The capital city of Andorra la Vella is set in the center of beautiful Andorra, the quiet principality that stretches for only 175 square miles. Andorra itself is in the heart of the Pyrenees, between France and Spain, a central location that symbolizes the Andorran split between French and Spanish living.
Andorra is a Catalan country, a region characterized by the unique Catalan language and culture which is part French, part Spanish and wholly unique. The Catalan native-born inhabitants of Andorra make up only about one-fourth of the entire population, with Spanish and French immigrants making up the majority of the remainder.
You'll find touches of the French-Spanish mix everywhere: you're as likely to spend French francs as Spanish pesetas, or hear French or Spanish spoken on the streets along with the official language of Catalan.
This dual culture is a legacy not only of Andorra's location, but also of its unique political history. The Andorran government claims to have a mysterious document written by Charlemagne under lock and key, the important Carta de Fundacio d'Andorra which purportedly grants Andorra a charter for independence. Many, however, suspect that the document is an Andorran forgery created to support their claims to independence from both Spain and France.
France and Spain fought over the area until 1278, when nobles from both countries signed a peace treaty forced upon them by the King of Aragon. This treaty established Andorra as an independent principality which agreed to pay an annual tribute called questia alternately to France and Spain.
This agreement, called the Pareage, still stands, and Andorra still pays the questia to Spain's Bishop of Urgell and the President of France. The questia is the last gasp of real French or Spanish authority, and Andorra is now ruled by its own parliament.
The Andorran landscape of narrow valleys and high mountain peaks earned it the name The Valleys of Andorra as well as a justified reputation as a skiing heaven. Snow covers the mountains six months out of the year, and the high peaks (many thousands of feet high) and dry weather ensures that the hills are dotted plentifully with ski enthusiasts, as well as snowmobilers and a growing band of snowboarding enthusiasts.
Visitors to Andorra La Vella have the best of both worlds with world-class skiing located nearby as well as shopping centers and Romanesque monuments within the city proper.