One of us turns 50 this year. In recognition of the milestone, we’re hitting all 5 of Europe’s “microstates” in a single road trip.
What prompted a birthday trip through Europe’s microstates? An inexplicable fixation with them since our first trip to Europe in 2002, which included a leg by train from Barcelona, Spain, to Avignon, France. When we planned the trip and looked at the train route, we noticed something to the west on the map – a country we didn’t know existed was positioned between France and Spain.
A entire freakin’ country – Andorra – lurking between France and Spain.
One of us (the one with the birthday, to be clear) has been fascinated ever since, and even tried to add a side trip to Andorra to our bike trip in Catalonia in 2009. (This was overruled in favor of Cadaques, which, we think you’ll agree, was a pretty good idea when you check out that post.)
Nonetheless, the impetus to visit the microstates persisted, and the 50th birthday milestone provided a great opportunity to finally see them.
There are some tiny regions in Europe and elsewhere, but not all can be considered microstates. For example, Gibraltar, at the southwest tip of Spain, is tiny, but it’s not independent – it’s a British Overseas Territory. Luxembourg, on the other hand, is independent, but not tiny (it covers 1000 square miles). By contrast, the microstates are truly micro – most cover less than 25 square miles and none of them exceed an area of 200 square miles.
So, other than being incredibly small, what defines a microstate?
- Diplomatic recognition
- Control of territory
- Permanent population
Based on these characteristics, the following sovereign countries within continental Europe qualify and will be part of the trip:
- The Principality of Andorra (finally!)
- The Principality of Liechtenstein
- The Principality of Monaco
- The Most Serene Republic of San Marino
- The State of Vatican City
Because none of the microstates, other than Vatican City, have rail stations (particularly Andorra and Liechtenstein – Nice and Rimini are somewhat close to Monaco and San Marino), we had to forego train travel, which otherwise is the best way to get around Europe. Instead, we’re renting a car and making this a road trip.
In our planning, we had a choice:
- Drive directly from one microstate to another, resulting in a couple of long days of driving, but providing a couple of rest days with no driving, or
- Add interim destinations between some of the microstates, so that we’re never driving more than 3 or 4 hours, but we would be driving every day
We chose Option 2:
The map above depicts the following itinerary:
- Take a redeye to Rome
- Day 1: Vatican City
- Day 2: Drive to San Marino
- Day 3: Drive to Bergamo, Italy
- Day 4: Drive to Liechtenstein
- Day 5: Drive to Lake Lugano, Switzerland
- Day 6: Drive to Monaco
- Day 7: Drive to Carcassonne, France (another place we’ve wanted to visit – last stronghold of the Cathars!)
- Day 8: Drive to Andorra
- Day 9: Drive to Barcelona
- Day 10: Fly back
We’ll spend every afternoon and night in the destination town / country to check things out before heading off the next morning to the next target.
Today, we’re part of the way through the tip, in Vaduz, Liechtenstein. We’ll post highlights of the trip when we get back!