Andorra is Europe’s best-kept adventure secret

Nestled high in the Pyrenees between Spain and France, Andorra is so small that it might look more like a map typo than a country. With only 80,000 year-round residents and just one major town (the capital, Andorra la Vella), Andorra is a relative anomaly in the typically overpopulated Euro zone.

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For many, the mountainous nation is an affordable splurge — many Europeans come for the weekend just to shop — and a safe-banking oasis, but for a growing number of adventurers, the continent’s sixth-smallest country is also one of its biggest outdoor-sports secrets.

Views like this make us wonder why it took us so long to ski in Andorra. Photo: Courtesy of Miquel Fabre/Flickr

In fact, in recent years the winding mountain roads have even made Andorra a semi-regular stop on the coveted Tour de France (yes, the race is run in other countries as well). Add to that a myriad of tall peaks and deep valleys and Andorra has, over the last half decade, become a biking, hiking and skiing hot spot.

But unlike its Alps counterparts in Switzerland, Austria and France, Andorra has managed to keep its crowds low and, more importantly, its prices cheap: a lift ticket at its biggest ski resort costs a little more than 50 euro.

For anyone looking to get their outdoor kicks across the pond, here are a few reasons to add tiny Andorra to the list.

Freestyle skiing

Unlike some of the more old-school nations surrounding it, Andorra adopted freestyle and park skiing early on and never looked back, fostering a small but vibrant park-skiing community. To find ground zero, look no further than Sunset Park, a freestyle-specific addendum to Grandvalira Resort, the largest resort in the Pyrenees.

The park is open from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. every day but Monday and lights all of its features, so skiers can hit the mountain all day and the park all night. For those who like to ride during the day, Vallnord-Arinsal offers Andorra’s biggest terrain park, open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Big-mountain skiing

Take notice: Andorra is not just groomers and terrain parks. Above the S-carving masses sits some really big terrain, and no one accesses it better than Vallnord Ordino-Arcalis. With steep, north-facing skiing and its own freeride-specific lift, Ordino-Arcalis is a freeride dream, often keeping its powder untouched well into the afternoon.

If cliffs, chutes and picturesque descents are your cup of tea, don’t overlook a day of shredding this Pyrenean classic.

Mountain biking

The entire country of Andorra is essentially three steep-walled mountain valleys, providing the perfect natural contours for every type of mountain biker.

The country features an endless array of cross-country trails that wind along picturesque ridgelines before plunging to the valleys below. Use the village of La Massana as a starting point to explore these trails, or take the gondola up to Vallnord Bike Park, a freestyle and downhill facility that consistently ranks as one of the best in Europe.

In fact, the UCI Mountain Biking World Cup even carved out a stop here in 2016 and plans for a second rip this summer.

Hiking

Crisscrossed with trails, Andorra has a hike for every ability level. Photo: Courtesy of Selden Vestrit/Flickr

During the Spanish Civil War and World War II, Andorra was a popular smuggling route between Spain and France. Nowadays, many of those paths have been transformed into hiking trails, with a series of routes that crisscross the entire country. The Andorra GRP is probably the best known; it crosses the principality in its entirety.

For those in search of a little more adrenaline, Andorra’s Vias Ferratas offer a system of routes built into rock faces with stunning views and challenging (but very doable) ascents.

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Andorra is home to 70 mountain lakes and countless streams and waterfalls, meaning that there are no shortages of views in this tiny mountain getaway.

Cycling

Andorra has been on the road-cycling map for a while now, attracting not only the Tour de France, but also the Vuelta a España (Tour of Spain) in recent years. The plethora of well-maintained, windy alpine roads makes Andorra an ideal training ground, and the mountain backdrop sure doesn’t hurt.

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Connect a series of steep-grade rides from villages like Canillo and Ordino and be back in town in time for evening tapas. Warning: Don’t ride Andorra unless you love the climb.