Monday, September 19, 2011

We Adore... Andorra

Nestled in the Pyrenees between Spain and France lies the Principality of Andorra.  It is the smallest of the European Union (about 1/5 the size of Rhode Island) and only about 1/3 of it's 83,000 citizens are actually from Andorra, but that doesn't mean much when it comes to what it has to offer... great shopping (much of it tax free), lots of outdoor sports, fabulous weather and pristine views of mountains and valleys as far as the eye can see.  The time we spent in Andorra this weekend was in Soldeu, in the northeast corner of this tiny country and I think that the entire town could be seen in under 5 minutes!  Yes, it was that tiny but soooo worth a trip for our anniversary!

We started off our trip on Saturday morning, a little later than planned and then we were only delayed once again by accidentally not staying to the right when the GPS told us to and got on the wrong highway!  20 minutes later we were on our way to Andorra, less than a 3 hour journey by car.  During the 3 hours we actually were in 3 countries which I also thought was pretty cool - Spain, France and of course, Andorra.  Interestingly enough, it was only when entering Andorra, once again need I remind you, the tiniest country in the EU, that we saw anyone from customs. 

Amusing sign - usually I don't see them look so comic-like...

By now we had been driving thru the Pyrenees for quite a while and while these mountains make many in NH seem rather small, it was still very reminiscent of home, without the fall foliage.  The drive was stunning.  And in between many of the mountains were small villages that had houses that appeared to be hundreds of years old with slate tile roofs, the slate never the same size twice which only added to not only it's authenticity in my mind, but the simplicity of life here - you take what you can get. 
The view from the gas station on our way to Andorra - yes the gas station, lucky them!

A little after one, after driving along many switchbacks to inch our way up the mountain, we arrived at the Sport Hotel Hermitage in the town of Soldeu.  Soldeu was about as big as my apartment and I think the Sport Hotel group owns pretty much all of it.  They certainly have a monopoly for sure!  This is an area that focuses on outdoor sports - skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking - if it's outdoors, they probably have it.  The hotel is more than happy to organize any excurisions you like, though for this particular trip, Josh and I only have relaxation in mind!

The hotel itself was gorgeous.  It had the typical feel of a lodge to it with wood beams, views of the river below and the smell of the spa throughout the entire hotel which made you relax just by inhaling the calming scent.  The only thing Josh and I noticed was that it seemed to lack fireplaces given that it's peak season is in the winter ski season.  We only saw one... but ah well, tons of comfy chairs to sit in, a nice bar and stunning views! 

View of the entrance to the Sport Hotel Hermitage

The hotel goes down a few blocks on the left side, it's huge!

And the view in the other direction, not so bad!

 Part of the lobby

Another view of the lobby

Nice place for lunch!

Our room was luxurious, all browns and warm tones.  With bathrobes perched on the bed, normally they would go unnoticed, but these were warm, fuzzy and brown which just only added to the luxury as far as we were concerned.  We had a balcony with two chairs and a small table in which to take in the view.  After a quick lunch by the picture window overlooking the mountain, we decided to head to the spa before our first treatments.  After all, the spa was 4 floors and needed to be seen!!

My super cozy brown bathrobe!

Our balcony

View from our room - I bet in the winter when it's covered in snow it looks even more amazing!

View to the right of our room

View to the left of our room

You can't really see it but there was a small river running between the trees below us - we kept the door open all night and it was so nice to hear nature at night instead of cars!

The spa, the Sport Wellness Center,, also took great advantage of the view with all of the main facitilies overlooking the mountains in front of us.  The first main floor had 4 large hot tubs (I'd say big enough for 15 people at least!) though thankfully because we were off season there were very few people and Josh and I got to soak by ourselves.  We had a good laugh because all 4 hot tubs were lined up next to each other and our bubbles stopped about 2 minutes into our relaxation.  Josh tried pushing the buttons but to no avail.  There were still some jets but no bubbles... hmmm... about 10 minutes goes by and we see the tub next to us stop bubbling when all of a sudden our jets come back on full force, enough so to splash us in the face.  Turns out the system alternates every other tub with the jets so that they aren't constantly on.  Makes sense and gave us a good laugh or two! 

