November 4 – St. Charles Day in Andorra

Posted on November 4, 2015

Today is the Feast Day of the Catholic Saint Charles Borromeu.

Now, I couldn't seem to figure out why this saint is celebrated with a bank holiday in Andorra, since he lived in Milan (in what is now Italy), and he is considered the patron saint of a city in Brazil, a city in Italy, and a city in California, U.S.A.

No special connection, that I could find, with Andorra! And it's not as if Andorra is a newcomer to the list of nations (like Italy, which became a unified country in 1861) – Andorra has been Andorra since the year 1278!

I also couldn't see any details on how Andorrans celebrate the day (other than closing the banks). Still, since the time I briefly visited Andorra last summer, I been wanting a chance to talk about this nation.

The darker yellow dot on the border between
SPAIN (light yellow) and FRANCE (green),
marked "AND.," is Andorra.

First, Andorra is really tiny. We often speak of nations or countries as “states,” and Andorra is referred to as a microstate. It is 179th in the world, as far as size goes – far smaller than the smallest U.S. state, Rhode Island, and smaller even than Los Angeles, New York City, or Chicago!

It's a bit less than 181 square miles in area. That translates to almost 468 square kilometers.

Another thing about Andorra is that it is quite high in altitude, and really mountainous. It is perched in the Pyrenees mountains, in between Spain and France. The capital of Andorra, which is Andorra la Vella (which means “Andorra the Old”), is the highest capital city in the world.

This photo of the Tour de France
shows you how twisty-turny the road from
France to Andorra is...
When my husband and I drove through Andorra, on our way to Spain from France, we took a steep and winding road up, up, up into the mountains. Visibility was pretty terrible – we seemed to be driving through clouds! – but that didn't scare me, because so many people were traveling up that road ahead of us, we were going reeeeeaaaaaaalllllllllllllllllyy slowly!

Sometimes Andorra gets a LOT of snow!

The last point I want to make about Andorra is that its economy is dominated by tourism (including skiing) and being a tax haven. The latter was really obvious as we reached the border of France and crossed into Andorra. Suddenly ALL of the cars on the road stopped at gas stations and shops strung out along the road, right by the border. It turns out that people often come from France to Andorra to buy things at a much cheaper price, tax and duty free!

Andorra is special in several ways:

  • Andorra has the longest life expectancy of any nation: an average of 81 years.

  • It is the only nation in the world whose official language is Catalan. Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Portuguese are also commonly spoken.

  • It is also the only nation in the world whose head of state is a president democratically elected by another nation!

    That last one is weird, so let me explain: Andorra is a “co-principality,” which means that the “heads of state” are two princes. One “prince” is the democratically elected president of France, and the other “prince” is the Spanish Roman Catholic Bishop of Urgell. Of course, these positions are just formal figureheads without the power to rule Andorra.

    Andorra is actually governed by a democratically elected parliament and a Head of Government, chosen from the ruling party of parliament.

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