It wouldn’t be a European road trip without notching up another country or two. Last year Poland was new, in 2013 Montenegro, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina were all new to me. So this summer the temptation to visit Andorra, a tiny principality wedged high in the Pyrenees between Spain and France, was too much and we detoured several hours off route just to drive through this mountain tax haven.
When I say “notching up” a new country I’m being facetious. Let me explain: I don’t visit new places just to say “been there, done that” but I do have a competitive list of countries visited with a couple of old friends, and we do like to add to it whenever possible. We are all very well-travelled and have all lived in many countries. We met in Vietnam and over the last 20 years have teased and egged each other on in a bid to out-travel each other. It’s just a bit of serious fun! We all travel for much more genuine, thoughtful and profound reasons than just adding a notch to our belts, we aren’t quite as superficial as it sounds, trust me!
In this “competition” (said semi jokingly) we have some rules. If flying, airport lounges certainly don’t count, we have to go through immigration. Once in the country we have to buy something, preferably have a meal and go to the loo at the very least! It’s not enough to simply walk through the airport doors, take a selfie and go back into no-man’s land. Nor is it enough to jump off a train on to a platform, touch the ground and say “I’ve been to Bulgaria”. So my trip to Andorra filled all the criteria and I can honestly say I’ve been there. We went crazy food and alcohol shopping at the tax free supermarkets, ate an ice cream and went to the toilet. But I can’t say I know Andorra well, despite having driven the length of the country.
It’s a strange place, Andorra. It’s a principality ruled by 2 “princes”, one of whom is the serving French President and the other is a Spanish Bishop (from the town of Urgell). Who knew that President Hollande is also Prince of Andorra, a reigning monarch, really? Mad! The country is not part of the EU (watch out for sky high roaming charges as a result) but uses the Euro. Its official language is Catalan, though French and Spanish are widely used. It declared war on Germany in 1914 at the start of WWI but got left out of the Treaty of Versailles and was therefore technically still at war until 1958 when it officially declared peace! It is an ancient country created by charter in 988 though the current state “only” dates from 1278. It grows a lot of tobacco (photo below).
It is the 6th smallest country in Europe in size which means it is the biggest of the 6 European microstates. Until I looked up a few facts and figures for this post I thought I had been to all the other microstates and it was the last one for me to visit, having already been to Monaco, San Marino, Liechtenstein and the Vatican City. Little did I realise Malta is also considered a microstate (no wonder, it turns out it’s tiiiiny but I had no idea!) and I haven’t been there. So urgh, I can’t say I’ve been to all the microstates…yet!
Microstates are funny places. San Marino appears to be full of weapons and Christmas decoration shops. A very peculiar mix! I assume people who collect Christmas baubles like to be able to buy from every country they visit so tiny San Marino has caught on to this craze. As for the weapons, I can’t explain that.
Monaco is just down the road, so we go often. Everyone has heard of Monaco (Monte Carlo) and its fame spreads further than its minute size should theoretically warrant. The magic of a Hollywood star marrying a real Prince had much to do with that I guess.
By contrast no one’s ever heard of Liechtenstein! You have to look hard on maps of Europe to find it. It doesn’t have a ski industry like Andorra to entice tourists or glamorous Hollywood stars and a F1 Grand Prix like Monaco or a Pope like, well you know where.
The Vatican of course is even more well-known than Monaco and has an even more peculiar status, not quite like any of the other microstates. I think it would be impossible (or just very strange) to miss it if in Rome. Of course it just happens to be the home of that rather powerful man, the head of the Roman Catholic Church….
And finally Malta…the teen has been there on a school trip so I’ve included one of his photos. It looks beautiful and I’d love to visit.
Have you been to any of the European microstates? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
Balkan Road Trip – Driving the Lovcen Road
A Walking tour of Monaco – in Pink!
PIN for later!
There’s plenty of time Rebecca!
I’m dying to go to Malta Swags, it really appeals to me and I’m very jealous that it’s the only country my 17 year old has been to which I haven’t.
My companions (my kids) weren’t consulted on whether they’d appreciate the 4 hours extra in the car and so we went to Andorra! A consultation would have resulted in a flat no; sometimes you just have to be dictatorial!
It’s time you came to stay at Lou Messugo and took a day trip to Monaco Elizabeth!
I’m with you on the Starbucks thing Shoba, and isn’t it just mad that Holland is a Prince!
San Marino is actually rather spectacular, perched high on the only hill in the surrounding plain, but the over riding thing that stayed in my mind was the incongruity of the “souvenirs”. I’d absolutely recommend a visit Clare.
I definitely need to plan a trip to Malta!
I’ve yet to visit any of the microstates – shocking! – but I’m most interested in getting to Malta or LLiechtenstein. I think it’s wonderful that you’ve visited almost all of them without even realizing. I guess you’d better plan a trip to Malta! 🙂
So many fascinating facts here, Phoebe! I feel positively left out now that I can only say I’ve been to Monaco on your list. Feel a trip to San Marino should definitely be on my wishlist – if only to see those guns. How peculiar! #citytripping
I’ve heard of Andorra for skiing but we have just gone to the Spanish pyrenees instead. Can’t believe that Hollande is the current prince. fun factoid for a socialist politician. The whole San Marino thing for guns is strange! I love quirky little places that have kept their anachronisms like this. Adds character to an otherwise Starbucks filled world.
