Mark has been saying 'let's go to Andorra' for years, to which I have always replied, something along the lines of, 'Why on earth would you want to go to a giant Oxford Street and buy fags when you don't smoke?'
This year at the point of choosing where we might go on our mini holiday while lovely cousins house/dog/youth-sit, Mark suggested Andorra again, and I said 'Oh, go on then.'
This is what we do, us humans - make assumptions about people and places, and this assumption was no exception on my part. I spend a fair amount of time gawping at land structures on 'Google Earth but had somehow failed to look at the spectacular mountains and valleys of this part of the world, thinking only of the shopping mayhem I had imagined in the capital - in fact Andorra itself in my mind was really just that: 'Andorra la Vella'.
The view above was taken as we climbed, following camper vans and shiny BMW 4 by 4s towards the city. No one lives here except cows who amble bovine-ly across the roads and sit chewing contentedly on roundabouts.
We drove into the capital and did the usual hunt around for an interesting, decaying hotel full of character (sadly disappearing these days) but did find a solid and handsome 1940's building that houses the Pyrenees hotel. In fact a lot of this city's architecture hails from that decade as there was a mad spate of building during its rapid expansion as a tax haven/ski capital.
Compare (blurry - sorry) photo of Andorra La Vella in the 30s to photo of now.
Another assumption I had made was as Andorra La Vella is a rich capital concerned with banks, skiing etc that everything would be expensive, as far as hotels and restaurants were concerned; not so. Our three star hotel with a vast buffet breakfast included and use of pool on the roof was 64.00 a night; somewhat less than anything in a French city.
We spent a happy day wandering around shops and gawping at how many types of gin and whisky are produced in the world; photographing the odd mix of rather brutalist and 90s architecture, and sampling cream cakes, then to return, swim on the roof overlooking the city and surrounding mountains and eat in the old fashioned restaurant of the hotel.
Hotel Pyrenees dining room
Downtown Andorra la Vella
A few of the hundreds of different gins available
fish scale slate of the roofs
The next day we walked end to end of the city, discovered some interesting less salubrious areas and decided against spending a lot of money having 'treatments' in the mega-glitzy and already rather dated looking spa.
Having eaten chicken soup with pasta again (seems to be a staple) and with our brains crammed with images from jewellery/camera/perfume - filled windows we decided to leave and see the Andorrian (a word?) 'countryside'.
Mere words and photographic images cannot capture the majesty of this region's mountainous landscape, but here are a few attempts.
And, this is the hotel we stayed in - rather reminded me of a location that might have been chosen for David Lynche's Twin Peaks. And we had a jacuzzi bath which I put bath gel in absently-midedly and created a giant foam 'happening'.
Reluctantly we left Andorra after some serious walks in the mountains (Mark serious - me piddling about and looking at flowers, although I did walk/scramble up to the top of the hill featured in second pic) and drove back towards The Ariege, stopping briefly at a depressing ski station where we had lovely salad and encountered possibly the most friendly waitress - ever.
Ski station - without snow