Adventures in the Pyrenees: Guardiola, Andorra and more
It’s been a hot summer up here in Catalonia, but slowly things are cooling down.
In order to escape the heat for a few days, I recently went to have some adventures in the Pyrenees…
And in my effort to make this blog the #1 source for all things Northern Spanish – or perhaps I should say Catalan – I figured I’d write up a play by play, blow by blow report of my trip to the small town of Guardiola de Berguedà and the surrounding areas.
Strap in for the ride…
It’s gonna be hilly.
Small town lives in Guardiola de Berguedà
The town of Guardiola de Berguedà is small – just under a thousand people.
It’s technically the foothills of the Pyrenees: the larger mountains are on the other end of the highway tunnel outside town.
It has one main street – Passatge Comerç – and several bars. A little church on the square, a few restaurants, and a small monastery up on a hill.
In a word: quiet.
And much cooler than the sauna I left behind in Barcelona.
Outside the town, and outside many towns in the area, you can see a sign like this…
Welcome to the Catalan Republic. And please obey the speed limits while you’re here.
An audience with the Mayor
I know I’ve written a few things about Catalan independence before.
But now that I’m living up in Catalonia, I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised: the people are great. Very welcoming. No problem with foreigners.
The evening of our first day, we’re walking by what appears to be the most active of the town’s bars (there are about 6 people having beer inside) when my host Josep says, “Look, here’s the Mayor”.
He introduces me. We shake hands.
It’s the first time I’ve met a Mayor, and I’m a bit giddy. Should I call him “Your Excellency” or something?
Nah. He’s also named Josep.
My host Josep talks to Mayor Josep, and Mayor Josep ends up offering me a private tour of the monastery on the hill the next day.
I guess they don’t get a lot of tourism around here.
The next day we see the monastery, and then head off to Andorra.
Three countries in one morning: coffee in Spain, second coffee in France, lunch in Andorra la Vella.
Andorra is actually kind of surreal. On the highway over Pas de la Casa, we stop for gas. There in the middle of some really spectacular mountains, and dizzy with altitude, they’ve built a huge duty free shopping center and surrounded it with parking lots.
And here I was imagining some quaint little Switzerland of the Pyrenees.
Andorra la Vella is pretty much the same: awesome mountains surrounding, shitty shopping center in the middle.
The historic part is nice, but small…
And I’m sure Andorra would be great for cycling, hiking or skiing. Seeing it by car is probably not doing it justice.
Afterwards it’s back to Guardiola, where the town festival is starting soon.
Mucho movimiento: there are at least a dozen more people than the day before.
Down home cooking
The next day, after a walk in the mountains, we go to the finest restaurant in town. It’s out on the highway, in an old building that used to be the local grocery store.
The clouds have been rolling in, and as we get out of the car it starts raining. In about 4 seconds it’s become a massive downpour, and by the time we’re inside we’re soaked. Time to dry off with some paper towels in the bathroom.
We sit at a table and the chef brings a plate of his special extra-spicy chorizo. Extra spicy and with bourbon whisky barbecue sauce.
The chef is a toothless bald guy with a lot of tattoos.
Finding out I’m from the US, he asks, “Are you from the north, or the south?”
I assume he’s wondering about my tolerance for spicy food, so I say the south.
“Good” he says, and smiles his toothless smile. He rolls up his sleeve, proudly, to show me his confederate flag tattoo, then his other sleeve to show me the slogan “South rising soon” or some other Spanglish butchering of the slogan “The South will rise again”.
I have no idea how Spanish people get these ideas, or that they think the Confederacy stood for. Rebellion?
Or maybe it’s a Catalan thing. Independence. Throwing off the yoke of Federal government oppression.
Anyway, the chorizo was great. And so was the rest of the food.
So if you’re up in the area, stop at Restaurante El Collet, say hi to the Mayor, and enjoy the tranquility.
There are lots of walking trails in the area, which are well-marked. I didn’t get a chance to do many, but it seemed promising for a few days of hiking.
And in winter, I’m sure it’s spectacular under lots of snow. Just don’t get frostbite.
P.S. Got a favorite place to have adventures in the Pyrenees? I was in Vielha a couple of years ago, which was also nice. Check out my article here. (It has nothing to do with tourism, and everything to do with my tortured existence. But you might like it anyway.)