Andorra

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Introduction to Andorra

All but lost between France and Spain, like the fairy tale pea in the mattresses, the pocket-sized princedom of Andorra comprises just a handful of mountainous landscapes and meandering rivers. Though it is tiny, it contains some of the most dramatic scenery - and the best skiing - in the Pyrenees.

There are plenty of good hiking opportunities in the high, remote parts of the country, away from the overdevelopment and heavy traffic that plague Andorra's towns. But there's relatively little of cultural or historical interest, unless you consider duty-free shopping a form of artistic expression.

Full country name: Principality of Andorra

Area: 468 sq km

Population: 67,800

Capital City: Andorra la Vella

People: Spanish (61%), Andorran (30%), French (6%)

Language: Catalan, Spanish; Castilian, French

Religion: Roman Catholic

Government: parliamentary democracy

Head of State: Co-Prince Nemesi Marques Oste (representing Joan Enric Vives Sicília)

Head of Government: Executive Council President Marc Forné Molné

GDP: US$1.3 billion

GDP per capita: US$19,000

Major Industries: Tourism, duty-free shopping, sheep, timber, tobacco, banking

Major Trading Partners: France, Spain, USA

Member of EU: No

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Traveler Facts

Visas: To reach Andorra, travel must be either via France or Spain. Andorra accepts any passport or passport replacing document valid for either France or Spain.

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +1

Dialling Code: 376

Electricity: 125 or 220V ,both at 50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

Many Andorran towns and hamlets celebrate their heritage with a 'village festival', when locals gather to enjoy music, dancing, wine and feasts. Nearly all of these fall between July and September. Andorra la Vella's three day festival period begins on the first Saturday in August. Mare de Deu de Meritxell, the national festival of the Virgin Mary, is celebrated on 8 September with a pilgrimage to Meritxell, 7km (4mi) northeast of Andorra la Vella.

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Best time to Visit

The ski season tends to begin around December and last through March, though many resorts buffer nature's contributions with manmade snow that prolongs the season well into springtime. Hiking season begins when the snowfall lets up and continues through until October. Andorra's village festivals take place between July and September. Hotels are at their fullest in July and August and from December to March.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Euro

Meals

Budget: €2-4

Mid-range: €4-10

High: €10-20

Deluxe: €20+

Lodging

Budget: €8-15

Mid-range: €15-40

High: €40-60

Deluxe: €60+

Eating from markets and sleeping in tents, barebones budget travellers in Andorra should expect to spend at least EUR8.00-EUR11.00 per day, but this would be hard to keep up for any length of time. A more realistic budget, allowing a warm bed, a few restaurant meals and the periodic ski excursion, would be between EUR30.00-EUR50.00 per day. If you come in search of opulence, you should plan on shelling out nearly as much as you would in Paris or Barcelona: EUR80.00 per day would just be scratching the surface.

Andorra uses the Euro as its currency, though French francs and Spanish pesetas may still be in use. Prices are almost always quoted in pesetas, and you'll find the exchange rate for francs in shops and restaurants is seldom in your favor. Service charges are usually included in most bills, but porters and waiters expect a further tip of 10%.

Andorra's very low tax regime has made it famous as a duty-free bazaar for electronic goods, cameras and alcohol. While today's prices no longer justify a special trip, you can still find prices 30% below those in Spain and France if you shop around.

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Attractions

Andorra la Vella

Andorra la Vella, the capital of the principality and its largest town, sits at an elevation of just over 1000m (3280ft). It's surrounded by mountains up to 2400m (7870ft) high. Unfortunately, the town itself is given over almost entirely to the retailing of duty-free electronics and luxury goods.

While it's more likely to recall the clang and clatter of a bustling Asian marketplace than it is the grace and elegance of Europe's grand old capitals, happily not all the vestiges of its 1100 year history have succumbed to the jackhammer.

Caldea

In the Les Escaldes suburb east of Andorra la Vella, Caldea is an enormous complex of pools, hot tubs and saunas enclosed in what looks like a futuristic cathedral. Fed by natural thermal springs, the spa complex centres on a 600 sq metre (6450 sq ft) lagoon kept at a constant 32°C (89°F). It's a welcome bit of warmth after a hard day's frolicking in the snow. Visitors can further soak up the serenity with a hydromassage or a dip in the Turkish baths, both of which are included in the three hour entrance ticket.

Caldea is open daily at Parc de la Mola 10, about a 2km (1.5mi) walk from Plaça Guillemó in Andorra la Vella. Tickets are available at tourist offices.

Encamp

The town of Encamp has one of Andorra's few museums, the Museu Nacional de l'Automòbil, which exhibits about 100 cars dating from 1898 to 1950 as well as scores of antique motorcycles and bikes. Just a short walk north of town is the Església Sant Romà de les Bons, which dates from the 12th century.

The Romanesque frescoes in the apse are reproductions of the originals, which are tucked away in the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya in Barcelona. Encamp's popular local resorts, Soldeu-El Tarter and Pas de la Casa-Grau Roig, are privy to some of the best skiing in Andorra.

Ordino

As Andorran villages go, Ordino is a big one, but despite some development (a British vacation home boom), it remains peaceful and traditional in character. The highlight of the town itself is the Museu d'Areny i Plandolit, the ancestral home to the country's illustrious Areny Plandolits family.

In the parish's far north-western corner, the Ordino-Arcalís ski area offers some decent skiing and snowboarding in the snowy season and some of Andorra's most rewarding hikes when the sun comes back. A number of peaks in the area top 2800m (9200ft).


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