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situated around Andorra

Situated on the southern slopes of the Pyrenees, squashed between France and Spain, the principality of Andorra measures a mere 25km north to south and 30km east to west. Its capital, Andorra la Vella  lies in the southwest of the country at the confluence of the Gran Valira, the Valira del Oriente and the Valira del Norte rivers. Andorra’s independence can be traced back to Charlemagne, who captured the region from the Muslims in 803 AD. In March 1993, Andorrans voted to establish the country as an independent, democratic “parliamentary co-principality,” placing full sovereignty in the hands of the Andorran people.

For 715 years, from 1278 to 1993, Andorrans lived under a unique co-principality, ruled by French and Spanish leaders (from 1607 onward, 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 immigrants (legal and illegal) are attracted to the thriving economy with its lack of income taxes.  The French and Spanish co-princes continue to act as joint heads of state with greatly reduced powers.

Andorra has the finest and most inexpensive skiing and snow-boarding in the Pyrenees. Ski season lasts from December to March. The tranquil beauty of Andorra’s relatively unspoiled back country offers great opportunities for hiking with the northwesterly parish of Ordino offering some particularly good trails.

The church at Santa Coloma is one of the oldest churches in Andorra. Originally built in the pre-Romanesque style, it has undergone various alterations over the centuries including the addition of a 12th century bell tower and a 17th century portico on the south wall. The Church has many interesting features including its 12th century wooden icon of Our Lady of Mercy. Unfortunately the splendid Romanesque frescoes of Andorra now lie in the Prussian State Cultural Museum in Berlin.

The earliest document known that mentions Andorra is the act of consecration of the cathedral of Santa Maria of Urgell in 839, which mentions the parishes (administrative and territorial divisions) of Andorra as the fief of the Counts of Urgell.

Andorra’s role as a mecca for duty-free shopping stemmed from the business of smuggling French goods to Spain during the Spanish Civil War and Spanish goods to France during World War II. Electronic goods, cameras and alcohol retail at prices 30% lower than those in France or Spain. Andorran cuisine is mainly Catalan. Sample some local dishes such as escudella (a stew of chicken, sausage and meatballs) or xai (roast lamb) after a hard day’s skiing and shopping.

Perched on a hilltop at an altitude of over 1126 meters, the Castle of Sant Vicenç d'Enclar overlooks the village of Santa Coloma. This medieval complex was built between the 9th and the 12th centuries and was the home of the Counts of Urgell. Visit the church, the necropolis and various ruins as well as the remains of the battlements and the stone guard walk.

During the months of July, August and September, many Andorran towns and villages hold lively festivals many of which go on for three days at a time. All of these festivals originated as Catholic religious feasts.



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