a total roadway length of just 320 km!
We were even more delighted to find out that although Andorra is not a member of the EU, it enjoys a special relationship with it and uses the euro…. phew!!! Especially as it’s a tax haven and a great place to fill up with diesel (currently €0.93/litre)
It’s been interesting to continue our roadschooling by looking at Andorra in a little more detail. With both girls surprised to find out that Catalan is the national language for Andorra and that for more than 700 years Andorra has been ruled jointly by the leader of France and the Spanish Bishop of Urgell.
This isn’t our first foray into the Pyrénées, it’s just our previous adventures have seen us visit the other side near Pic du Midi or included the drive across the middle of the Pyrénées from Lourdes to Jaca… (find out more about the Pyrénées in this LonelyPlanet guide here)
But for any motorhomers considering the same route as us (along the N116/N20 for 3hrs), you’ll not be disappointed as you sweep up imposing valleys until you reach the impressive fortress at Villefranche-de-Conflent. It’s another in the series of ‘most beautiful villages of France’ and has the distinct hallmarks of a ‘Vauban’ site just like the one we visited in Blaye near Bordeaux
For those who love a good train ride you can always see this route via the ‘Little Yellow Train / Train Jaune‘. Perhaps it beats our favourite train ride in Europe at the Flamsbana in Norway, so we’ll just have to return to find out…. But by road, you’ll pass by reservoirs, underneath viaducts and along steep side passes. With the road levelling out in the middle of the journey near the alpine villages of Saillagouse before the final climb into Andorra. (tunnels are available rather than mountain passes)
So with Andorra now added to our list of countries, we’re getting closer in our aim to visit all 42 European Countries before the girls leave home…. just seven more to go!!! (see here for all our route maps)