Day 67: AndorraApril 23, 2017 in Andorra
Time for another country and another world heritage site! Today was the day for visiting Andorra, a tiny country situated entirely in the Pyrenees. It's an odd little spot, since it's not a member of the EU but they use the Euro, it's not a member of the Schengen agreement but has no border controls, and are self-governing but at the same time their joint heads of state are the French president and the Spanish king. Go figure!
Although it was only about 60 kilometres in a straight line from our apartment in the Vall de Boi, it was going to be a 2.5 hour drive since we had to drive south out of the mountains, eastward through some passes and canyons, then join up with the main road into the principality from Spain. Long and slow drive, but a very spectacular one, with towering cliffs, very narrow canyons, lots of tunnels and a few epic mountain passes.
I should also mention that before we left, we had a small breakfast at a cafe across the road in the sun. All of the townsfolk were out in the street setting up stalls as today is St Jordi's day (St George), where in Catalonia it's tradition for women to be given a rose, and men to be given a book. Lots of people setting up stalls to sell those items, and lots of Catalan flag decorations around as well.
Back to Andorra, where we arrived early afternoon. Despite it's spectacular mountain setting, the capital city (Andorra La Vella) isn't much to look at. There isn't an old town or anything, just a few narrow streets around the parliament building. Otherwise literally everything is dedicated to the two "S"es that make up most of Andorra's economy - shopping and skiing. Not much of the latter happening this time of year, so it was entirely shopping! Most purchases can be made duty-free here, so large parts of the country were covered with factory outlets, discount retailers and the like. It almost felt like a country-sized version of an airport duty free store.
We had lunch at a frankfurt place and a short wander around before heading to the world heritage site. This one was the Vall del Madriu-Perafita-Claror, and is supposedly a superb untouched mountain valley where humans have had only minimal impact on the land, despite farming and working there for centuries.
Annoyingly, it's so pristine that no roads go in there, and we were left with hiking in as our only option. But we only had a rough idea of where to start since being in a different country meant my phone's data wasn't working and I couldn't look any information up! So we were relying on vague memories.
Eventually we found the start of the walking trail and were happy to find it was very easy going - wide, flat and smooth, probably even good enough for wheelchair-bound people to use. Very high up overlooking the capital so we had some good views, though a lot of the walk was in pine forests too.
It was about an hour's walk to the start of the world heritage site where we had a good vantage point overlooking the valley. Given that we'd climbed an awful lot to get to this point and the valley stretched out below us, we agreed that just looking at the valley from here was going to be good enough. It'll be an odd video since we only did the barest of visits, but neither of us felt particularly up for a hugely challenging hike (particularly Schnitzel).
Back to the car where we drove out to our accommodation, a large ski chalet type place that was obviously in the middle of their summer renovations. Very few guests around and it felt a bit like The Shining, particularly since the corridor lighting was all sensor controlled.
Took advantage of the facilities and visited the indoor pool, though we got in trouble from the lifeguard for bringing a plastic bag in (you're supposed to leave everything in lockers but neither of us brought a euro coin for the deposit and couldn't be bothered with the 5 minute walk and 3 elevator rides back to our room). She relented but then told us off again when we got in the pool without swimming caps - apparently they were mandatory too! At least we could use the jacuzzi without them, so we stayed there instead.
Had dinner at the hotel restaurant where I had a pizza and watched Real Madrid play Barcelona, much to Shandos's delight. We ordered a Nutella pizza for dessert but annoyingly it was quite burnt. Neither of us felt like complaining due to the language barrier, so we just picked at it. Back to bed where I watched the end of the game and enjoyed our first and last night in Andorra!Read more