Andorra la Vella is the capital city of Andorra, though the name is also used to refer to the parish that snugly surrounds the small province. The name is a literal translation of Andorra, the Old, which is a highly suitable name for the small city that endlessly pays homage to all things old and traditional. This is a great place for those seeking the peace and solace of history, though a splash of fun skiing on the side won’t do tourists any harm.
Andorra la Vella is situated in the southwest part of the Andorra co-principality. It lies at a remarkable place where the two mountain streams, namely the Valira del Orient and the Valira del Nord, converge as they flow on to join the Gran Valira River. The city is part of Europe and uses Euro as its official currency, though it is not a member of the European Union. However, it currently holds the title of being the highest city in Europe, with its height at 1,409 meters of 4,620 feet. Andorra, on the other hand, can be found nestled between France and Spain in the east Pyrenees.
The modest city of Andorra la Vella, or Andorra the Old, has a long history, which can be understood from the translation of its name. The old city has been established in times already forgotten, which some suppose to have been during the time of the late Neolithics. Officially, though, the city was created by Charlemagne during the eighth century. It originally stood as a buffer that kept Moorish settlers at bay.
Since 1278, Andorra la Vella has been Andorra’s capital city. The area around the city is currently mostly abandoned, so the city is definitely the ultimate place to escape to when you are yearning for a grand getaway.
Presently, only 33% of the total population of the city is made up of native Andorrans. Majority of the people in Andorra la Vella are of Spanish descent, while the remaining portion of the population is made up of various peoples such as Portuguese and French. The people of Andorra la Vella, perhaps due to the strategic location of the city between two strongly influential countries and races, the French and the Spanish of France and Spain, also speak a wide variety of languages, though the most commonly used is Catalan. Other languages accommodated in the small, sheltered city include French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
Andorra la Vella’s main industry is tourism. What the small province lacks in natural resources to trade it more than makes up for with its excellent offers for tourists. In fact, its tourism industry makes up almost 80% of Andorra’s GDP.
Its best offer to tourists is none other than the Barri Antic, which is the old town of Andorra la Vella itself. The Barri Antic is a historic gem for people interested in history and the arts of the old or for those who simply love to glimpse into the forgotten past. There, cuddled by the large France and Spain, lies an old, unpretentious city that still bears traces of its past in the form of actual streets and buildings that have stood where they still are since time immemorial. One of the buildings in Barri Antic is the Casa de la Vall. According to historic accounts, the building was constructed to be the city’s parliamentary house in the earlier parts of the sixteenth century. In front of it, there is a piazza where the city holds some events seasonally. Tourists who want to totally immerse themselves in the culture that is Andorra la Vella should also drop by at the Government Exhibition Hall, which serves as a museum and a theatre. It is currently the cultural center of the city.
And to make sure you bring a piece of the city’s rich history with you, make sure to take a picture near the Esglesia de Sant Esteve or the Saint Stephen church, which is strategically located at the central part of the city. A quick check at your guidebook would tell you that the church view probably affords tourists with the most scenic view that can be found in the city. The church boasts of an impressive eleventh century Romanesque-style architecture. History and religion lovers will also greatly appreciate the other old churches and buildings that can be found in the city, such as the Santa Coloma church, which has the longest history among all the churches in the city, with its origins traced back to the ninth century. The church was built in pre-Romanesque style and bears a picturesque circular bell tower. The old churches and buildings in the city provide an apt backdrop for a laidback and highly appreciative trip to the past.
Another popular activity for tourists who find their way to the small, inconspicuous city of Andorra la Vella is skiing. Due to its high altitude paired with a temperate climate which makes the city extra cold during the winter season, the city is esteemed and well-known as a ski resort. In effect, the small city often overflows to the brim with tourists especially during winter. Also in line with its affinity to cold and snowy winters and to skiing as a sport, the old city applied to become the venue of the 2010 Winter Olympics, though the assignment had not been successfully received. However, the city has already had its share of sporting events after it hosted the Games of the Small States of Europe twice, once in 1991 and once in 2005.
Getting to and around the city, though, may be a bit of a challenge, but adventurous tourists and those specifically looking for a secluded place will find this as part of the Andorra la Vella experience. The city, however, will surprise you. Though secluded from the other countries that lie in close proximity to it, the city is far from empty. Every year, hordes of tourists can be found basking in the historical value of the city. There are four airports near the city, though all the airports require three-hour drives going to and from the city. The lack in transportation facilities linking the city to other places can be blamed on the mostly precipitous terrain that surrounds the city. You can, however, go to Paris by taking a bus going to a French bus station where you can take mainline buses to the City of Lights. The question, however, is, “Why leave Andorra la Vella at all?”
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