|Capital||Andorra la Vella|
|Population||71,201 (July 2006 est.)|
|Electricity||220/50Hz (European plug)|
|Time zone||UTC+01:00, Central European Time|
- Andorra la Vella - capital of Andorra
- Santa Coloma -South of Andorra La Vella towards the border with Spain
- Sant Julia de Loria -South of Santa Coloma towards the border with Spain
- Escaldes-Engordany -This is really an eastern suburb parish of Andorra La Vella
- Encamp - Parish to the NE of Andorra La Vella between Engordany and Canillo on the road to France
- La Massana—small town and parish about 5 miles north of Andorra La Vella. You can access Arinsal - Pal ski area from it directly
- Ordino - Northernmost and least populated parish but almost the largest
- Canillo - Northeasternmost parish on the main road and border to France
- Arinsal - Small village in the north west
For 715 years, from 1278 to 1994, Andorrans lived under a unique co-principality ruled by the French chief of state and the Spanish bishop of Urgel. In 1993, this feudal system was modified with the titular heads of state retained, but the government transformed into a parliamentary democracy. Long isolated and impoverished, mountainous Andorra achieved considerable prosperity since World War II through its tourist industry. Many migrant workers (legal and illegal) are attracted to the thriving economy with its lack of income taxes.
Tourism, the mainstay of Andorra's tiny, well-to-do economy, accounts for roughly 80% of GDP. An estimated 9 million tourists visit annually, attracted by Andorra's duty-free status and by its summer and winter resorts. Andorra's comparative advantage has recently eroded as the economies of neighbouring France and Spain have been opened up, providing broader availability of goods and lower tariffs. The banking sector, with its "tax haven" status, also contributes substantially to the economy. Agricultural production is limited—only 2% of the land is arable—and most food has to be imported. The principal livestock activity is sheep raising. Manufacturing output consists mainly of cigarettes, cigars, and furniture. Andorra is a member of the EU Customs Union and is treated as an EU member for trade in manufactured goods (no tariffs) and as a non-EU member for agricultural products.
Electricity is supplied at 220 to 230V 50 Hz. Outlets are the European standard CEE-7/7 "Schukostecker" or "Schuko" or the compatible, CEE-7/16 "Europlug" types.
Due mainly to the mountainous nature of Andorra, there is only one road entering Andorra from France, and only one widely-used road entering Andorra from Spain. Almost all entry into the country happens at one of these two points.
Visitors from outside the EU should note that Andorra is not a Schengen member, and exiting France or Spain into Andorra will (theoretically) terminate a single-entry visa. In practice, though, immigration does not enforce this. Non-EU citizens with a residence permit in a country that is a member of the EU do not require a separate visa to enter.
There are no airports in Andorra. The nearest airports are:
Perpignan (France) 128 km to the east, no coach connections but you can take a Yellow train to La tour de Carol and further to l'Hospitalet.
Barcelona (Spain) 202 km to the south.
(From airports to Andorra by car: 3 hours)
- An airport for Andorra Catalan Government developed the Pirineus - la Seu d'Urgell airport (also known as Pirineus-Andorra airport) at Seu d'Urgell but there are no scheduled flights there.
From Andorra la Vella, La Massana, or Arinsal airports, the journey, for a maximum of 4 passengers, takes around 30 minutes and costs €3000.
- L'Hospitalet-près-l'Andorre (France) is the closest railway station to the border (3 km, 1.8 mi). Six trains per run day to Toulouse-Matabiau (2.5 hr, €23.40). There are regular buses onward to Andorra.
- Latour-de-Carol-Enveitg (Catalan: La Tor de Querol-Enveig) is about 20 km from L'Hospitalet. It is in France but close to the Spanish border. It is the terminus of three rail lines: suburban R3 line from Barcelona-Sants (4 daily, 3 hr, €11.20); the line from Toulouse (6 daily, 3 hr, €26.10) which runs via L'Hospitalet (30 min); and a narrow-gauge line from Perpignan (2 M-F, 3 weekends, 4–5 hr, €27.20) (change at Villefranche Vernet les Bains). Buses also connect Latour-de-Carol with L'Hospitalet.
