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Andorra

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Travel Guide Europe Andorra

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Introduction

Winter is coming

Winter is coming

© All Rights Reserved JOSE_MARIA

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 is 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.

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Brief History

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.

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Geography

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 meters 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).

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Regions

Andorra consists of 7 municipalities, known as communes.

  • Andorra la Vella
  • Canillo
  • Encamp
  • Escaldes-Engordany
  • La Massana
  • Ordino
  • Sant Julià de Lòria

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Cities

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:

  • Canillo
  • Encamp
  • Escaldes-Engordany
  • Santa Coloma
  • Sant Julia de Loria
  • La Massana
  • La Cortinada
  • Ordino

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Sights and Activities

Coma Pedrosa

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.

Skiing

CANILLO_PORTELLA 2532mts

CANILLO_PORTELLA 2532mts

© All Rights Reserved JOSE_MARIA

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

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.

Other Sights and Activities

  • Caldea is one of Europe's largest health spas and located in the heart of the Pyrenees giving it great views. These wonderful pools fed by natural hot springs are a great way to relax in the mountains.
  • Castle of Sant Vicenc d'Enclar - Resting on the top of a hill at 1,126 metres this wonderful 12th century castle overlooks the village of Santa Coloma.
  • Shopping - With very low taxes and duties, expect to pay 20% to 30% less than in the neighboring countries of France and Spain.

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Events and Festivals

The National Festival of Mare de Deu Meritxel on the 8th of September takes place in the town of Merixtel. During this day, hundreds of christian Andorrans make a pilgrimage to worship the Virgin Mary.

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Weather

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.

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Getting There

By Plane

There are no airports in Andorra. The nearest airports are in Perpignan (France), Barcelona (Spain) and Toulouse (France).

By Train

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 a regular bus services from Andorra-l’Ospitalet to Andorra.

By Car

Good roads lead into Andorra from both Spain and France. 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.

By Bus

There are daily coach services from Barcelona and Toulouse.

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Getting Around

Andorra La Vella can be explored on foot, but outside the capital you need a car or take the bus. Taxis are available, but phone ahead. They are relatively expensive as well.

By Car

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.

By Bus

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.

Lines are:

  • L1 Sant Julia de Loria - Escaldes-Engordany
  • L2 Andorra la Vella - Encamp
  • L3 Andorra la Vella - Encamp - Canillo
  • L4 Andorra la Vella - Encamp - Canillo - Soldeu
  • L5 Andorra la Vella - Encamp - Encamp - Canillo - El Pas de la Casa
  • L6 Andorra la Vella - La Massana - Arinsal
  • L7 Andorra la Vella - La Massana - Ordino
  • L8 Andorra la Vella - La Massana - Ordino - El Serrat.

During the ski season, there is a free shuttle bus Canillo and Bordes d'Envalira, serving the Grandvalira slopes.

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Red Tape

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.

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Money

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.

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Language

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.

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Health

See also: Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Andorra.

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Safety

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.

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Keep Connected

Phone

See also: International Telephone Calls

The country calling code to Andorra is: 376
To make an international call from Andorra, the code is: 00

Quick Facts

Andorra flag

Map of Andorra

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Capital
Andorra La Vella
Government
Parliamentary Democracy
Nationality
Andorran
Population
69,000
Languages
Catalan (official). French, English, Spanish and Portuguese also spoken.
Religions
Christianity (Catholic)
Currency
Euro (EUR) €
Calling Code
+376
Time Zone
CET (UTC+1)
Summer (DST)
CEST (UTC+2)

Contributors

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This is version 32. Last edited at 11:54 on May 13, 13 by Peter. 20 articles link to this page.

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