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Phespirit goes to Andorra
Arinsal     June/July 2003

Since it would be impossible for a Boeing 737 to put down anywhere within the 465 square kilometres of Pyrenean mountains and valleys that form Andorra, Phespirit started his journey to the principality with a flight from London Gatwick to Barcelona, Spain. Next came a three hour bus ride into Arinsal, with a brief stop at the town of Oliana on the way, which got him to his destination just in time to catch the kick-off of the Copa del Rey final on Spanish television (Real Mallorca beating Recreativo de Huelva 3-0, with two great goals from Eto'o late on). The football was a bonus; thereafter Phespirit divided his time between:

  1. walking the mountain trails around Arinsal;
  2. visiting the towns and villages of western Andorra;
  3. breaking across the eastern border to the French Pyrenees.

Phespirit began his mountain walking with a hike to the twin peaks of Pic Alt de la Capa and Pic Negre which tower immediately to the west of Arinsal. Always one for the easy option, Phespirit used the local Telecabina to get from the centre of Arinsal (1450m) to the Comallemple (1950m), but thereafter it was a straight two hour slog up a grassy ski slope. A narrow, well-worn track leads from the top of the slope to Pic Alt de la Capa (2572m); an altogether trickier scramble is required to get up Pic Negre (2569m).

Needless to say the splendid views back down to Arinsal valley, and right across Andorra, and west into neighbouring Spain, made these exertions worthwhile. Yet it all pales in comparison with the exhaustion and exhilaration experienced in reaching the summit of Pic de Coma Pedrosa - at 2942m, the highest of all the nation's mountain peaks.

The little towns and tiny villages of Andorra are reputed to be permanently 'under construction' during the summer months. There are conflicts of conscience between modernisation and preservation. The Museu Casa Rull in Sispony resolves its conflict superbly; for centuries Casa Rull was a traditional family home and farmhouse but now the central building has been impeccably preserved and a purpose-built cinema constructed in an adjoining building, invisible from the exterior. Phespirit liked it because:

  1. when he visited it he had the entire complex to himself: no other visitors, no attendants;
  2. there are no intrusive marked walkways or 'hands off' signs, just room numbers by each door;
  3. the piped sounds of family life are disturbingly realistic - the baby's crying was borderline horrific.

Having now passed a few warm days around western and central Andorra, and having travelled along the eastern roads to and from France, it is doubtful whether Phespirit will be coming back in the foreseeable future. It was interesting to spend time in this quirky little outpost that ruggedly retains its independence sandwiched between two European superpowers; and reaching the summit of Pic de Coma Pedrosa will always remain one of Phespirit's most satisfying personal achievements.

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