Andorra is the world’s biggest microstate and the sixth-smallest European state which occupies an area of about 181 sq miles. It is a landlocked state, which is on the southwestern parts of Europe. France and Spain surround Andorra. Andorra’s terrain is mainly made up of rugged mountains which are dissected with three narrow valleys in a Y-shape. These valleys were created during the last ice age. The Gran Valira and its tributaries are some of the major rivers of Andorra.
Major Rivers in Andorra
A huge percentage of the country is usually drained by one basin whose mainstream is known as the Gran Valira. It is the longest stream in the country which passes through Andorra’s capital city and then stretches south where it exits the state near the Andorra-Spain boundary road-crossing. Gran Valira is one of the main tributaries of River Segre which flows into the Ebro. The Gran Valira has two main branches, and it merges with River Segre in the La-Seu d’Ugell, Spain. The Gran Valira and its two main tributaries, Valira d'Orient and Valira del Nord, create a Y-shape incision in the mountainous terrain of Andorra.
Main Tributaries of the Gran Valira
Gran Valira has three tributaries, and this includes Valira del Nord, Valira d’Orient, and Madriu. Valira d’Orient is the northeastern branch of the Gran Valira. Valira d’Orient flows from near Grau Roig to Les Escaldes (where it merges with River Madriu) through Encamp, Canillo, and Soldeu.
The Valira del Nord is the northwestern branch of the Gran Valira, and it originates from the northwestern parts of Andorra (near El-Serrat) and flows south through Arans, Les Salines, Sornas, La Cortinada, and La Massana. The Valira del Nord meets River Tristaina in La Massana, and the finally flows through Les Escaldes where it merges with Valira d’Orient to form the Gran Valira. The entire Gran Vaira river system is about 22 miles long.
River Ariege is a 102 miles long river which forms part of the Andorra-France border. The Ariege is southern France River which originated from the Pyrenees where it forms the Andorra-France boundary. The river flows through various towns and departements including Saverdun, Pamiers, Varilhes, Foix, Montgaillard, Tarascon-sur-Ariege, Ax-Les-Thermes, and Les Cabannes in Ariege, France, and Auterive and Cintegabelle in the department of Haute-Garonne. River Ariege is the right branch of River Garonne.
The country has various small drainage basins that span its boundaries with Spain and France with the most famous one is the Pic-de-Maia basin. The main river which drains the Pic-de-Maia basin is the Sant Josep. Sant Josep flows eastwardly into France, and it is one of the Branches of River Ariege.
Spain's Valira River
The Andorran government’s map service refers to the longest river in Andorra as the Gran Valira, while maps published in Spain refer to it as the Valira. The Gran Valira is known as the Valira in Spain since the Spanish have only one river Valira. There are numerous smaller rivers known as Valira in Andorra; therefore the locals refer to their main river as the Gran Valira to differentiate it from the others.