We end our short overview of Andorra with El Pas de la Casa, a quite peculiar and unique town in my opinion.
There are two ways to reach it (and only one road really). The first one is from Soldeu and the rest of Andorra through the Port d’Envalira (Envalira Pass), the highest pass and paved road of the Pyrénées Mountains (2408 meters / 7900 feet), although there’s a tunnel nowadays to bypass it (I still advise the take the pass – for the amazing view – unless it’s too snowy), the town itself is 2050 meters above sea level. The second way to access El Pas de la Casa is from France, we can even almost consider it to be the “French side of Andorra” as it is the part of the country where you’ll find the most French speakers, and even the most French people, both tourists and residents.
It is a peculiar place for a few reasons. Let’s start with two lines of history. The name “El Pas de la Casa” literally means “the Pass of the House” as the only building that was there a hundred years ago was a shepherd’s house.
Yes, you read me right, one hundred years ago, the village simply didn’t exist. I don’t exactly know when the second and third houses were built, but the first ski slope was created in 1957 and after that the place never stopped growing as it is primarily a ski resort, at least during wintertime. The rest of the year, it is what we can call a “shopping center town“. As previously mentioned, most of Andorra’s economy is based on tourism. Skiing in the winter and shopping the rest of the year (hiking too, but as much as I love hiking, I’m not sure one can base a local economy on it – but maybe I’m wrong, who knows?). The entire country is duty free, so tourists obviously love shopping there, especially buying goods that are heavily taxed in their home country, especially in nearby France and Spain.
And while the rest of Andorra attracts mostly people who will spend a few days there, El Pas de la Casa has developed a strange “shopping tourism” where entire busloads of people coming from France (Toulouse mostly, but really, from the entire South-West and more) will come for a day, sometimes just an afternoon. People get of the bus, buy as many things as possible and then hop back on the bus and return home.
The result is a pretty unique town that is one giant shopping mall:
And even if you can buy many different things, one must admit that the two most popular products being sold and bought in El Pas de la Casa are these:
There isn’t much else to say about El Pas de la Casa. Not the prettiest place in the world, but an Andorran landmark in itself nonetheless.
And with these lines I end my series of posts about Andorra. I really enjoyed going back there last summer after so many years away from it, and I really advise you to visit it one day, to go ski, shop, hike, or just enjoy the wonderful mountain landscapes it has to offer as well as its unique culture.
I hope I’ll return as soon as possible, although I’m afraid it won’t happen before many years with the big move to Japan and all, but who knows?