The sleeper train from Paris calls at both stations. If you can find the cheap tickets, a 2nd class bed can cost €30-50, otherwise it'll be around €70-100.
The French railway company, SNCF, operates one bus per day (TER Midi-Pyrénée, dep 09.35, 26 min, €3.20, SNCF discounts apply) from the train station of L'Hospitalet-près-l'Andorre (also called Andorre-L'Hospitalet-SNCF or simply L'Hospitalet) to the first town after the Andorran border, the supposed shoppers' paradise of Pas de la Casa, from where it's possible to take frequent buses to Andorra-la-Vella (€5.85) — every 30 min with Cooperativa Interurbana (+376 806 556, line 4) or cia Hispano-Andorrana (+376 807 000,).
Alternatively, Hispano-Andorrana bus company runs services twice a day from the L'Hospitalet train station directly to Andorra-la-Vella, also calling at some other stops, for ±8€.
From France, getting to Andorra by train and onward bus costs around the same as the direct bus. It is very cost-effective for holders of SNCF discount cards such as Carte 12-25 or those coming with the sleeper train from Paris. Anyone under 26 years-old traveling at off-peak hours with SNCF is entitled a 25% discount (called "Découvert 12-25").
From Barcelona, the train-bus combination is much cheaper than the direct bus; however, it requires two changes: one in Latour de Carol and one in L'Hospitalet.
Caution: L'Hospitalet train station is in a deserted area, is often unmanned, and its rooms have restricted open hours, so in winter it's important to match connections well. If you need assistance, you may want to call the Toulouse train station at +33 8 91 67 76 77.
Roads in Andorra are generally of a good quality. 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.
The approach from the French side passes through the 2.9 km-long Tunel d'Envalira which requires a credit or debit card for payment of the fee. The amounts are: winter (remainder of year)
- Cars €5.60 (€4.80)
- Others €16.70 (€10.70)
Winter is from 1 December-31 March
Occasionally the road through to France can be closed in winter due to heavy snowfall and avalanche risk.
Car rental The usual car hire companies operate from locations such as 'down town'; the desks are sometimes quiet and unmanned so it may be a good idea to book in advance on-line, your rates should still be good value.
- From November to April, it is necessary to have winter tyres and/or snow chains to hand in the car. In snowy road conditions, cars without winter tyres or snow chains fitted are not allowed to drive. This is often enforced by police checkpoints on access roads to the ski resorts and on mountain passes such as the CS-311 and the road above Pas de la Casa.
Drivers considered to be at fault in fatal accidents are always prosecuted and usually imprisoned.
Taxi Taxi Josep provides a Mercedes Benz car and speaks many languages Tel: 376 323111; Taxi Domènec Segura provides a van but does not speak English or French tel: +34 636 490 685. Taxi Josep can arrange the ride with Taxi Domènec Segura if you absolutely need a van. Payment must be in cash.
Taxi Barras +376 323743 provides local service.
Toulouse is the main hub for accessing Andorra.
Other coach services operate via the French border towns L'Hospitalet (3 km from Andorra) and La Tour de Carol (Spanish: La Tor de Querol, near the Spanish border, 20 km from Andorra).
The trip from Barcelona takes 3h30–4h.
Eurolines runs from Barcelona airport (outside the door of Terminal B), via Barcelona Sants train station to Andorra. Arrive early as the driver doesn't hang around and may leave early. You pay for the ticket at Sants, not the airport. You will need to show your passport.
Autocars Nadal also travels between Andorra and Barcelona and its airport.
Alsina Graells has eight trips a day from Barcelona (€23 one-way and €40 round trip).
ALSA has daily trips between Barcelona and Andorra.
If you have a few days in Andorra, then you can easily visit most of the main villages by the local bus service operated by Cooperativa Interurbana Andorrana, S.A.