View of the spa from the top floor - you can see all the way down 4 stories to the bottom pool!

From there we went down to the pool, and oh my, I've never seen a pool so luxurious in my life!!  First off when most places say they have a heated pool, it's not really all that warm.  Perhaps tepid if you are lucky... just not as cold as it would be if you were outside in the dead of winter.  This pool was not only heated, but so warm it was almost too hot!!  Within the pool which took up the entire floor and was broken up into sections, there were several areas that had tiled beds built into the side that had jets - so you could lay into the bed while being in the pool and get a massage.  There were waterfalls that felt very cool as they splashed onto your head and then there were ones that were more like super powerful showerheads, though they were a little too powerful and kind of made my neck hurt a bit.  Then you had the option to swim outside via a small curtain that cut off the inside from the cold outside. 

After our swim we dried off and got ready for our first treatments.  As a part of our anniversary weekend away I had arranged for a couples spa package which included a massage (hot and COLD stone), a facial and a scrub that included a milk bath and massage.  The first day we had the massage and facial and it was Josh's first facial... I think he may be hooked as he's been obsessed with his skin ever since and asking me how often he should do this! 

Sadly the massage finally came to an end and it was time to leave the spa to get ready for dinner in the hotel.  Much to our surprise we came back to our room to see a bottle of cava chilling for us!  We weren't aware that it came with our room, but hey, when in Rome (or in this case Andorra), do as the Romans do and drink up!  So we toasted to a wonderful, relaxing weekend and got ready for dinner.

A nice surprise!!!

Sadly dinner was a bit of a disappointment.  The Hermitage is supposed to be a 5 star hotel and so we expected the same of their restaurant.  Not only was the food subpar but so was the service.  The waitstaff seemed hurried and were not knowledgeable of the food or wine when we asked questions and for recommendations.  Now I don't expect my waiter to be knowledgeable when I go to Bertucci's but I do when I dine at somewhere that's supposed to be considered upscale!  The final insult was the desert that was supposed to be an Austrian Black Chocolate Tart... yum... but yet it wasn't.  It was like a very dry brownie with some whipped cream stuck between slices.  We finally had to ask for that one to be taken off the bill and left the restaurant most definitely disappointed but at least we still had another morning of spa to look forward to!!

Sunday morning we awoke to some rain and chilly temps.  You could see the fog rising to the right and left of us and there was a chill in the air that hadn't been there the day before.  

Fog rising

"Better??" view of the river below us...

We had our final spa treatment mid morning and it was a great way to end a relaxing weekend.  A scrub with spices like cinnamon and then a milk bath followed with a massage.  Ahhhh, spa!!!  But alas all good things must come to an end and so we packed it up after the spa and asked for a lunch recommendation in the area.  She suggested going in to Soldeu further, about 1km away from where we were.  We drove into "town" if you could call it that - it was literally one street though a beautiful street by far!  And since it was still off season and Sunday much was still closed.  We found the restaurant and had a great pizza and French onion soup for lunch... yum!

Then it was time for the long drive home.  At least it was scenic!!  The fog was slowly rising and after going thru a short tunnel suddenly we could barely see in front of us.  This isn't fun when you are driving on a straight a way, imagine it on roads that took sudden 90 degree turns.  Yeah, stressful... at least for me.  This was Josh in his element and he kept commenting about how he'd love to drive these roads in a Porsche.  Note to self, if Josh decides to go up here to go skiing, I need to arrange for the rental car and make sure it's a Ford!!

Driving thru town

Some more of our hotel

All the hotels are perched on the side of the cliff looking into the valley

Cool slate roof on this barn - we saw a lot of this style driving thru France (not so much in Spain)

More of town

And of our hotel

Once we got to the base of the mountain we were no longer engulfed in the fog but it was amazing to look up so high and see where it was so dense that you couldn't see the mountain and know that we were just up there!  We managed to get home just before 5PM.  Our 2 days away felt like 5 UNTIL we walked in the door and were bombarded with whiny children.  Ahhh well, only 2 weeks left until our next trip!! 


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