Fascinating post Phoebe! Lots of facts I didn’t know. I like your criteria for visiting a new country – am definitely with you and your friends on that. I don’t think I’ve been to any of the Microstates other than Vatican City! I’ve got some catching up to do! Thanks for linking to #citytripping
I’ve been to Malta a couple of times and love it there – a surprising amount to do and I definitely wouldn’t have expected it to be with the other microstates. Apart from Vatican City, I’ve only managed a brief jaunt into Monaco – I did try to fit in my own Andorran detour on a trip once but it was too far out of the way to sell it to my companions who weren’t interested in the Duty Free and the ski season was over. #citytripping
AH! I’ve always wanted to go to Andorra (and a lot of other places, too!) since reading Royal Road to Romance by Richard Halliburton. I feel like I’m due for a long road trip soon. 😀 Love your take on the EU microstates; you would definitely love Malta, it is SO cool there – such a huge mix of cultures and interesting architecture and foods! Another great post, Phoebe! #citytripping
sad to say I have only been to Monte Carlo out of all of these places – would love to explore more of them #citytripping
Keep trying to convince him Lolo!!!
I agree, even if your didn’t use the loo I reckon with a visit up the Burj you can definitely say you’ve been to Dubai.
I hope you get to visit some of them Sonia
No Ruth, I’ll never give in on that one!!!!
I know, very bizarre huh?
That’s brilliant Ness, I love it that you hadn’t expected to see him and then there he was!
Isn’t is just? I find it very hard to get my head around!
Let me know if you do get to the funny little place that is San Marino!
Ask your sis-in-law to tot up her countries Rosie, I’m always happy to “meet” people with a long list of interesting countries under their belts.
Caribbean cruises are definitely a good way to clock up more countries. I travelled around the Caribbean by cargo ship about 20 years ago and added many new countries, though annoyingly one of the islands I visited, Martinique, is part of France and not an independent country!
I’m glad you like our competition Michelle!!
Yes, all these micro states are independent countries, it seems crazy really but they are.
The gun shop was just one of many, very odd indeed! I’m glad I’m not alone in not knowing about Malta.
What a brilliant idea for your competition!! I love how you definitely have to eat lunch, and use the loo. I’ve been to the Vatican but didn’t realise Malta was a micro state – and how weird its that gun shop? Thanks for linking up with #MondayEscapes
I love the idea of your competition!
I’ve visited Monaco, the Vatican and San Marino which I have a vague recollection of being it’s own little country although I could be wrong x
I’ve not been to any of them but Andorra certainly looks like somewhere I’d like to go. I love the idea of your friendly competition with yoru friends to try and out travel each other. Mich x
My husband has a similar list with his brothers. They are miles ahead, but we did make up ground on our Caribbean cruise.
In my not too well travelled life I have been to 1, The Vatican City and I am not sure I would have fulfilled your criteria as I certainly didn’t eat there and I can’t remember if I even went to the loo! We did look to going to Andorra when we were inter-railing but funds were running low so we never made it.
I love this “competition” of yours and my sister-in-law would give you a good run for your money as she is very well travelled. #MondayEscapes
I have spent a day in Vatican but that’s about it. Haven’t visited the other European micro states so enjoyed your post on them #MondayEscapes
I’ve done Monaco and Vatican:) I should do San Marino since it’s not that far away actually and since I’ve been to Italy so many times but it just keeps eluding me:) cool concept for visiting a country but I agree:)
I have been to Monaco, Liechtenstein and Vatican City. I wanted to visit Andorra when we visited Barcelona last year but didn’t have time. I didn’t know Andorra was the biggest of the micro states in Europe. And that fact about France’s president, that is crazy!
We went to the Vatican on our honeymoon. It was a Wednesday and the square was packed. Suddenly there was a lot of cheering and clapping. We turned around and saw a figure in white on the balcony waving and then realised it the Pope!
I have been to Liechtenstein and I also contemplated popping into the Vatican but the crowds put me off, but I have never ever been to Andorra! What a strange but fascinating place! What is with the Christmas decs next to the guns? 😀
Bulgarian station platforms absolutely DO count! Vested interest? Moi?
Wow I have never been to any but I really want to visit them all now. Such beauty x
My boyfriend has almost the exact same criteria for having “been” to a place! On a ten hour layover in Dubai we went up the burj khalifa and ate lunch but I don’t think I used the loo (only at the airport). I think it still counts though 😉
Andorra looks very green!
I”ve to Malta twice but I had no idea it was considered a micro-state, even though I obviously knew it was tiny! It is indeed beautiful. I used to live down the road from Liechtenstein (on the Austrian side)n, which is also beautiful but a weeeird place! And of course I went to the Vatican when I was in Rome.
I’m glad I’mnot the only one (re Malta!)
The “competition” is with friends but it does mean that my family get to see a lot of new places too and my boys are very well travelled.
Yes it is Skye
Yes, that’s a big part of its economy, we helped out there too!
I’d love to visit some of the microstates in Europe too! I want to squeeze them in and am always trying to convince my fiance during to go to Liechtenstein but we haven’t even made it there yet either. #MondayEscapes
I remember visiting Andora for the tax free perks when we went to Spain one year!
Is Andorra a member of the UN?
I love your family “competition”. We love going to new places too – it expands your horizon and gives your children a great understanding of the world. I’ve not been to Andorra – but I have been to Monaco and would love to visit Malta too x
I enjoyed reading about the “competition” you have with your friends. It sounds quite fun!
I have only been to the Vatican, but it would be fun to visit the other microstates. I also didn’t know Malta was one of them.