There are 8 main bus lines or 'linies', and all of these pass through Andorra La Vella. The fare is between €1.20 to €3 depending on how far you are going. Drivers provide change. For the towns nearest to Andorra La Vella, the service is very regular, and as frequent as every 10 minutes during the day. If you are travelling to outlying rural places like Canolic, there are only 2 or 3 buses per day.
The 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
Andorra's official language is Catalan, and almost everyone speaks Spanish as well. French and Portuguese are widely spoken too. You may be able to find some people with some English ability, mainly among those involved in the tourism industry, but you might want to learn some phrases in Catalan, Spanish, or French before you go.
Andorra uses the euro (€, EUR) as its money. It is one of 24 European countries that use this common European currency: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain (which are all eurozone countries of the European Union or EU) together with the six non-EU members Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and the Vatican that also solely use euros but have no say in eurozone affairs. These 24 countries together have a population of more than 330 million.
One euro is divided into 100 cents. Except for Kosovo and Montenegro, all issue their own coins with a distinctive, national face. However, all the coins' obverse looks the same, as do all bills or banknotes and all are legal tender in all 24 countries.
Andorra La Vella is a good destination to buy all kinds of cheap goods, due to the country's status as a "tax haven."
Threatened by seemingly unchecked development, the country's main draw are still its magnificent mountainous landscapes, offering spectacular vistas in every season. At these heights, summers are cool, making for excellent hiking conditions through the romantic green valleys. Challenging day long hikes can be had on even higher grounds, and will take you through truly memorable scenery. Don't overlook the Madriu-Perafita-Claror Valley, Andorra's only UNESCO World Heritage site. Only reachable on foot, this undeveloped area is an important wildlife sanctuary and consists of forest and fields, dotted with the odd shepherd's hut. In winter, snow covers large parts of the country, changing the Alpine character into an equally beautiful stage for various winter sports.
Yet, there is more to this tiny country. There are a number of lovely historic villages, home to centuries old houses and medieval Romanesque churches and shrines along cobblestoned streets. Good places to sample some culture are Ordino, Santa Coloma d'Andorra (home to the oldest building in the country, a 9th century church) and Sant Julia de Loria. In between the village of Canillo and Encamp stands the shrine of the country's patroness, Our Lady of Meritxell. A 1972 fire ruined the original statue, but the excellent replica makes a fine stand-in. Les Escaldes is a good place to witness some traditional dance.
The country's capital, Andorra la Vella, may seem like a traffic and shop heavy place at first - and indeed it is. Look a little deeper however, and you'll find the 11th century Església de Sant Esteve, a Romanesque church dedicated to St. Stephen. A nice piazza and the historic parliament building make for other highlights in your city explorations.
Most of these resorts were once small mountain villages which have grown in recent years due to skiing. In recent years the resorts have all joined together so that your ski pass covers neighbouring areas. As a result there are now two large alpine skiing areas known as Vallnord and Grandvalira.
Vallnord covers Arcalis and the Arinsal-Pal ski area. Arcalis is quite distant away from Arinsal-Pal but the latter have been joined up in recent years by a cable car connecting the two ski areas. The Arisnal-Pal ski area is directly accessible from La Massana right from the middle of the town. 93 km (58 mi) of pisses.
Grandvalira covers Soldeu and Pas de la Casa. The Soldeu ski area is also accessible from Encamp and Canillo. This quite cleverly has opened up these areas to cope with the influence of visitors without putting all the strain on Soldeu. It has 193 km of ski slopes between 1710–2640 m. The surface of grandvalira is about 1.926 H, and it's dividid in 6 different areas:
- Pas de la Casa—skiing resort located right on the French border.
- Soldeu—skiing resort
- Arcalis—ski area located at the head of the valley from El Serrat
- Arinsal—skiing resort part of the Arinsal Pal ski area. Also known as Vallnord which means Valley North in English
- Pal—skiing resort part of the Arinsal Pal ski area.
- Arinsal-Pal -- Actually two skiing areas connected by cable car. See Arinsal and Pal.
