Andorra is an anomaly in Europe, a small independent state of little more than thirty villages and a capital, tucked away in the Pyrenees. For centuries it was cut off from the rest of Europe by high mountains and poor roads. A Spanish bishop and a French prince (latterly the President of France) were its titular “princes”- joint heads of state of this principality but really Andorra ran itself, farming and trading with its wealthy neighbours.
In the 20th century came the first decent roads and also the great new European sport skiing. Andorra with its steep mountainsides and unspoilt villages was ideally placed to develop a whole new source of income.
Today winter tourism is big business for the principality though Andorra now generates a lot of income selling goods like alcohol, tobacco and electrical items at a fraction of the price paid elsewhere in Europe (and no VAT). Nevertheless, as you drive north south or east west through Andorra during the months of December, January, February, March and April it is obvious this whole country is one big ski resort.
The snowsports industry in Andorra is benefiting from increased investment and government inspired initiatives resulting in co-operation between smaller individual resorts to create two main ski areas - Grandvalira and Vallnord - which benefit from their own unified investment and marketing strategies and more effective promotion to the international market.
Andorra's biggest ski region - Grandvalira - has 193km of skiing and snowboarding at altitudes of up to 2,560m among the mountains above a sequence of villages and towns stretching upwards along the valley from Encamp (1,300m), Canillo (1,500m), El Tarter (1,710m), Soldeu (1,800m) to Grau Roig (2,120m) with road tunnel through to Pas de la Casa (2,100m) on the far side of Coll Blanc and Port D'Envalira ridge.
Smaller, quieter and more picturesque is the smaller ski region of Vallnord with 89km of skiing and boarding 63km of it in the Pal-Arinsal ski sector rising from around 1,300m at La Massana or 1,475m from Arinsal up to 2,560m and a further 23km in the smaller and yet prettier Ordino-Arcalis rising from 1,940m to 2,625m.
The individual resorts have their own identities. Pas de la Casa on the French border is a brash party town, Soldeu is chic, Arinsal is still a village and very family friendly.
Most people in the country speak French, Spanish, Catalan and a fair amount of English. Certainly there will be no difficulty making yourself understood in any of those languages in the major population centres and resorts.
Andorra is within the EU and has adopted the euro - though its shopkeepers are often willing to work in other currencies. There is a saying "Nothing is free in Andorra" but you always get value.
Andorra is served by two main airports Toulouse - Blagnac in France (196 km away) and Barcelona in Spain (202 km away). It is best to estimate a transfer time of 3 hours if driving a hire car.
All ski operators arrange their own transfers but if you are travelling independently and don't want to drive there are a number of bus services available.