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Long under the wings of its two big brothers, France and Spain, 1993 saw Andorra stepping into independence after more than seven centuries of being under joint French and Spanish rule. As an independent nation, Andorra actively promotes its duty-free shopping; a trend which developed, interestingly enough, out of being a smuggling middle-agent between France and Spain in major wars.
But while its duty-free shopping opportunities maybe an incentive to travel to Andorra, Andorra's real crowd-drawer are the Pyrenees. During the snowy season, visitors flock to the country from all over Europe. Beyond its fantastic skiing and snowboarding opportunities, the natural beauty of the Pyrenees rewards travellers with great hiking terrain as well.
The earliest known document to mention Andorra is the act of consecration of the cathedral of Santa Maria of Urgell in 839 AD, which names the Parishes (administrative divisions) of Andorra. Between the 9th and 10th centuries, the Andorran valleys were controlled by the Counts of Urgel. A period of struggle for sovereignty over the Andorran valleys ensued, particularly with the Counts of Urgell, which caused the bishops to call on the nobles for help. The House of Caboet which co-operated with the Bishop was given the valleys of Andorra in fief. The 13th century witnessed bitter struggle between the Counts of Foix and the See of Urgell to reduce the rights of the bishops over Andorra.
During the 15th century the Counts of Foix assumed sovereignty of the region. In 1793, due to the feudal origin of the bonds linking Andorra to France, the French Republicans refused to recognize their relationships with Andorra and to receive tributes from the territory. In 1806, Napoleon restored the feudal tradition and the French claim to co-lordship over the Principality of Andorra.
In the second half of 19th century, the ‘New Reform’ brought substantial changes to the political and administrative running of Andorra. The creation of the Executive Council in 1981 was the first step towards reforming the Principality of Andorra, this was followed by widespread calls for a written Constitution to be drafted. 14 March 1993 was a historic day, which saw the ratification of the first written Constitution of Andorra. This transformed the Principality into an independent state and redefined the powers attributed to its representative institutions.
Andorra shares international borders with France and Spain and Andorra's surface area is just 468 square kilometres, making it one of the smallest countries anywhere in Europe or the world. As it is located in the eastern Pyrenees mountain range, Andorra consists mainly of rugged mountains of an average height of almost 2,000 metres above se level. The highest mountain in the country is the Coma Pedrosa at 2,946 metres. Three narrow valleys dissect the mountainous terrain, eventually combining to form one main waterway, the Valira River, which flows into Spain (at Andorra's lowest point, still 870 metres above sea level).
Andorra consists of 7 municipalities, known as communes.
Andorra revolves around the capital city Andorra la Vella, which is one big shopping facility and actually the least attractive part of the country.
Other towns in Andorra are:
Coma Pedrosa, also known as Mount Pedrosa, is the highest point in Andorra. This beautiful mountain is a great climb in the Pyrenees. It rises to 2,942 metres (9,665 feet), which makes it a tough climb that is not technically difficult. There are several mountain lakes and tarns can be found on the slopes of this wonderful mountain.
This is the, so far, only UNESCO world heritage site in Andorra. Essentially, it's a glacial valley. Besides mountainous nature, the valley is home to rare and endangered animal species. The tourism in the valley is not yet very massive and Andorra prefers to keep it that way with limitations as necessary, lest the unique nature and the 'spiritual heart of Andorra' be spoiled.
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Go hit up the slopes and go skiing in this little nation. There are some world classes areas like Grandvalira or Vallnord. There are also plenty of smaller areas to check out and get some good turns at too. There is some great snow to be found in these mountains so any level of skier will have a fun time.
Santa Coloma Church is one of the oldest churches in Andorra. There is a great 12th century bell tower and a 17th century portico on the southern wall. One of the must sees in the church is a 12th century wooden icon of Our Lady of Mercy. Although some of the frescoes have now been relocated to the Cultural Museum in Berlin.
Held in March at Arinsal ski resort, this fun event features a variety of live music, skiing and snowboarding, contests, and parties in all the resort’s bars, clubs, and pubs.
This popular annual event delights Andorran residents and tourists alike in May, and brings together female clowns from several countries around the world including the USA, as well as audiences from many regions.
