What You Need To Know
Andorra la Vella is the capital of Andorra, in the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain. Cradled in a green valley, 10km northeast of Spain’s Catalonian border, Andorra’s lively, traffic-choked capital is the bustling gateway to the nation’s spectacular mountain country. At 1023m high, it’s Europe’s loftiest capital. Beyond the mega-department stores, strip of duty-free shops, famous spa complex (the largest in Europe) and pop-across-the-border novelty, Andorra la Vella is a friendly-enough city with a sprinkle of charm still to be found in its valley panoramas and tiny cobbled old quarter, the Barri Antic, home to the 16th-century Casa de la Vall. But for most travellers, it’s more of a well-equipped stepping stone towards the snow-dusted ski slopes, high-altitude trails and mountainous majesty of the Andorran Pyrenees.
Area: 12 km²
- Andorra did not have an official currency before adopting the euro, and unlike its two larger neighbours, France and Spain, which surround it, it is not a member of the EU. However it de facto used the EU’s euro (the currency of the Eurozone states) as it had historically used the French franc and Spanish peseta. When those two currencies were replaced by the euro in 2002, the euro replaced the franc and peseta as the sole circulating currency in Andorra.
Unlike the three other European microstates outside of the EU, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican City, which adopted the euro when it was introduced, Andorra did not conclude a monetary agreement with the EU but rather used it unilaterally. These agreements gave the three microstates the right to issue their own euro coins, which have a common design on one side, and a national-specific side on the other. As with coins minted in other eurozone states, the microstate coins are valid across the eurozone; however they do not gain representation on the euro’s governing bodies, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the Eurogroup. In 2003 Andorra requested that the EU conclude a monetary agreement with it which would give it the right to mint its own coins.
Andorra la Vella has an oceanic climate (Cfb, according to the Köppen climate classification), with mild summers and chilly to cold, snowy winters.
Andorra is an all-year-round destination, for real. In the winter months you will be able to ski and enjoy snow sports whereas in the summer time it is a great mountain, adventure and nature destination.
Although snowfall can’t be predicted and changes every year, the ski season in Andorra usually starts around the first weekend of December when Spaniards have a long holiday on the 6th and the 8th of the month and take the opportunity to open the season.
Christmas is usually a very busy time in Andorra with lots of visitors coming to spend some time between Christmas and New Year or come to Andorra for the weekend in between.
Usually, snow lasts until March and spring is a lovely time to visit and enjoy nature’s awakening as is Autumn, when the changing of the leaves gives the country a warm hue.
Catalan is spoken in Spain, bits of France and an even smaller hunk of Sardinia. However, the only country where it is the official language is in Andorra.
Catalan is the only official language of Andorra. It is also the historical and traditional language of the country used by government, television, radio, and other national media and is the main language of all the people living in the territory of Andorran nationality, who constitute 33 of the total population.
It is also the main language of about 25 of Spanish immigrants (who constitute 43 of Andorra’s population), usually those who immigrated since 1985 from nearby Catalonia or Valencia.
Recently the Government of Andorra is enforcing the learning and use of the language within the immigrant labor force as a means to fully apply the constitution and overcome the issue of people living in a country without knowing its only native language. Despite vast incoming tourism from Spanish-speakers from Spain, both public and private signage in Andorra is mostly monolingual in Catalan.
As with Spanish, children can be taught at school in the French language, if parents so choose.
Health and security
- Andorra has some of the most technologically advanced hospitals in Europe, and is similar to the French healthcare system. Public health is linked to social contributions. People who do not earn a salary can only use the marginalized public welfare system to receive treatment. Employees who receive below the minimum wage still have to pay social security contributions, but are not entitled to the majority of social security benefits. If you are unemployed or self-employed, you can pay social security voluntarily. The amount you pay depends on your earnings, however you will still have to pay directly for any services that you consume.
- You will find that most doctors speak English, and that registering with your local health centre is relatively easy. You can register with the doctor of your choice, including CASS registered practitioners in Spain or France. If you need state medical care, you must ensure that the doctor you see is CASS registered.
There are 10 state-funded health centres in Andorra. They are staffed by nurses, and are responsible for first aid; antenatal and child care; nursing services; home and rehabilitation care; immunisation and general health care. Opening hours of health centres is from Monday to Friday during regular working hours. Some health centres are also open weekends and holidays.
