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Andorra, The Best-kept Secret Paradise in the Heart of the Pyrenees

Andorra, The Best-kept Secret Paradise in the Heart of the Pyrenees

 

Andorra 2021: The Heart of Pyrenees

Andorra, officially the Principality of Andorra is nestled in the towering mountains of Eastern Pyrenees. It lies between Spain's autonomous region of Catalonia and France bordering the Ariege region. Andorra covers an area of approximately 180 square miles, of which only 8% is urbanized. The remaining 92% is forest land, making the principality a paradise for nature lovers. Also, Andorra is just one-third the size of the City of London. Now, you can just imagine how small is the Principality of Andorra is!

But despite its small size, it is one place you would enjoy. Since Andorra is 92% forest land, natural beauty is its great asset. Andorra is all about the small villages’ stone houses, the picturesque views, the mountains, the lakes, and the hidden churches perched on the cliffside. Outdoor adventures and activities are aplenty to fill up days of exploration. So, take it slow and enjoy nature.

The Government

The principality, ever since the middle ages has been a democratic parliamentary co-principality. Rather than being headed by a single person, there are instead two Heads of State coming from each of Andorra’s neighbors. The current president of France and the Bishop of Urgell serve as co-princes of Andorra. These co-princes represent the people jointly and equally. This arrangement dates back to the 13th century. The parliament is the Consell General composing 28 elected members every 4 years by universal suffrage.

Administrative Regions and The People

Santa Coloma d'Andorra, with Andorra la Vella in the background
The Santa Coloma d'Andorra, with Andorra la Vella in the background | Images: Simonjoan

Andorra has seven administrative and territorial divisions “parishes”. These are Andorra la Vella (capital of Andorra and largest city), Canillo, Encamp, Escaldes-Engordany, La Massana, Ordino, and Sant Julia de Loria. The principality also has 10 large cities and towns in order by population. These are the Andorra la Vella, Escaldes-Engordany, Sant Julia de Loria, Encamp, La Massana, Santa Coloma, Ordino, Canillo, El Pas de la Casa, and Arinsal. The total population (2020 estimate) is 77, 543 with 48% plus ethnic Andorran. Population density is 179 square kilometers with a per capita of $42,035. Similar to its neighbors Spain and France, the principality uses the Central European Time (CET) or Greenwich Meantime +1.

The official language spoken is Catalan. However, the diversity of nationalities in the principality means that other languages such as Spanish, French, and Portuguese are also widely spoken. Andorra's economy is predominantly based on commerce and tourism, which account for 80% of the country’s total GDP. Financial services are the third pillar of Andorra's economy.

Originally, Andorra used both the Spanish peseta and the French franc until the euro was introduced in 2001. Although, Andorra is not technically part of the European Union or the Eurozone’s EU countries that uses the euro. It simply takes this opportunity due to its proximity to eurozone countries. Thus, it just keeps things simple for everyone by using the euro. Additionally, Andorra also has low tax rates, especially when compared with the rest of Europe. This is one primary reason that it attracts people to move there or at least do some shopping.

The Religion

The Andorran constitution passed a law in 1993 that guarantees freedom of religion. Traditionally, however, over 90% of all Andorrans are Roman Catholic which gets some benefits, though no direct subsidies not available to other religious groups. Still, it is not officially recognized as the country’s religion. The constitution, however, acknowledges a special relationship with the Roman Catholic Church. Some Muslim, 2,000+ people are primarily North African immigrants living in Andorra. Also, other Christian denominations include the Anglican Church, the New Apostolic Church, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Reunification Church, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Even how diversified the rights to religion, there have been no reports of social mistreatments and prejudice based on religious faith or its practice. The Government normally respects this right in practice. 

The Climate

Andorra enjoys a climate typical of a mountainous country. It has mild summer and cold winters. Meaning a temperate summer and plentiful snow in winter. The minimum average temperature is -2 degrees Celcius and a maximum average temperature of 24 degrees Celcius. The country has a large number of sunny days. Autumn months experiences the most rainfall, while in winter, mostly January and February are good skiing months. Precipitation in the form of snow is frequent, with the highest rainfall between the months of May and October.