Young, talented classical singers from across the world compete every May for the coveted prize and title of being Monsterrat’s greatest performer. Caballe, one the world’s greatest sopranos is Catalan, and the contest draws many opera fans.
Beginning on the first Saturday in August, this traditional and much-loved event is celebrated in the capital city for three days. Other towns including Canillo, Ordino, and Encamp also celebrate their own village festivals in summer.
A truly traditional annual occasion, the Bagpipers’ Gathering celebrates the legend of Val d’Ordino’s traveling bagpipers, known as ‘buners.’ Held in the second week of August, the event sees attendees thrill to the skirl of the pipes for an unforgettable experience.
The most-loved of all the Andorran festivals, Our Lady of Meitxell Day was first held in 1873. The event honors the state’s patron saint with its focus on a replica of the Chapel of Meritxell’s sanctuary. People arrive from all over the principality on September 8 and a mass attended by prominent politicians and priests is held in the chapel. All businesses and shops are closed, and a torch procession, dancing in the streets, music, parties, and concerts are part of the celebrations.
This festival which takes place in October in Val d’Ordino is named after the famous guitarist. International orchestras and musicians alike arrive to perform, and it’s a popular attraction for the classically-inclined.
Another shining star on the event calendar, the International Jazz Festival takes place in Escaldes-Engordany and has featured jazz greats such as Miles Davis and Fats Domino. Hugely popular, the entire town joins in the celebration, both on and off the street.
As Andorra is mostly located above 900 metres (the lowest point is 870 metres above sea level), most of the country has a relatively mild climate, at least in summer, compared to other areas in southern France or northern Spain, outside the Pyrenees moutain range. Temperatures during the summer months of May to September are between 20 °C and 25 °C, sometimes hitting over 30 °C. Nights are relatively cool, mostly around or just above 10 °C. Of course, temperatures drop the higher you get in the moutains. Winters are cold, especially higher up in the moutains, with frost during the nights, but surprisinly mild temperatures are possible in the lower areas. The higher parts are great for skiing from December to March. Rainfall is possible during every month, but tends to be somewhat lower during the summer high season compared to spring and autumn.
SNCF serves Andorra. Hop on the line Toulouse - Tor de Carol. The name of station is Andorra-l’Ospitalet an it are 13 kilometres of Pas de la Casa. There are regular bus services from Andorra-l’Ospitalet to Andorra.
Good roads lead into Andorra from both Spain and France. Entering from the Spanish side is a relatively straightforward drive; however entering from France is a more stressful affair involving many hairpin bends. Border control officers at both sides are generally fine. Entering Andorra, you generally do not need to even stop, but you must slow down and be prepared to stop if requested. When leaving Andorra, you must stop and be prepared for delays during busy times.
Also beware of black ice and snow drifts as the temperature in Andorra can be much colder than at sea level. Be sure your car is in good condition.
If you can, wait until you reach Andorra to fuel up as it is about a quarter cheaper compared to the neighbouring countries Spain and France.
There are daily coach services from Barcelona and Toulouse. You can take a direct bus from the airports in Barcelona and Toulouse as well as an indirect bus from Girona airport which makes a stop at Vic, Catalonia, Spain.
Andorra La Vella can be explored on foot, but outside the capital you may need a car or take the bus. Anyhow, if you enjoy walking and have time and fitness to spare, it is very possible to walk around Andorra. Especially easy walk is offered between Andorra la Vella and Les Escaldes, which can be easily mistaken to be the same city since they are interconnected. Taxis are available, but phone ahead. They are relatively expensive as well.
Roads are good and mostly tarred, but some roads are narrow and winding. You can rent cars in Andorra La Vella but most people have their own cars or have rented cars in France or Spain. Traffic drives on the right and your national driver's licence or international driving permit will be sufficient.
Cooperativa Interurbana runs eight bus lines from Andorra la Vella to most of the towns. Frequencies are generally 2 to 3 times an hour to places closeby, but sometimes only several times a day to places further away like El Serrat, Arinsal and El Pas del la Casa. It costs €1 to €4 depending on the length of the trip.
During the ski season, there is a free shuttle bus Canillo and Bordes d'Envalira, serving the Grandvalira slopes.