La Rabassa is a cross-country (Nordic) skiing area in southern Andorra above the town of Sant Julia de Loria.
Hiking and trekking
If you would like more information on the mountain huts in Andorra, go to this site. Be sure to bring something other than sandals for your feet and a purse for your cellphone.
Andorra is a great place for hiking. The point of departure is the town of Arinsal at the foot of the Coma Pedrosa (2,942 m/9,652 ft) and the Pic de Médécourbe (2,914 m/9,560 ft).
- Treks from Arinsal (1,500 m) - Pic de Sanfons (2,888 m/9,475 ft, 4h45, climb 1,310 m/4,298 ft, medium until the hut, difficult on the ridge). View on the Coma Pedrosa, the valley of Tor, the lakes of Baiau in Spain as well as on the Pallars mountains. Mountain hut and lake on the way. Parking at Torrent Ribal 1,580 m (5,184 ft).
- Pic de Médécourbe 2,914 m (4h30, climb 1,335 m/4,380 ft, medium until the hut increasing to difficult on the ridge). A classic! Mountain hut half-way up, lakes and a breathtaking view over the valley of Arinsal, Boet and Vicdessos (France). Parking at Torrent Ribal 1,580 m (5,184 ft). The peak is the western tripoint international boundary of Andorra, France, and Spain.
- Pic de Coma Pedrosa 2,942 m (4h30, climb 1,370 m, medium until the lake, difficult on the ridge). The highest mountain in Andorra. Mountain hut half way up, lakes. Beautiful view of the surrounding summits, the valley of Arinsal and to the West, the Maladeta and Ecantats massifs. Parking at Torrent Ribal 1580m.
- Montmantell lakes and the Pic del Pla de l'Estany 2,859 m (4h20, climb 1'280m, medium). Mountain hut half-way up, lakes, magnificent view over the Ariège mountains in France and over Andorra. Parking at Torrent Ribal 1580 m.
- Arinsal - Percanela - les Fonts - Pla de l'Estany - Arinsal circuit 2'055m (4h30, climb 670m, medium) 2 mountain huts. Very pleasant circuit which one can do either way. Lovely views of Coma Pedrosa via the imposing natural amphitheatre of Les Fonts. A few bordas (farm houses) on the way, some renovated, some in ruins. Parking at Arinsal 1,466 m.
- Camí del coll de les Cases 1,950 m (1h40, climb 490 m, medium) Panoramic view over the Ordino mountains and la Massana. Ideal picnic and meditation site. One can continue along the GR11 to Arans (parking at Mas de Ribafeta 1466m) but transport back to Arinsal must be provided.
In Andorra La Vella there is the famous Caldea to visit which is a spa/swimming pool complex. This is very popular. It is located up the top end of Andorra-la-Vella and you cannot miss it because it is the large glass spire structure which is quite an attraction on the skyline itself.
Escudella De Pages (Catalan peasant soup) is often considered as the national dish.
To work in Andorra you are supposed to have a work permit issued by the government. If you are on business for only a few days then this would not apply.
There is not much threat from other people in Andorra, but keep safe on mountains. Don't go too high without knowing what you are doing. See Altitude sickness for more.
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.
The main hospital in Andorra is the Meritxell (pronounced merichai) Hospital (+376 871 000).
Andorra is a well-connected country and has accepted the Internet with open arms. Almost as many people subscribe to the Internet as landline phones.
Andorra relies on the Spanish and French postal systems. The main office for both are located in Andorra La Vella.
The French post office (Correus francesos) is located at Carrer de Bonaventura Armengol is usually open M-F 08:30-14:30, Sa 09:00-11:59 Tel: +376 820 408
The Spanish post office (Correus espanyols) is open M-F 08:30-14:30, Sa 09:00-12:59 Tel: +376 820 257.
- Latour-de-Carol - first stop on the scenic descent for Perpignan with the open-top Yellow train (fr: Le train jaune) is reachable with the same TER train line 22 that serves L'Hospitalet-près-l'Andorre.