Since the invention of the car and the creation of annual leave, humankind has descended on southern France and coastal Spain in droves. It’s not hard to see why: there are few better places to feel the wind in your hair, the sun on your skin, the magnetic pull of the long, winding road beneath your feet.
Recently however, Europe’s more discerning vacationers have set their sat navs on an overlooked slither of the Iberian Peninsula: the mountainous micro-state of Andorra. Sandwiched between Spain to the south and France to the north, the tiny principality is host to more soaring summits, pristine lakes, luxurious retreats and Disney-like villages than its modest geography should allow.
As Andorra has no international airport, you’ll likely arrive by road (that is, unless you want to charter a helicopter). The thrifty often take the bus from Spain, and you’ll hear them complain about the torturous mountain routes from Barcelona and Lerida. In a GTS, however, those same hairpin turns become something to savour. With plenty of underexplored driving experiences the mountainous geography has to offer, you’ll initially pass ice-capped mountains before eventually finding yourself on an undulating motorway, clinging to the curves of the Gran Valira river as you descend ever higher. There’s a reason why the locals refer to it more officially as the ‘Principality of the Valleys of Andorra’: the country is super hilly.
You’ll eventually find yourself hovering at a vertigo-inducing 1,023 metres above sea level, in Andorra la Vella - the highest capital city in Europe. It’s also one of its shopping meccas: the city is a wash of duty-free shops, should you want to grab yourself a new handbag or 4K television. Countless do, if the crowds are any indication, but those in search of experiences rather than possessions might prefer to hotfoot it to Caldea: a giant glass pyramid housing the largest thermal bath complex in southern Europe. The mineral spring pools are open late – perfect for unwinding after a long day on the road.
From here you’ll find yourself on some of Andorra’s smaller, windier and frankly more challenging roads – all the better for putting your car to the test. Hurtle towards Sant Julià de Lòria before careening up a series of sharp corners through Aixirivall and the Coll Jovell, a mountain known for its hikes. Better yet, pick some random peak on the horizon and keep driving. Ordino-Arcalis; the Madriu-Perafita-Claror Valley; Coma Pedrosa: the entire nation is one rolling mountain slope and lush valley after another. Look closely and you’ll see much of the landscape is dotted with resorts or chalets hewn from massive slates of stone – the perfect base for a ski trip or hiking adventure.
Those looking to gain calories rather than burn them will find plenty to whet their appetites. Andorra was once an agrarian society, and the national cuisine reflects this recent history. Locally sourced ingredients feature on most menus, inadvertently mirroring the farm-to-table trend of the world’s more metropolitan restaurants. Hearty meals of trout, beef and snails – the latter fed a diet of mouth-watering thyme – are commonly cooked on open fires. It may sound rustic, but an Andorran barbeque is no peasant fare: the stripped-back style lets the ingredients stand on their own. Pair with a glass of chest-warming Aqua d'Or, the official brandy of neighbouring Catalonia.
After a few days on the road, you’ve still barely scratched Andorra’s surface: every hairpin turn reveals another jutting road, each switchback a last-minute diversion. There’s still much to see, and luckily there’s time. Though you'd best start now – while the hoards still struggle to locate the place on the map.