Adventures in Andorra

Traveling to Andorra should be an adventure. Famous for its ski resorts and as a winter sports destination, Andorra is also bursting with a range of summer and outdoor activities. Summer in Andorra offers a superb setting for active, adrenaline-filled, fun-filled breaks. Whether you are a seasoned hiker or climber, road cyclist, mountain biker, Andorra got you! Or maybe you are simply an enthusiastic traveler looking for a new adventure-filled life, an Andorra summer is also perfect for you.

Andorra is unquestionably one of Europe’s top mountain biking destinations featuring over 200km of marked routes through lush surroundings, verdant forests, and panoramic scenery. Andorra’s most elite mountain bike destination, the Vallnord Bike Park in La Massana is ranked the world’s 4th best bike park by Red Bull.

Cycling in Andorra boasts an incredible 21 mountain pass routes. It is a regular location for stages of both the Vuelta de Espańa and the Tour de France. The climbs test the endurance of even professional cyclists.

The Madriu-Perafita-Claror Valley
The Madriu-Perafita-Claror Valley

Andorra is also a great location for hikers. The prospect of exploring the magnificent nature of the Pyrenees is one travel plan that should not be missed. Having three natural parks, the Valley of Coma Pedrosa, the Valley of Sorteny and the UNESCO classified Valley of Madrid-Perafita-Claror Andorra has 66 routes for hikers of all liabilities.

Traveling to Andorra

With its duty-free tax status, Andorra makes for an amazing travel destination all year round. When planning to travel to Andorra for an active or cultural holiday, the months of June to mid-September is highly recommended. But remember Andorra has no airports! The nearest airports are in Barcelona, Spain, and Montpellier, France. Mostly, people would book a bus or rent a car to make a trip to Andorra. Roughly, from Barcelona, it takes two-and-a-half hours by car and approximately four hours from Montpellier. That is if you foregone all the stops of the beautiful mountain sceneries.

The nearest airports are the following.

The Andorra - La Seu d'Urgell airport, Catalonia, Spain - 128km to the east, no coach connections. But there is a Yellow train that could take you to La Tour de Carol and farther to L'Hospitalet.

The Perpignan airport, France - 128km to the east, no coach connections. But there is a Yellow train that could take you to La Tour de Carol and farther to L'Hospitalet. The L'Hospitalet station is a vital international transport node for nearby Andorra, to which the station is connected by a bus link. Three buses per day operate, leaving L'Hospitalet-près-l'Andorre at 07:45 and 19:45. An SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français) bus also leaves the station at 09:35 running as far as Pas de la Casa from where connections are available using local buses to other towns within Andorra.

The Carcassonne airport, France - 130km to the North North East is 2 hours by car, depending on the weather. Ryanair offers cheap flights to Carcassonne from limited European airports.

The Lleida airport, Spain - 157km to the south, Lleida-Alguaire Flights from the UK only during the ski season, chartered by Thomas Cook. The Airport is 2.5 hours away from Andorra by bus. Flights arrive and depart on Sundays. For independent travelers, traveling to Andorra from Lleida Airport can be all times difficult, as Montmantell bus company will leave you in Lleida town, a 20-minute taxi ride from the airport.

Toulouse–Blagnac airport, France - 196km to the north. Travelers could pre-book a coach or a taxi from Toulouse Airport to all the resorts in Andorra with Andorra Airport Transfers.

Barcelona airport, Spain - 202km to the south. There are frequent connections to Andorra from Barcelona.

Renting a car and driving is still the best recommendation for you can explore Andorra's many tourist sites. There are forests, lakes, parks, and authentic mountain food. Also, Romanesque Churches, which are much like the UNESCO listed churches of La Vall de Boi in neighboring Catalonia. Then there are a few heritage museums including Thyssen's Andorra branch.

Many rental cars at Barcelona Airport will let you take a car over to Andorra but you must cite your intention to make sure that your insurance coverage gets extended.

Over 10 million tourists visit Andorra every year.