Practical Exclaves of Andorra

On July 19, 2011 · 5 Comments

I noticed something interesting when I created a recent article, Highest Lowpoints. The diminutive size and mountainous terrain of Andorra, trapped firmly between Spain and France, creates all sorts of interesting opportunities for practical exlaves and near-misses.

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Most of you are probably aware of practical exclaves. Others readers may require a quick summary: An exclave is an area of a nation that is completely separated from the main body of a nation. The U.S. state of Alaska would be a prime example. A practical exclave on the other hand is connected physically to the main body of a nation but not in any convenient manner. Ireland’s Drummully Polyp is a classic instance of this phenomenon.

I’m not sure it really matters in Andorra except as an interesting academic exercise. Andorra is not a party to the Schengen Agreement. That could be a problem on a theoretic level, for those requiring access to a practical exclave on either side of the border. According to Wikipedia, which has varying levels of accuracy,

Border controls remain on Andorra’s borders with both France and Spain. Citizens of EU countries require either their national identity cards or passports to enter Andorra, while anyone else requires a passport or equivalent. Those travelers who need a visa to enter the Schengen Area need a multiple-entry visa to visit Andorra, because entering Andorra means leaving the Schengen Area

Other sources seem to imply that border controls have been removed or relaxed to the point of becoming a formality. Has anyone in the 12MC audience crossed the Andorra border recently and have a more accurate assesment?

I found several examples of practical exclaves, all on the border between Spain and Andorra. The French side presents much more mountainous terrain and many fewer roads that seem to cross between the border areas. The geography is much more difficult to navigate from France.

My search started at the primary crossing from Spain where the satellite image shows border controls in place (at least at the time the image was captured).

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This map shows a few nice instances; a couple of loops and then a road forking into the hills. It’s a practical exclave because it’s obviously part of Andorra but a citizen can’t reach this area without venturing into Spain. Well, an Andorran could probably hike to this remote corner without leaving his national territory but it wouldn’t be possible to drive there in an automobile. That’s how practical exclaves work. It’s not impossible, just inconvenient.

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Here are two examples of "almost" practical exclaves. Let’s say our Andorran citizen owned farmland along this stretch of the border. He would need to use the Spanish road to get to his forests and fields. He would park his car and then walk a metre or two across the international boundary and onto his land. If he built a little driveway then it would become a perfect instance.

Then I checked on the eastern side of the main road leading from Spain to Andorra.

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The opposite condition exists on this side. It’s Spanish territory that comprises practical exclaves, with access from the Andorran side of the border.

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Neither of them are particularly large but it’s fun to watch how the road slides across international borders with little apparent meaning to the people who constructed them. I’m sure there are other instances so I’ll leave those for someone else to explore. It was a nice hour-long diversion.

On July 19, 2011 · 5 Comments

5 Responses to “Practical Exclaves of Andorra”

  1. Adrian says:

    I wonder if in the last two examples what we’re seeing is the limited resolution of Google’s country boundary vector database. At least in good old Europe, most of the boundaries follow rivers, ravines and ridges.

  2. James says:

    I traveled through Andorra in the fall of 2010, driving north from Spain to France. Both Andorra and Spain had operating border posts. The Spanish authorities seemed to be inspecting vehicles and questioning drivers, while the Andorran authorities simply waved people through without even asking for identification. It took some talking with the Andorran border patrol to even get our passport stamped. While the Spanish/Andorran border resembled a typical international crossing, the French/Andorran border had no custom or border agents at all. If you exit Andorra through the Tunnel, it feels to be just another free flowing European border. However, if you enter France through the town of Pas de la Cassa, you will drive past an unmanned border post and through the open gates into France.

    Does anyone know why Andorra’s border with Spain is controlled while its border with France is not?

  3. Dave says:

    The last time I was in Spain, there was a HUGE marketing campaign by Andorra to attract tourists. If Andorra is outside Schengen, that might mean that one could buy things there that would be taxed more heavily in Spain, and the Spanish authorities are checking for that. Maybe France doesn’t do it because there’s comparatively few French people visiting Andorra*, or the tax differential isn’t as meaningful?

    *A major focus of Andorra’s Spanish marketing seemed to be skiing and other mountain-resort stuff, which would be less appealing to French tourists as they have plenty of that in their own country, unlike Spain.

  4. Joan says:

    Actually, both E and F operate customs checks with a fair degree of thoroughness, but it’s not because AND is exempt from Schengen: Andorra is also not part of the EU’s VAT area, which basically makes the whole country a duty-free playground; the border guards are checking for tobacco/electronics/etc

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