Published: March 10th 2011March 10th 2011
Nestled high in the Pyrenees is a tiny country that you may not have heard of…Andorra. By a quirk of fate, this country, which is the size of a small county in the US and the population of a small city, is still a country. Andorra is basically one main, sometimes very narrow, mountain valley nestled on the border between Spain and France and is jointly controlled by both. There are a few side roads but the country is only 50 km across at the widest. It is one big ski resort in the winter and in the summer it specializes in mountain sports. Ninety percent of its national product is tourism and employment is 100%. Since we were so close, we could not resist a visit in order to put another country on our list.
The drive from Olot to Andorra was beautiful. After only 30 minutes of driving we stopped in St Joan de la Abadesses to visit the monastery and the bridge. The monastery had a museum with some 1000 year old pieces and some relatively modern 100 year old pieces as well. We also toured the cloister and the church. The cloister is quite bare but
the church has two sanctuaries, one dating back 1000 years and the other only a few hundred. After a quick stop to take a picture of the striking Five Arches Bridge it was back on the road.
The next stop was Ripoll. Here we visited another monastery called the Monastery of Santa Maria. Both monasteries were founded by Wilfred the Hairy (I love that name!) in the 9th century in an effort to repopulate the region and Wilfred the Hairy was buried at the Monastery of Santa Maria in the church. They also had the tomb of St Eudald, the patron saint of Ripoll. During the 9th century Ripoll was the secular and religious capital of the region and claims to be the birthplace of the Catalan state of which Wilfred the Hairy was the first Count.
It was shortly after 1pm that we began the drive up and over the mountains to Puigcerda. It was a long climb to almost 2000 meters but the views were exceptional and it was a clear sunny day. From there we turned north into France for the short trip to the Andorran border.
We climbed even higher and shortly after
Skiing in the Pyrenees
Our introduction to Andorra.
crossing the border into Andorra we entered a winter wonderland of ski resorts. The snow on the runs looked good but gratefully the road was bare and dry. After summiting just inside the border it was a long, sometimes steep descent to the capital called Andorra la Vella.
We reached la Vella and tried to find the hotel but the directions we had from the website were useless. It told you which streets to turn on but streets were not labeled. The other problem was I had saved the web page with the directions and the map to my laptop but when I pulled it up it was blank. So much for modern technology. Luckily I remembered enough of the map to get us close and Lady Luck showed us the hotel. Otherwise we probably never would have found it because the TI was closed on Monday (like most places in Andorra) and the hotel clerk spoke no English and we can’t speak Spanish.
We checked in, parked and carried our bags to the hotel. We stopped on the way to buy a baguette because it was 5pm and we had not eaten since breakfast. Our room was
Shall Cow Ski?
Beth once knew some people whose last name was Szalkowski. To help her remember it they told the story of a skiing cow.
very nice with a good size balcony overlooking the valley. We opened the wine we bought in Besalu and the olive oil we got from Agnes de Cervera and had a nice snack with a good view (if we ignored the traffic noise and the construction).
After our snack we went for a walk to explore la Vella. We weren’t very impressed. It is a big, expensive ski resort. The only things to do appear to be skiing and shopping. The city of la Vella does not even have quaint old buildings although we think some of the smaller towns may be older.
The next day we took lovely mountain roads across the Pyrenees. It ranged from practically new wide two lane roads to one lane crumbling tracks with just boulders to keep us from going over the edge. We went over at least three different passes; only one had an altitude sign and that was 1700 meters. We saw striking snowcapped peaks and remote mountain valleys. But it took a long time because we were averaging 50 km/hr (30 mph).
We stopped for lunch about 2pm at a roadside park. Lunch was baguette, cheese, sausage, apples,
Relaxing in Andorra
Wine, baguette, and olive oil makes for a nice way to end the day.
chocolate and wine (what more does one need in life?) It was a sunny day and no wind so we were comfortable without our jackets. It was a very pleasant meal.
We got out of the Pyrenees about 6 and started looking for a place to stay and got a disappointing surprise. All of the hotels were closed for the season. We were honestly thinking we would spend the night in the car when, at 8:30pm, we came upon a nice hotel outside Pamplona (famous for the Running of the Bulls). It was at the price we set and nice and clean with a bar and a restaurant and Wi-Fi. It felt like a small miracle to end our drive in the Pyrenees.
There are more photos below