Imagine a tiny principality offering the most dramatic scenery and the best skiing in the Pyrenees. Come to Andorra and experience it for real. Occupying a mere 450 square kilometres, Andorra is living proof that quality is always more important than quantity…
Where is Andorra?
Situated on the southern slopes of the Pyrenees, squashed between France and Spain, the principality of Andorra measures a mere 25km north to south and 30km east to west. Its capital, Andorra la Vella, lies in the southwest of the country at the confluence of the Gran Valira, the Valira del Oriente and the Valira del Norte rivers.
Andorra’s independence can be traced back to Charlemagne, who captured the region from the Muslims in 803 AD. In March 1993, Andorrans voted to establish the country as an independent, democratic “parliamentary co-principality,” placing full sovereignty in the hands of the Andorran people.
The French and Spanish co-princes continue to act as joint heads of state with greatly reduced powers. Andorra has the finest and most inexpensive skiing and snowboarding in the Pyrenees. Ski season lasts from December to March. The tranquil beauty of Andorra’s relatively unspoiled back country offers great opportunities for hiking with the northwesterly parish of Ordino offering some particularly good trails. When you’re all skied and snowboarded out, indulge in some shopping.
Andorra’s role as a mecca for duty-free shopping stemmed from the business of smuggling French goods to Spain during the Spanish Civil War and Spanish goods to France during World War II.
Electronic goods, cameras and alcohol retail at prices 30% lower than those in France or Spain. Andorran cuisine is mainly Catalan. Sample some local dishes such as escudella (a stew of chicken, sausage and meatballs) or xai (roast lamb) after a hard day’s skiing and shopping. There’s something inherently romantic about a small, independent princedom… come and discover why yourself.
Map of Andorra
Andorra La Vella
Surrounded by stunning snow-capped mountains…
Andorra La Vella is the capital of this tiny principality nestling between France and Spain and is its biggest town.
Lying at the confluence of the Gran Valira, the Valira del Oriente and the Valira del Norte rivers, Andorra La Vella is dwarfed by stunning snow-capped mountains of up to 2500 metres high. The town has now grown to absorb the once independent villages of Escaldes, Engordany and Santa Coloma.
The Barri Antic (old town) was the original heart of the town when it was little more than a village. It stretches from the Esglesia de Sant Esteve to Placeta del Puial and is characterized by atmospheric cobblestoned streets and arresting stone houses. Visit the Casa de la Vall (House of the Valley) where the Andorran parliament has met since 1702.
Originally built as a family home in 1580, it has to be one of the most comfortable parliament chambers in the world! The town’s Esglesia de Sant Esteve dates from the 11th century.
Check out the church’s Romanesque apse and the paintings dating from the 13th century. Stroll in the Placa del Poble – the large public square atop the Edifici Administratiu Govern d’Andorra. It’s a great place for people watching of an evening and is home to the town’s theatre and concert venue.
Shopping in Andorra La VellaFor dinner, head for the Placa de Guillemo or the Barri Antic. Shop till you drop at the duty-free shops on Avinguda del Princep Benlloch and the Avinguda de Meritxell. For a spot of heavenly relaxation head for the Caldea spa complex where you can enjoy a Turkish bath, a sauna, a jacuzzi or even a hydromassage.
Top Attractions in Andorra
Casa de la Vall
Originally built as a family home in 1580, Casa de la Vall was bought by the General Council in 1702 and is now the seat of the Andorran Parliament.
Situated in the old heart of Andorra la Vella, its architecture includes both civil and military elements.
Inside there is an interesting cupboard with seven keys which once held the most important national documents.
The cupboard could only be opened by the simultaneous presence of councillors from each of the seven constituencies in the country. There is also a dormitory and a kitchen with magnificent 16th century murals. The Sala de la Justicia is the only courtroom in the whole country and the Sala del Consell is where the parliament still assembles.
Santa Coloma Church
The church at Santa Coloma is one of the oldest churches in Andorra.
Originally built in the pre-Romanesque style, it has undergone various alterations over the centuries including the addition of a 12th century bell tower and a 17th century portico on the south wall.
The Church has many interesting features including its 12th century wooden icon of Our Lady of Mercy. Unfortunately the splendid Romanesque frescoes of Andorra now lie in the Prussian State Cultural Museum in Berlin.
Caldea is one of Europe’s largest health spas, a futuristic architectural wonder situated in the heart of the Andorran mountains.
There are over 6000 square meters of indoor and outdoor lagoons, saunas, jacuzzis, pools, Indo-Roman baths, cascades, bubble beds and much more.
Fed by natural thermal springs, it is an essential part of any visit to Andorra, especially after a hard day’s fun in the snow.
The Castle of Sant Vicenç d’Enclar
Perched on a hilltop at an altitude of over 1126 meters, the Castle of Sant Vicenç d’Enclar overlooks the village of Santa Coloma. This medieval complex was built between the 9th and the 12th centuries and was the home of the Counts of Urgell.
Visit the church, the necropolis and various ruins as well as the remains of the battlements and the stone guard walk.
La Cortinada, Ordino
This interesting town is home to the Church of Sant Marti and the restored mill wheels and sawmills of Mas d’en Sole.
Originally dating from the Romanesque period, the Church houses part of a pictorial wall cycle from the end of the 12th century as well as an iconography dedicated to Sant Marti, the bishop of Tours. There are also four Baroque altarpieces from the 17th and 18th centuries and some very interesting furniture including a console and two benches decorated with intricate motifs.
The mill wheel of Mas d’en Sole is an interesting restored 17th century industrial installation found on the outskirts of La Cortinada.
The Casa d’Areny-Plandolit Museum, Ordino
The Casa d’Areny-Plandolit Museum traces over three centuries in the life of an Andorran noble family.
The museum is based in the house where the family lived since 1633 and gives a fascinating insight into how Andorran people lived.
Andorra la Vella
Andorra La Vella is the capital of Andorra and its biggest town. Lying at the confluence of the Gran Valira, the Valira del Oriente and the Valira del Norte rivers, Andorra La Vella is dwarfed by stunning snow-capped mountains of up to 2500 metres high.
Check out The Barri Antic (old town) the original heart of the town when it was little more than a village. Stroll in the Placa del Poble – the large public square atop the Edifici Administratiu Govern d’Andorra. It’s a great place for people watching of an evening and is home to the town’s theatre.
Andorra is a world famous shopping haven. Expect to pay at least 20% – 30% less than in France or Spain for electronic goods, cameras, cosmetics and alcohol.
The long opening hours and sheer amount of shops are very conducive to spending!
Andorran Village Festivals
During the months of July, August and September, many Andorran towns and villages hold lively festivals many of which go on for three days at a time.
All of these festivals originated as Catholic religious feasts.
If you visit the principality at this time, check out the following:
- Meritxell: National Festival 8th of September;
- Canillo: Village Festival on the third Saturday in July for three days;
- Encamp: Village Festival on the 15th, 16th and 17th of August;
- Ordino: Village Festival on the 16th and 17th of September;
- La Massana: Village Festival on the 15th, 16th and 17th of August;
- Andorra la Vella: Village Festival on the first Saturday in August for three days;
- Sant Julia de Loria: Village Festival on the last Sunday in July for three days Escalde-Engordany: Village Festival on the 25th, 26th and 27th of July.
Probably Andorra’s most valuable natural resource, heavy winter snow is very conducive to most winter sports.
For about six months of the year, Andorra’s well-equipped ski stations have perfect conditions for skiing. The main ski stations are at Pas de la Casa-Grau Roig, Soldeu-Tarter, Arinsal, Pal and Arcalís.