Monday, July 16, 2012

Off to Andorra

It has been quite a busy and long day. We left Selva this morning on our trip to the principality of Andorra. We drove through Roussillon in France through the lush vineyards and fields of happy, nodding sunflowers. The landscape changed and suddenly there were fruit trees, apricots, peaches, plums and nectarines. We passed lots of roadside stands, which we don't see in Spain, selling the fruit, every kind of tomato imaginable, snails and even pigeons. It was time for lunch and as always we are conscious that in France you may not get served after two o'clock. We spotted a restaurant just before Prades that looked quite lovely with all its pink tablecloths and vases of lavender, hydrangeas and the most beautiful smelling roses. I was very happy to eat the most delicious sole meuniere and frites.....mmmmm.

Back on the road we drove towards the mid Pyrenees mountains through the orchards, which then changed to fields of wheat. As we climbed into the tree clad mountains, the road became much steeper and we were in grassy areas with herds of cows grazing making music with their clanging bells. We passed through Salagusse admiring the fruit and veg at the main market and the local cheese piled high on the stalls. This will be a good place to stop on our return trip. The Puymorens tunnel, which is five kilometres long was very impressive but after the tunnel, as we headed towards Andorra, we ended up in a huge traffic jam. I think this was due to the steepness of the climb, the number of switchbacks and all the caravans. This gave us lots of time to admire the alpine meadows with purple loosestrife and lots of yellow and white flowers, mainly Queen Anne's lace. We got a chance to eyeball some of the local cows that were grazing right at the side of the road as we climbed the mountain.

Finally, we made it. Andorra. The first town, Pas de la Casa, was full of hypermarts and gas stations, which are very attractive to the French since the gas is about fifty centimes cheaper than in France. After more climbing and hair pin bends we finally arrived at Groi Roig, our destination. Our hotel is tucked into the mountain right beside a ski lift. The air is wonderful....that fresh, clean mountain air.

After checking into our hotel, which we found as an excellent deal on Travelzoo, it was off to Andorra de Vella, the main town. The mountain scenery was quite lovely as we passed through the little alpine resort towns that dotted our route. We had heard quite a bit about Andorra de Vella and I felt a little trepidation as I was anticipating a giant shopping mall. After all it has two thousand shops. It wasn't that bad. Andorra is a tax free haven so it is known as a shopping mecca but it was clean and modern and not too overcrowded. Many of the stores that you find elsewhere in Europe are here but I didn't find the prices that much cheaper. There were lots of lovely sporting goods stores with shoes that cost much more in euros than dollars. One thing that struck me was the number of camera or electronic goods stores that you don't normally see. It was reminiscent of walking down 5th Avenue in New York.

Finally, we'd had enough of the browsing. Back in the car we gassed up and bought the makings of a lovely picnic for tomorrow at one of the local supermarkets. This was an experience walking around sampling the local cheeses and hams. There was a huge chocolate and candy section as well as a giant wines and liquor area. The real delight was that it had lots of things that you might have to buy at specialty shops. Now we are fully prepared for tomorrow. It will be an early start as we are driving back to France to watch the Tour de France hopefully atop Port de Ler.

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