The charming Principality high in the Pyrenees.
Andorra is a small independent state in the Pyrenean Mountains between France and Spain. It comprises only 468km2 is 18.7 km wide and has a population of 84,000 of which only 22,000 are Andorrans. The rest of the permanent population consists of Spanish, Portuguese, French and various English-speaking nationalities. The official language is Catalan but French and Spanish are also spoken.
Andorra is the second highest country in Europe after Switzerland and now has one of the larger ski areas in Europe. Its two main sources of income are tourism and shopping (due to it’s tax free status- more of this later!)
Primarily, its main tourism product is skiing and winter sports, however, it also has beautiful lakes, rivers and high mountain walks and is a stunning escape in summer.
The history of Andorra is unusual, only gaining full independence with it’s own constitution in 1993. Up to then it was a co-principality, the co-princes (or heads of state) being the Bishop of Urgell in Spain and the Count of Foix in France. This unusual arrangement was the result of many years of conflict between the Bishop and the Count, which ended in 1278 and lasted more or less peacefully, until modern times.
The country is divided for administrative purposes into seven parishes one of which is the parish of Canillo in which the village of Soldeu lies.
The Andorrans talent of taking advantages of the differences between the two princes has resulted in winning tax-free status, which has made enormous commercial growth possible since the 1950s. Before that that great old business of smuggling was well established.
Canillo, the largest of the seven parishes was in ancient times the most important but the growth of the main town of Andorra la Vella has changed this. In the past the town of Canillo and the 12 hamlets- Incles, Els Plans, Ransol, El Vilar, El Forn Prats, Molleres, Meritxell, El Tarter, Sant Pere del Tarter and Soldeu lived from stockbreeding. Nowadays the parish is known essentially for it’s huge ski area. However traffic in the village of Soldeu is still held up by the twice-daily promenade of the herd of sheep and goats to the mountain and back! The parish is also known for the beautiful Romanic church of Sant Joan de Casselles and the sanctuary of Meritxell where the statue of Our Lady of Meritxell is said to have moved herself out of harms way during the fire that destroyed the old church in the 1970’s and was found on the grass outside.
Andorra now receives over 15 Million visitors per year which in some areas has resulted in unsightly development of hotels shops and other facilities but the village of Soldeu has retained it’s quaint and local feel with all recent development consisting of high quality stone and timber clad buildings.
The eastern Pyrenean area is well served with flights into Carcassonne, Pau, Perpignan and Toulouse on the French side and Barcelona, Girona, and Reus from Spain. The bus company NovAtel (Tel: 00376 803789), runs buses several times daily from Toulouse and Barcelona airports. Flights from Ireland take about two hours to all these airports and the bus trip takes between two and three hours depending on the airport.
A bus to Andorra la Vella runs from Soldeu every hour on the half hour from 08.30 till 20.30.There are bus stops all the way down main street in Andorra la Vella the main stop being in front of the large department store Escales.
Andorra consists mostly of rugged mountains with an average height of 1,996m (6,549 ft), the highest being the Coma Pedrosa at 2,946m (9,665 ft). Andorra’s road network totals a length of 269 km, of which 198 km are metalled road and 71 km of unsealed tracks. The main road north into France, travels over the Envalira pass, at 2,409m high which is kept open year round. There are no ports, harbours or airports in Andorra.
Andorra climate is high mountain type with Mediterranean influences, winter temperatures are low and in summer they are mild, with large variations taking place according to altitude and orientation.
Andorra enjoys a high percentage of sunny days and the climate is dry. The average annual minimum temperatures varies between 1ºC in Janaury and 14°C in July and August, while the average maximum temperatures varies between 26ºC in August and 10°C in January.
Autumn and spring are the seasons with the highest rainfall while in winter there are abundant snowfalls. The snow and ski season begins in mid-December and lasts into April.
The official language is Catalan. In winter the predominant language in the Bars of Soldeu is English. French, Portuguese and Spanish are also commonly spoken.
MONETARY UNIT : Andorra has no currency of its own; the euro, adopted by both Spain and France, is used. There are coins of 1, 5, 10, 20, and 50 cents and 1 euro and 2 euros. There are notes of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 euros.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES : The metric system and some old local standards are used.
HOLIDAYS : New Year’s Day, 1 January; Constitution Day; National Festival, 8 September; Christmas, 25 December. Movable religious holidays include Good Friday and Easter Monday.
TIME : Central European Time.
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