18 September 2010

A Trip to Andorra

When J's boys were with us over their Summer vacation, we took them to the tiny Principality of Andorra for a few days.  From Barcelona, it's an easy 2+ hour drive through beautiful countryside.

A neighbour of ours had recommended the Hotel Bella Coma as a good place to stay.  Remote and quiet, it was a good choice, but private transportation was definitely needed.  The hotel is run like a family operation.  We took the half-board option which gave us breakfast and dinner, and the food was really good - especially the dinner menu.

Hotel Bella Coma, picture-center, sits high above the parish of Sant Julià de Lòria on Mt. Rabassa.

We drove around the Andorran valley on a few occasions and I'll split the photos up into several posts. 

Andorra promotes itself as a year-round destination, and there's definitely plenty to do in Summer, as well as in Winter which is when the place becomes a major snowsports destination, with most skifields in the main valley skiable back down to the major accommodation on the valley floor.

We drove up side valleys, through a mix of quaint older towns and purpose-built ski villages.  The skifields were awesome areas, even without snow.

Ordino skifield.  In 2009, the Tour de France leg from Barcelona to Andorra finished at Vallnord which is the next ski area at the top of this torturous road. What a hell finish to a long ride.

Wherever possible, Andorran land is farmed where it isn't either built upon, forested, or used for other commercial purposes such as ski areas.  The main crop is tobacco which I'll dedicate to a separate post.  Breeding cattle is also popular, and we came across many herds of wandering cows in the skifield areas, as well as horses.

 Tobacco fields show as the dark green strip above the building, as well as the dark area to the end right of the cultivated area.

It's evident that a lot of terracing was undertaken to make level areas for farming on some of the steeper mountainsides.

The parish of Sant Julià de Lòria is the first township that is encountered once crossing over the border from Spain into Andorra.

Sant Julià de Lòria

At 908m, it's the lowest of the Andorran parishes; the majority of which are located on the main road which winds its way up through the narrow valley on the way to France.

It's magnificent countryside with mountains reaching up over 2,000m.

The rockfaces are extremely crumbly in some areas, and it's interesting to view the stratification layers and the colour variations.

Slate rock walls are very popular and pretty.

Waterfalls and streams are everywhere, and I will have a post dedicated entirely to some of the pretty ones that we encountered in our travels through the valleys.  There are lots more waiting for my return!

In Spring, Andorra is known for its displays of wildflowers. It must truly be a spectacular sight to see the mountainsides covered in colour.

With stone so readily available, most structures were built with some form of it.  This was a small building within the Vallnord skifield area.  

At the very top of Vallnord, we saw this little filly standing with her back to the rain and wind, looking half asleep.  We all thought of "My Little Pony" when we saw her!



Pandabonium said...

Beautiful country, well captured through your lens. The winding road of "Ordino skifield" reminds me of the highway up Haleakala on Maui. The stone structure looks to be perfectly camouflaged. I love watching and listening to water - whether the ocean or a stream - but I always have trouble finding the shutter speed to express the flow "just so". Nice.

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

What a spectacular country and superb photos. Is that a winding road? Gosh, the UCI race in Geelong is very tame then - bikes mainly going on flat roads.
We live in an amazing world indeed. Thanks for sharing.

nzm said...

PandaB: yes, running water is always a trick, with these ones, I was lucky to get down to slow shutter speeds, but also some of them are an HDR blend of 3 images, so the water blurs really well!

Wendy: Yes, winding road - and very steep! Our little rental car was huffing and puffing! This is a relatively low ride for the Tour de France riders. Some of their rides go for many thousands of meters over the Grand Pyrenees. Rather them than me!