What Is The Highest European Capital?

I’ve lived in Spain part time for eight years now and I’ve been under the impression that Madrid is the highest European capital at 667 meters (2,188 feet) above sea level. You see the “highest capital in Europe” claim everywhere, including city tours, travel websites and even the second edition of “City Guide Madrid” by Blue Guides.

A friend who just came back from hiking in Andorra, however, told me that’s not true. Andorra’s capital, Andorra la Vella, stands at 1,023 meters (3,356 feet) and takes the prize for highest European capital. While its population is only a bit over 22,000 and the city governs one of the smallest countries in Europe, size doesn’t matter in this contest.

Andorra la Vella is nestled in the Pyrenees Mountains between Spain and France. My friend tells me there are numerous day hikes from town that take you into spectacular valleys and peaks past alpine streams and waterfalls. The winter ski season is justly famous. The city is pretty cheap too. Sounds like I’ll have to do an Andorran series sometime soon.

Defenders of Madrid can nitpick, though. Andorra is a co-principality and you could make the case that it isn’t a fully independent country. The President of France and the Bishop of Urgell in Spain act as co-princes. Like other European monarchs, however, they don’t have much power in the day-to-day running of the country. Andorra is a parliamentary democracy with an elected Prime Minister. Andorra has all the other trappings of nationhood as well, such as a flag, diplomats and membership to important international bodies such as the EU and UN. So it looks to me that the common statement that Madrid is the highest capital in Europe is wrong.

It just goes to show that you can’t believe everything you hear and read.

[Photo courtesy Gertjan R]