Around 25 percent of Andorrans have private health insurance to top up their state health insurance. Some Andorrans may also choose to visit a private doctor or specialist and there are many private clinics in Andorra. Private doctors are legally allowed to conduct surgical, diagnostic and other treatments in the state hospital. In return, these private doctors must commit to being on call in case of emergency, providing services on behalf of the state.
- The crime rate in Andorra La Vella, including street crimes – pickpocketing, car theft and disorderly conduct, almost at zero point. Andorra La Vella is at the list of the safest cities in the world for living and tourism.
The basis of the security of Andorra La Vella can be explained by the geographical position of the city. Only one road connects Andorra La Vella with Spain (CG1) and 1 with France (CG2). Since Andorra is not a member of the European Union, strict border control is maintained at its borders. Thus, to commit a crime in Andorra La Vella and leave the country undetected is very difficult. The whole area of Andorra is 468 sq. km.
- In Andorra La Vella, unlike other European and world capitals, there is no “dangeruos” districts. To get to the epicenter of street scandals and fights in the capital of Andorra is not possible, since there are no. There is no street prostitution or street drug sales.
How to get to Andorra
Andorra has no airport and is only accessible by road. It is one of the few countries in the world which is landlocked and only accessible via roads through other countries. In fact, the other four countries without airports are also in Europe and are also micro-states, Monaco, The Vatican, Liechtenstein and San Marino.
There are four international airports within 200km from Andorra so you can pick: Toulouse-Blagnac (TLS), Carcassonne (CCF), Girona-Costa Brava (GRO), Barcelona-El Prat (BCN) and Reus (REU). I would then suggest to rent a car from any of these and drive. The drive should be easy with good roads. The easiest airport is probably Barcelona, and you can easily combine it with some time in the city. Getting from Barcelona to Andorra is really easy as the roads are pretty straightforward.
- Getting out of the country could also be an issue, with Andorra’s customs officials taking special care to ensure the country’s precious perfume supplies aren’t depleted by marauding tourists. The Andorrans are only too keen to sell you their tax-free merchandise but it seems they aren’t as willing to let you take it home. There are strict controls on what and how much of it you can take across the border. Much like an airport duty free store, you are limited to 1.5L of spirits, 5L of table wine, 300 cigarettes and 357mL of perfume.
Food and produce are also controlled, so make sure not to overfill your picnic basket. Oddly, it is the Andorran authorities more than the French or Spanish, who tend to firmly enforce these limits. There are often incredibly long queues of cars waiting to pass through customs after a weekend of skiing, so try to time your exit to avoid peak traffic.
There are some great bargains to be found amongst Andorra’s mass of storefronts, but because Andorra isn’t a member of the European Union, your bargain buys may also be subject to taxes when you leave, which can be a bit of a sting in the tail.
- The vast skiable area in Andorra can make it easier to get lost as well. Stick to the marked trails and take a good map with you. If you do decide to go off-piste, remember there is no substitute for local knowledge. Take a guide or drag an Andorran friend along.
It is often quite sunny on Andorra’s south-facing ski slopes and it’s not uncommon to see people skiing in t-shirts, especially at the opening and closing ends of the season. While this may be an enticing prospect, the temperature in these valleys can drop very rapidly. By all means take off your jacket on the slopes but never leave it behind entirely.
Poor quality or ill-fitting gear can make you a danger to yourself or others on the ski fields. Make sure you’re measured and fitted correctly if you’re renting. Avoid using hand-me-downs or second hand stuff too, no matter how cool those retro wooden planks might look. You may even want to consider buying your equipment duty-free in Andorra. There are some great deals available, especially late in the season.
- Although the official hunting season doesn’t start until September, bright coloured clothing is advised if you’re heading into the hills, just in case.
Despite this militaristic operation, there are still plenty of wild boars roaming through Andorra’s forests, which can be aggressive, especially when protecting their young. Most will disappear when they hear you coming but if you do stumble across a peeved pig while out and about, your best bet is to scoot up the nearest tree.
- There’s something for everyone in Andorra la Vella, capital of the Principality of Andorra. Take a stroll through the historical centre and discover the Casa de la Vall (the former parliament) and the avant-garde modern parliament. If you like Romanesque art, visit the church of Santa Coloma and the Margineda medieval bridge. Nature lovers can enjoy an urban hike at the Rec del Solà or the Rec del Obac, or be seduced by the Enclar Valley’s remarkable fauna and flora. Need a shopping fix? Peruse the popular Meritxell shopping area.