Most nationalities need a passport, but no visa is required to enter Andorra. Still, travellers must have the relevant documentation for either France or Spain and officially must also hold onward tickets, all other documents required for next destinations and sufficient funds.
Note that passport and visa requirements are liable to change at short notice and that it is advised that travellers check the entry requirements with their embassy or consulate.
See also: Money Matters
Andorra does not have an official currency and although Andorra is not a member of the European Union, the euro is the de facto currency commonly used in the country, which, given the fact that both big neighbours France and Spain use the euro, is obviously the best solution. The country is also in the process of negotiating with EU regarding the official status of the Euro in Andorra.
The Euro (ISO code: EUR, symbol: €) is divided into 100 cents, which is sometimes referred to as eurocents, especially when distinguishing them with the US cents.
Euro banknotes come in denominations of €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200, €500. The highest three denominations are rarely used in everyday transactions. All Euro banknotes have a common design for each denomination on both sides throughout the Eurozone.
The Euro coins are 1 cent, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, €1 and €2. Some countries in the Eurozone have law which requires cash transactions to be rounded to the nearest 5 cents. All Euro coins have a common design on the denomination (value) side, while the opposite side may have a different image from one country to another. Although the image side may be different, all Euro coins remain legal tender throughout the Eurozone.
Andorra has a relatively good level of employment. As an outsider, though, it can be very hard to find work. Especially so in case you are looking for something more stable. English doesn't really help you, but instead you should speak at least one of the following: Catalan, Spanish, French or Portuguese where Portuguese gives you far less benefit compared to the others. Your best bet may be becoming a seasonal worker in the tourism industry.
You can study all the way up to a university degree in Andorra. The only university in the country, Universitat d'Andorra, is located in Sant Julià de Lòria. The selection of subjects to major in is very limited.
The official language of Andorra is Catalan. French and Spanish are also widely spoken, but as English is not widely understood, it might be good to learn some basic phrases and words in any of the three languages mentioned here.
You can find anything from fast food to gourmet meals in Andorra. As what comes to the price, a döner (or donair) kebab in downtown Andorra la Vella costs around €4 and gourmet meals in the fine restaurants come with the price tag you might expect from such establishments. Shopping at the grocery stores, where many food items are eatable right away, is also an option.
There are many hotels around Andorra and those are quite easy to find both online and offline.
Besides the non-alcoholic drinks, you can find a surprisingly large variety of wine and beer in Andorra. The beer is largely from the neighboring countries, but there are also more exotic options available from as far as Argentina. Andorra does have a local beer brand, but it can be hard to find. There's a place in the old town of Andorra la Vella where you can go and sample regional wines free of charge, given that it's meant to get you drunk and to make a purchase.
See also: Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Andorra.
The main hospital, Meritxell, is in Escaldes-Engordany. There are also 12 primary health care centres in various locations around the country.
See also: Travel Safety
Andorra, like big neighbours Spain and France, is a safe country with generally few or no problems whatsoever. The main concerns are probably to watch out for avalanches in winter when you go skiing and be sure to have some experience regarding trekking in the mountains as getting lost is a possibility.
Drivers are warned to avoid crossing back into France if the Spanish side of the Pyrenees has enjoyed beautiful warm sunshine all day and the road temperatures drop considerably towards the evening - there is danger of black ice from ice melt. The weather in the French Pyrenees is frequently vastly different than that of Andorra and the Spanish Pyrenees. Stay overnight if necessary, as cold morning temperatures are more apparent and less treacherous than sudden evening icing.
Many hotels have started to offer WiFi and at least in the public spaces e.g. the lounge it tends to be free of charge. The top-level domain for Andorra is .ad.
See also: International Telephone Calls
The country calling code to Andorra is: 376
To make an international call from Andorra, the code is: 00
Andorra is served by the French and the Spanish postal systems. In Andorra la Vella, you can find one from each. The French one is far easier to find as it is almost exactly in the center of the triangle between the bus station, the old town and the shopping streets.
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Have been living around Andorra for the past four years. Long enough to masterized this very small country.
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Bn twice in snowboarding vacations in Arinsal, Andorra, can give insite from my experiences.
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I've lived for 2 years in charge of reception of several hotels and now I'm in charge of my own travel agency in Barcelona (Spain).
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