While it may sound like a kingdom in a fairy tale, the Principality of Andorra is a real country located in the eastern section of the Pyrenees mountains in Europe’s Southwest region. The sixth smallest nation in Europe, Andorra is landlocked by neighboring countries Spain and France. The country spans just 180 square miles, approximately half the size of New York City. Its population is just over 85,000 feet. There is no airport or train station in this remote location; in fact, the nearest major city of Toulouse is located over two hours away by car.
Andorra has the highest inhabited elevation in Europe, and is known for its spectacular natural landscape and magnificent terrain. Aside from its location in the majestic Pyrenees mountain range, a number of small, natural lakes are scattered throughout Andorra's breathtaking countryside. The combination of magnificent mountains and stunning lakes makes Andorra a delightful tourist attraction. Over the 20th century, Andorra has transformed from a rural society into a thriving modern city, primarily because of the incoming tourists.
In fact, the main industry of Andorra is tourism, which accounts for approximately 80 percent of the nation's GDP. Other important economic sectors include retail sales, banking, and finance. Historically popular for its status as a tax haven, Andorra has little agriculture because of its challenging mountain location, and imports most of its food products. Cereals, vegetables, and rye are among Andorra's few products, in addition to high quality tobacco products which are exported to Spain and France. Hydroelectric power, timber, mineral water, lead, and iron ore are among Andorra's limited natural resources. Regardless of its lack of agriculture and natural resources, Andorra reports one of the world's lowest unemployment rates; in 2007, the small nation achieved the impressive distinction of having a zero percent rate of unemployment.
Historically known for its unique state as a co-principality, Andorra has traditionally shared sovereignty with France and Spain, under rule by a co-prince from each neighboring country. In 1993, based on the recommendation of the Council of Europe, Andorra adopted a multi-party democracy, with the dual French and Spanish "heads of state" relegated to honorary positions with limited powers. Three governmental branches now comprise the Andorran government: Executive, Legislature and Judiciary. The executive council is helmed by a head of government and seven ministers, each of whom is elected to a four-year term.
While native Andorrans account for only about 35 percent of its total population, Andorra's ethnic groups also include Spanish, French, and Portuguese, among others. Catalan traditions remains at the forefront Andorran culture. From folk dancing at festivals to a collective enthusiasm for the sport of soccer, Andorrans enjoy a rich culture with many components. Winter sports are big in Andorra; skiing is a popular past-time for natives, as well as a dominant tourist industry. Millions of visitors flock here every year to take advantage of the country's ideal terrain and attractive ski facilities. In the summer months, mountain biking, cycling, soccer, and rugby are also popular sports. Andorra is also known for its architecture, consisting of a number of magnificent Romanesque churches. Many art galleries are present throughout the country, which is home to famed Ukrainian artist Nikolai Siadristyi's museum of miniatures.
Essential Facts about Andorra
- Andorra La Vella is Andorra's largest city and capital. It is also Europe's highest capital city, with an elevation of 3,356 feet above sea level.
- Catalan is Andorra's official language, used by 33% of its population, as well as for official communication, education, and by the national media. Spanish is spoken by about 60 percent of the population, while French and Portuguese can also be heard.
- The flag of Andorra is based on those of neighboring states and historic protectors Spain and France. It features three blue, red and yellow stripes, with the Andorran coat of arms at its center.
- One of Andorran's most famous citizen is alpine skier Alex Antor, who represented the country at the 2006 Winter Olympics.
- Andorrans has achieved attention in recent years because of its reported life expectancy of 85--the highest in the world. This is credited to a national tradition of living well, through nutritional awareness and exercise.
The climate of Andorra is typical of a mountain region, with heavy snow in the winter, and cool, pleasant summers, making it an ideal place to visit or live any season out of the year.
With no currency of its own, Andorra relied on the Spanish Peseta and French Franc until the Euro replaced both in 1999. The Euro is now Andorra's official currency.
Religion in Andorra
There is no official Andorran religion, but 90 percent of Andorrans practice Roman Catholicism, and this majority is offered some special privileges, according to Andorra's constitution. Muslim, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Jews are among the country's religious minority. As Roman Catholicism is so dominant, most of its holidays are celebrated as holidays of Andorra, and "Our Lady of Meritxell" is the country's patron saint.