Driving into Andorra late Friday evening reminded me of the first time I drove to Las Vegas. Granted, the long dark single road into Andorra is far more windy, but the suspense of arriving at a far away and strange place equaled.
Once we crossed the border (not quite knowing whether a smile, wave or poker face would avoid us getting pulled over) we entered Andorra la Vella. It was quite a shock at first, all lit up with advertisements everywhere. The main road through the valley is like a race course with several lanes and signals hung above each lane. People drive fast and don’t bother waiting for green to go.
When the sun rose the next day our jaws hit the floor. That dark valley road is actually surrounded by beautiful snow capped mountains shooting up almost vertically from each side. All around roads zig-zag up through the towns and into the sky. It’s just like the first time I went to Alton Towers or Port Aventura. I saw massive rides that both excited and scared me, knowing that it’s going to be a hell of a lot of fun and also some suffering!
Our objective for the weekend was simple, recce La Purito challenge, get to know Andorra and find our way around. We are running a challenge trip there in August, more details here.
Oh and it was also a romantic weekend away for Louise and I, which was of course more important (I love you darling).
We grabbed our bikes like excited kids and headed for breakfast. The first thing we noticed is that wonderful Spanish prices have been adopted in Andorra too. €1.40 for a coffee, €1.25 for a croissant. We were ready to ride.
Admittedly we were not that impressed to start with. We had to take the main road back down from La Massana, the place of our lodging, to Andorra la Vella. It was quite busy and not like the two abreast casual riding in Girona.
Then suddenly the Garmin said turn left and there it was. An 18% ramp into a 12 km climb into the sky; La Peguera. The contrast could not have been more extreme. From a busy, flat main road to a steep, car-less ascent into the sky. Louise took one look at me and said “see you at the top”. I was hungry for this climb and as I always have done, went off too hard!
Wow, wow and wow! The views on the way up just got better and better, the town a distant dot in my wing mirror. When it’s a battle to pedal hard and not stare at the view, I know I’m in a special place.
But this was a casual recce so we took a coffee break after that (Louise had a beer!) stopping at a restaurant nestled nicely into the bottom of the climb with a beautiful view of the valley. The restaurant, San Telmo, is Argentinian. The “asador” or chef is Argentinian and his friendly wife Swiss. We liked it so much we returned in the evening for a romantic meal and ate like kings and queens. It literally was a meat feast, the best Malbec wine I have tasted and friendly service, for unbelievable value.
Andorra is like a hot pot of nationalities. We heard more languages spoken over the 2 days than we do in months in Girona! It’s not officially Catalunya, but many advertisements are in Catalan. It’s not officially Spanish, but everybody understands it. Then there are Swiss, German, French, Russian…. It’s hard to work out the identity of the place. I’m not sure we’d live there but its a very interesting place to visit.
The next climb, Col de la Gallina, was really hard. I was screaming for a compact, at least semi-compact already half way up! But I bloody loved it. I love a climb that forces me to get out the saddle just to get up it. The view at the top is out of this world and I enjoyed a humble moment.
Over the 2 days we rode up each of the 5 climbs in La Purito. Yes, it took us 2 days to do what thousands do in one. It is a hell of a challenge. We now feel well informed to get a bunch of you through this challenge (get your compacts out and get your climbing practice in!)
I never forget the first time I visit a new place, climb a new climb. Those 5 climbs in Andorra hold a special place in my heart and I know its a place Eat Sleep Cycle will be visiting more regularly.