Driving from Carcassonne to Andorra ultimately took four hours. We started in the evening and watched as the sun set during the long drive. Eventually the flat plains of southern France disappeared as we climbed up the Pyrenees, the mountain range separating France and Spain. As we drove through the mountain range, the winds got windier through the switchbacks. We were lucky that there was still light out as we did the drive – we encountered a crashed car in the trees at one of the hairpins. Surprisingly, there were hitchhikers trying to get a ride in the middle of nowhere in the mountains.
Andorra is the 6th smallest country in Europe and its capital is Andorra la Vella, the European capital with the highest elevation. It’s a principality like Monaco, except that it’s headed by two co-princes: the bishop of Urgell, Catalonia, and the president of France. Even though it’s not part of the EU, it still maintains open borders (there’s no way to get there except by land) – so no extra passport stamp for us.
Its official language is Catalan. In fact, Catalan originated here and spread outward to Barcelona, the place more commonly known to speak Catalan. Initially, we thought Andorra was a Spanish-speaking country until we saw welcome signs at the border saying “benvinguts”. I don’t know Spanish, but I at least knew their word for it was “bienvenidos”, so I deduced that Andorra would be Catalan-speaking. There are other words like “obert” means “open”, and “xocolat” means “chocolate”. Even though Catalan is the official language, Spanish, French, and Portuguese is also prevalent. Luckily, I knew a tiny bit of Spanish, so getting around there wasn’t a huge struggle. I didn’t really know much about Andorra before going there – I figured I’d just be going to a new country.
The lady at the tourist info center was really nice and gave us free postcards. She also noted that Andorra doesn’t have its own postal service. The let the Spanish and French postal services set up shop there so people can send letters “locally” to these respecive countries. She also taught us how to say “thank you” in Catalan – “gracie-es”, as opposed to the Spanish “gracie-as”.
Afterward, we took a short break at a local chocolate shop and had some drinking chocolate. It was like being Aztec royalty. But it was very very rich – to the point it was difficult finishing the entire cup.
Because of all the mountains, there are a lot of hikes and viewpoints in the area. Even the city itself had a short 20 minute hike to get a view of the city. The city itself is very quiet, and hotels are everywhere – all there to handle thewinter skiiing/snowboarding traffic. Traffic must be bad in the winter – most of the roads in the country were single lane per direction.
We visited the viewpoint of Mirador Roc del Quer to see mountains in the day. Interestingly, even in the summer, there are no snowcaps on the mountain tops.
After visiting Andorra, we headed to Toulouse where we’d spend our last night before we returned home. We had only momentarily escaped the heat and humidity of southern France – it came roaring back when we reached Toulouse. We spent the night walking around town to see sights like the Pont Neuf (“new bridge”), which lights up at night. There’s also the beautiful and ornate city hall, which also lights up at night.
Dinner service was very slow – maybe it was just from the place we ate at, but it also fit the stereotypes we knew of southern French culture. We thought we could eat quickly and spend the rest of the time walking around, but we spent a good portion of time waiting for our food. We did get to try the Touloussian style cassoulet, but felt the one from Carcassonne to be better. The one from Carcassone had a richer duck flavour. We also got to try a chicken medallion with mushroom stuffing inside, which was really good. I still found the majority of the bread served in restaurants that we tried to be quite underwhelming – I could do better.
We had a great time here and am grateful that we got to explore more new places! It was great to get a broad view of the south of France but it was a shame we couldn’t stay longer.