Andorra  - received May 18    



(Written by Steve May 17)

After 10 hours of very easy driving from Alicante, we pulled into the crazy little country of Andorra. I only say this because it has a rush hour that lasts 12 hours a day and the average speed is less than 2 km an hour. I am not kidding, driving around one of the little  town’s here can take you a couple of hours, and walking would be much faster. Of course, after I mentioned that we have only seen 2 days of rain in the last 141 days, it is raining today.

Anyways, this place is the coolest little country you have ever seen. As you drive in from Spain, you pass a strip of car dealerships like Porsche, Jaguar, BMW and a few mixed specialty car lots for all the other high end cars. The snow is only a few hundred meters above us and the place feels and looks just like Whistler, B.C. Andorra is in southwestern Europe, situated in the eastern Pyrenees Mountains, bordered on the north and east by France, and on the south and west by Spain. Also called Valleys of Andorra, the country has an area of 468 sq km (181 sq mi) and a population of around 75,000.. The overall population density is 148 persons per sq km (383 per sq mi). We are staying in the capital city, which is Andorra la Vella (population, 1999 estimate, 25,000).  It sits in a valley and has many high end retail shops and of course more car dealerships. All the hotels and villas have slanted metal roofs and stone or brick exterior, giving it a real alpine feel.

Andorran Landscape Andorra is a region of narrow valleys and mountain peaks that reach heights of more than 2700 m (8860 ft). The country is bordered on the north and east by France and on the south and west by Spain. Like I said we came in from the only entrance from Spain and the line up heading out of Andorra into Spain was at least 3kms long, so yikes, I am not looking forward to leaving.

 The principal stream is the Valira River and it is only half a block from our little hotel.

The land here has iron and lead deposits and marble quarries; forests of pine and birch are found on the mountains, and low-lying areas have pastureland where sheep graze. Andorra has no railroad or airport but possesses an excellent road system.

The native-born inhabitants of Andorra (only about one-fourth of the entire population) are Catalan in ancestry and language; Spanish and French immigrants make up the majority of the remainder. The main religion is Roman Catholicism. This place appears to have more French than Spanish, but most folks here speak both languages anyways.

Andorra’s economy was formerly based on pastoral farming and the processing of tobacco and timber. Tourism has boomed since the 1950s and now dominates the principality’s economic life. Tourists are drawn by the winter ski facilities, the cool summer climate, and the availability of duty-free goods. The Andorran government collects revenue through a small number of taxes and the sale of postage stamps. Immigration and investment have been encouraged by low tax rates.

Postage stamps? That’s what it say’s here, the whole country survives of the sale of postage stamps, no wonder there are so many high car dealerships. What is up with that? O.K., I know you are thinking the same thing I am, why has this place not been taken over by another country. It is hard to believe that it can sustain itself, or has survived the wars of the last hundred years. This place has a tourist economy with no tax, so the rich French and Spanish come here and play and hide their money here, I have nothing to back that up, it’s just what I think. I am sure this is Europe’s Grand Cayman islands, if you know what I mean.

Here is what I could find on the history of this place:

For 715 years Andorra was ruled jointly by the leader of France and Spain’s Bishop of Urgel, who were acknowledged as coprinces. In March 1993 Andorran voters approved their first constitution, which transferred power to the “parliamentary coprincipality” of Andorra. The constitution defined the fundamental rights and obligations of Andorran citizens and delineated the separate functions of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. The coprinces remained Andorra’s heads of state but were given very little power. The Andorran legislature is the General Council, which has 28 members, elected to four-year terms. The executive organ of government is the Executive Council, which is headed by a president who is elected by the General Council and formally appointed by the coprinces. The president appoints the other members of the Executive Council.

Andorra is traditionally held to have been declared a free state by Charlemagne in the 9th century AD. In 1278 it came under the joint control of the Catalan bishop of Urgel and of the count of Foix of France; through the latter, French rights passed successively to the kings and chiefs of state of France. Andorra pays a nominal biennial tribute to France and to the bishop of Urgel. In 1970 women received the right to vote. Andorra was admitted to the United Nations in 1993.

The only other strange thing is, everywhere you look you can see the Olympic rings. And places are called Olympic this and Olympic that. I found out that a federation of smaller countries who can not compete in the real games only because they are too small, have games just for themselves.