There is a country called Andorra?
That was my reaction when I was first told of my trip there.
Officially called the Principality of Andorra, this landlocked microstate is the sixth smallest nation in Europe at 468 sq km, which is about 40 per cent smaller than Singapore.
But it left a big impression on me.
I landed in Barcelona, Spain, a place I had visited 21 years ago.
Some things have remained the same in Barcelona.
For example, the Sagrada Familia, a Roman Catholic church designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, was still under construction, as it was when I last visited it.
Actually, it has been under construction since 1882.
I was lucky enough to catch a human castle performance in Terrassa, 30km from Barcelona.
It is a fascinating cultural phenomenon particular to the Catalonia region where 50 to 60 people form a five-storey high tower.
After half-a-day in Barcelona, I was eager to get to Andorra, a 2½-hour drive away.
Getting there is like travelling to Malacca.
But the scenery during the journey is much more beautiful.
It was as if the mountains were welcoming us.
When I crossed the Spanish border, I fell in love — Andorra is gorgeously green, with forests covering 90 per cent of the country.
It was like looking at picture-perfect postcards everywhere I turned. Snow peaked from the Pyrenees’ mountaintops as I walked through the Incles Valley.
Horses and cows strolled freely in open fields as streams flowed at Sorteny Valley, a nature reserve in Ordino.
Come spring, you can even take a horseback ride into the mountains and down the valley. I was there for five days last month and it was nearing the end of autumn.
The cool, crisp air made it a breeze to trek.
Since Andorra is next to the Mediterranean Sea, most days of the year are sunny.
Unfortunately, it rained on two of the days I spent there.
But the grey skies could not dampen my mood.
What made my journey memorable was witnessing my first snowfall.
Call me a “suaku” Singaporean, but I was delighted when snow fell on me at Ransol Valley, which is about 1,950m above sea level.
I have seen snow before, but never snowfall. And never in autumn.
If you care more about “carving snow” than watching it fall, go to Andorra in winter.
The principality has two alpine skiing and Nordic skiing areas. I went to one of them, the Grandvalira.
It offers the largest skiable area in the Pyrenees with 118 slopes and a total length of 210km.
If you have never skied, there are courses for newbies. Or, you could opt for snow sleds.
Andorra offers superb shopping too. Prices here can be 15 per cent lower than in other European countries.You also save on taxes.
Big malls like the Pyrenees Shopping Center even provide personal shopper services.
But not all personal shoppers speak English. Andorra’s official language is Catalan. Spanish, French and Portuguese are also commonly spoken.
After two days of exploring and shopping, I decided to pamper myself with a head and shoulder massage at Inuu, the luxurious thermal centre in the town centre.
I am a spa junkie so I also went to The Spa Plaza at Hotel Plaza for a facial on my last night there.
I was totally recharged. I loved the idyllic vibe of the place.
It was not crowded when I was there, but locals told me that it gets much busier on the weekends, when their French and Spanish neighbours come for their weekend getaway.
I may not have been aware of Andorra before, but it has certainly left its mark on me now.
The article related to these pictures was first published in The New Paper on December 5, 2013.