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Exploring Andorra

Exploring Andorra

A week in Andorra is insufficient to do anything more than scratch the surface of its recreational possibilities. I came in July with Expresso, my son; Attenderella, his wife; my two grandsons; and a friend of theirs.

Each day, we rose early and went to bed around midnight, determined to pack as much as we could into 16 hours. Still, we left having sampled only a few of the activities.

I’m not sure I’d even heard of Andorra before. The country (actually a sovereign principality) is one of the smallest in Europe. Located in the eastern Pyrenees, it is bordered by France on one side and Spain on the other.

Andorra has less than 100,000 residents, yet it hosts 10 million tourists a year. Duty-free shopping is, by far, the biggest tourist attraction. But sports, especially winter sports such as ice-skating, skiing, and dog-sledding, are also popular.

We arrived via France, driving through spectacular Pyrenees mountains and valleys. The scenery is so incredible that Andorra’s main valley was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004. Having lived near Lake Tahoe and California’s Sierra Nevada, I am familiar with mountainous terrain, but the Pyrenees dwarfed anything I’d ever seen!

On the road to Andorra in the Pyrenees Mountains

Andorra is an urban country. Most people live in cities, and half are immigrants from Portugal, Spain, and France who enjoy low taxes. Although Catalan is the official language, one can hear French, English, and Spanish on the street and in shops.

Speaking of shops, except in Hong Kong, I’d never seen so many retail stores with bargain goods. I can see why people come from all over Europe to shop. After two days of bargain hunting, Attenderella and I had barely made a dent Exploring Andorra.

While Expresso and the kids were mountain biking, Attenderella and I visited the Caldea Spa. We treated ourselves to a full day that included the use of swimming pools (too many to count), lunch, and a massage. We also spent time in a steam sauna, a dry sauna, and an outdoor hot tub. Despite our best efforts, we explored only 3 to 4 floors of the 18-floor spa. And we certainly didn’t have time to try all the pools.


One of many pools at the Caldea Spa

Toward the end of the week, my family wondered if I would be brave enough to join them on the Tobotronc, the longest toboggan mountain ride in Europe. When I said yes, I was picturing the winding steam train in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a lovely ride through the redwoods that I’d enjoyed with a friend. Maybe the toboggan would travel faster, but the scenery in the beautiful La Rabassa forest would be impressive Exploring Andorra.

We stood in line for about 30 minutes until our turn came to get into our two-person sled. During that time, I noticed there was no one my age in line. That was a clue. But by then, my ticket had been purchased—I couldn’t back out.

Because there were six of us, we took three sleds. Expresso and the three boys took the first two, while Attenderella and I took the last one. I climbed in the front, and Attenderella was packed in tightly behind me. When the attendant fastened our seat belts, I said a quick prayer to the toboggan gods. How bad could it be?

Our sled moved jerkily up the side of the mountain for what seemed to be an ominously long time. (Later, I learned that at 3.3 miles, the Tobotronc is the longest toboggan ride in Europe and drops 1,400 feet in ten minutes.)

As we climbed, we saw nearby riders headed down the mountain and were forced to listen to their screams as they did loops and curlicues or took corners so sharp I couldn’t understand how the toboggans stayed on their tracks.

By the time we reached the top, I began to realize the pickle I was in. To say I was terrified would be an understatement Exploring Andorra.

Moreover, it turned out to be a bad idea to sit in the front because I could see what was coming. So, like the other riders, I screamed my way down the mountain, too petrified to take in any scenery.

Sometimes, I gave an anticipatory cry to give Attenderella notice of what was ahead. Mostly through, I simply screamed. There was nothing to be done but hold on and yell. Our fate was sealed.

After exiting the toboggan at the end of the ride, I headed to the ticket counter to get a digital copy of the picture taken of our sled. I wanted proof of my courage.

On our last night in Andorra, we feasted at a restaurant recommended by some Irish friends we’d made during the week. The rack of lamb I ordered—beautifully presented— could have fed a family of four. I shared as much as I could with my companions and still had some to take home Exploring Andorra.

We headed back to Montpellier in a tired but happy state. Expresso and the boys had suffered injuries while mountain biking but were too stoic to complain much. They’d shared a remarkable adventure.

Attenderella and I, on the other hand, had the treasures we’d found shopping—purses and shoes—that besides being useful would make wonderful souvenirs.

And best of all, to avoid postvacation blues, we started planning our next vacation.