|Subject: Re: Andorra (Long)|
Well, Don and Linda, since you asked. Andorra is a principality located in the Pyrenees between France and Spain. Its principal city is Andorra La Vella which is often avoided by tourists because it seems to be one long, crowded strip mall. However, away from the maddening crowd of shoppers there are at least six ski areas for winter enthusiasts and wonderful hiking trails for the summer crowd. We have been there in all but the summer season.
For shoppers, prices can be good. For example, Mephisto shoes (which I swear by for walking) are a third of their price in the U.S. Electronics are no longer a good deal with better prices to be found in the U.S. Jan loves Burberry stuff and she finds it there at very good discounts. For all but Rolex, watch prices seem good. For reasons unknownst to me, the Spainards buy tons of sugar in Andorra. I guess the price in Spain is probably high. Ski equipment is heavily discounted. For example, my friend, Craig, bought ski boots in Aspen the year before last for $700 (I know; its Aspen). We found the same boot in Andorra for 250 Euros (at that time about $225).
For skiers who believe that the only true skiing is in Telluride, the back bowls of Vail or at Whistler, then Andorra will most likely not meet your expectations. The skiing tends to be more laid back, not really starting until the sun comes up between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. and by noon or 1 p.m. the meals and wine come out. The French usually do not come to Andorra (harrumphhh!), but the Spaniards do and on a winter weekend you will often find yourself skiing around beginner skiers from Barcelona. But during the week, there are no lines at the lifts and the slopes are yours. One particular cold morning, we stopped for a hot chocolate. My eyes lit up when I discovered that the bartender put some chocolate in the cognac in my cup. Still you will not go broke buying lift tickets which tend to be between $17 and $22 USD. Cross-country lovers have at least one formal x-country area.
Lodging is not a problem for us, but from time to time we have looked at condos for rent. Last year you could get a four bedroom condo for a week for about $800 to $1,500 per week. We rent our place out to an accountant in England who pays us about $3000 for a two week stay. That is the only rental we allow and that income covers our condo expenses for the year.
Dining is mostly a bargain. Six to eight for dinner including tip and copious amounts of wine for the most part will be around $120 to $135. However, you can find more expensive restaurants such as the one at the Caldea.
And speaking of the Caldea, go to www.caldea.com for a visit. The first time we drove into Andorra La Vella I spied this soaring glass peak of a building not dissimilar to the Crystal Cathedral, a Sunday morning television religious show. I remarked that it was a rather modern looking church and was corrected by our English hosts who told me that it was a spa. And what a spa it is! There is no swimming but you move in neck to chest deep water amongst several pools, some of varying temperatures. At certain times, seemingly every 20 minutes a water show erupts to classical music spraying everyone in the main pool (Carmina Burana the last time I was there). The building houses saunas of varying temperatures from sissy to parboil, steam rooms, ice rooms, workout rooms, beauty parlors and restaurants. It costs about $25 for three hours to visit, but I think it is well worth a visit. On weekends it is packed and reservations are strongly recommended. I would call a day or two ahead.
As for getting there, there are no trains that reach Andorra. I understand that there is bus service from Barcelona. We get there by two routes: in the summer we usually fly into Carcassonne and drive up from the French side; in the winter we usually fly into Barcelona and drive from there. Either way, it is about a three hour drive depending on how aggressive you drive. The reason we did not use the French side in the winter is that the road could often be snow covered and treacherous. Last June, Jan encountered six inches of snow while driving up the French side. A day later the temperature shot to 80 deg. F. However, now there is a tunnel which you can take from the French side to the Spanish side and avoid the snowy route in the winter. Driving is fun (that is if you like twisty narrow roads on which the driver behind you tailgates for no apparent reason). Small cars are recommended. Nearly everyone I know there with a large car such as a Jeep Grand Cherokee or Range Rover has had the sides scraped at one time or another.
If you like to drive and view the scenery, then the road from Andorra to Perpignan is a spectacular drive in the summer and spring. The scenery is breath taking. We lost the brakes on that road a few years ago; the road is steep and they were working hard in an old Ford Conversion Van we were using and the fluid boiled. We had to stop a few times to allow the brake fluid to cool back to its fluid state. The stops were well worth it.
Last, but not least, the populace is very friendly. The official language is Catalan, but nearly everyone speaks both Spanish and French. Andorra is laced with British ex-pats, so a lot of English is spoken also. I encountered a young boy on the ski trail one morning. He was rapidly rattling away in Spanish (a talent I wish I had) and then stopped to speak to me. He started in Spanish, but when I answered him he shifted into flawless English without a hint of influence from any other language. They teach English in school also and I dare say that his may have been better than mine.