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Principalities, Grand Duchies and Serene Republics: Europe’s Micro States

Andorra La Vella
San Marino
Vatican City
Luxembourg 2
Monte Carlo, Monaco
Monte Carlo, Monaco 2
Malta 2
Valetta, Malta

Principalities, Grand Duchies and Serene Republics: Europe’s Micro States

story by: Tom Ricketts

Wedged between huge powers such as Germany, France, Italy and Spain are a handful of tiny countries that have somehow managed to evade the seemingly constant changing borders of Europe. To visit these countries you’ll need to be travelling by road, simply because most are too small to have an airport! So be careful not to blink, you could well miss them.

This small (467 km2), landlocked country is squished somewhere in the middle the Pyrenees between France and Spain. There’s about 85,000 people here, most of whom live in the capital city Andorra la Vella. The country is so mountainous that it has no airport or railways, but it does have a heliport. Otherwise you can drive, get a bus, or most conveniently, get the train and
shuttle connection from L'hospitalet​-pres​-l'​Andorre. The mountains are Andorra’s main attraction with over seven million tourists arriving annually to ski.

Lichtenstein could be straight out of a fairytale. At 160 km2, Liechtenstein comes in as the sixth smallest country in the world and has a population of about 37,000. The country is known as a tax haven, and the many billions of dollars sitting her bank vaults help make Liechtenstein one of the richest countries in the world. It’s also known around the world for, of all things, false teeth! Liechtenstein produces 20% of the world’s false teeth annually. Tourists come mainly in the winter for skiing, but also in the summer to explore her castles. The castles are all used as tourist facilities today, which became particularly evident when Switzerland accidentally invaded the country in 2007! An infantry of 170 Swiss soldiers strayed one mile into Liechtenstein before realising their mistake and retreating. When the Swiss notified the Liechtenstein government of the mistake, they were forced to admit they didn’t even notice!

Another landlocked country, San Marino (61 km2) is completely enveloped by Italy. The entire country is on a hill, so has no flat land! San Marino also claims a number of other bizarre facts such as being the oldest country in the world (founded 301), the only country in the world with more cars than people, and the first country to democratically elect a communist government (in 1945). Its 32,000 people live in a number of communities including the capital city, also named San Marino. The historic towns are known for their cobblestone lanes, ancient churches, and castles such as the Three Towers of San Marino, the state’s main tourist attraction.

Home to St Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, and the Pope, the Vatican City is part of the city of Rome, but is actually its own country too! At 44 hectares, it’s easily the world’s smallest country. The Vatican has an official population of just 842 which makes it the least populated country in the world, however if you count how many people actually live in the city full time, it falls further to a little over 200. In contrast, the full time population is vastly outnumbered by the tens of thousands of visitors who arrive each day to see elaborately decorated buildings that are the home of the Catholic church.

Luxembourg is the world’s last remaining grand duchy… Exactly what that is, is confusing, but it’s more-or-less a country where the head of state is a duke, meaning he or she is not quite as important as an emperor or a king, but is more important than a prince. And now moving along… the country is 2,586 km2 and has a population pushing 600,000. Luxembourg’s attractions include several impressive castles, one of which is in the UNESCO World Heritage listed centre of its capital city, Luxembourg City. The country is dotted with many gorgeous medieval towns worthy of any fairytale storybook.

At two square kilometres, Monaco is the world’s second smallest country. Somehow, a whopping 38,000 people live in that two square kilometres, and that’s not even including visitors! And of visitors, there are plenty. Monaco and its city Monte Carlo attract the rich and famous from around the world to her luxury marinas, exclusive casinos; and super high end shops, restaurants and hotels. It’s thought that 30% of the people in Monaco at any one time, are millionaires. When not being used by F1 Grand Prix cars, the narrow winding streets are clogged with Porsche’s, Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s. But thankfully, the promontory on which you’ll find most of Monaco’s attractions is rental car free. Much of the old city is made up of narrow alleys and laneways running between Saint Nicholas Cathedral, Fort Antoine Theatre and the Palais Princier, where the famous changing of the guard occurs daily.

The island nation of Malta sits just south of Sicily, smack bang in the middle of the Mediterranean. This strategically important location has given the island a fantastically long and interesting history. Phoenicians, Romans, Moors, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, French, British, and perhaps most famously, the Knights of St. John have all ruled over Malta at some stage in history. The islands are chocca block full of massive castles, grand cathedrals, and some of the world’s most precious UNESCO World Heritage sites. If that’s not enough, it also has that beautifully warm Mediterranean climate and many a fantastic beach to enjoy it on.


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