Guidebook pages 55 to 59 Puigcerdà to AndorraThis section includes:
- the town of PUIGCERDÁ
- THE SIERRA DEL CADÍ
- LA SEU D'URGELL
The first big town after the long descent from the Collada de Toses (Toses mountain pass) is Puidcerdà, set in the fertile valley of the River Segre. A frontier town surrounded by fields of grazing horses and cattle, as you approach, the town presents a wall of houses seemingly built across the path of the road. It is a odd looking place as Puigcerdá was heavily bombed during the Civil War and has been rebuilt with Alpine-style houses painted in Mediterranean pastel colors. While not particular attractive, Puigcerdà is, for those who vacation here or live in nearby isolate villages, a transportation hub (trains to Barcelona twice daily) and the nearest thing to a big town. Around the bombed out ruins of the old cathedral are a couple of enormous squares jammed with parked cars and lively terraced cafés. Two pedestian walks lead down to another square, also packed with bars. In winter there are a number skating rinks and discotheques that pack in the aprés-ski crowd from nearby resorts like Masella and La Molina. During the summer, the town provides a good starting point for hikers headed for the nearby mountains. The tourist office is just off Plaça Mayor and around the corner from the beginning of Carrer Alfons I, at Carrer Querol 1.
The Festa de l'Estany, usually held the penultimate Sunday of August, begins with a parade of floats, a concert, and some folkloric activities, and culminates at night with a firework display over the lake. A few weeks later, on September 8, the town once more comes alive with festivities surrounding the Festivitat de la Verge de la Sagristia, when the townspeople dance sardanes in the square. In summer months, sardanes are also held every Thursday at 10pm in one of the town squares.
Market on Sundays. The local chocolate shop Cosp on Major 20 is worth the visit. Francesc Palau, on Major 1, has ski-gear for sale and rent. The Hotel Maria Victoria, Querol 7 (972 88 03 00), has panoramic views of the valley and very reliable cuisine. Casa Clemente on Dr. Piguillem 6 and Malhivern next door at number 8 are two local favorites.
There is a horsback riding club, Hípica Sant Mark, (972 14 14 40), offering riding classes, excursions, and horse and buggy rides. Turn right 1.5 km south of Puigcerdà off the main road (N-152) heading back into the mountains from whence you came. There are several more riding clubs further west down the N-260 near Bellver.
Puigcerdà's Reial Club de Golf de Cerdanya (14 14 08 / 88 09 50) has a magnificent 18-hole course, opened in 1929, site of many international championships. Situated in the fertile Cerdanya plain, set in oak and poplar forests and encircled by spectacular mountain peaks, Puigcerdà offers ideal conditions for summer golf, with a dry, sunny climate. Greens fees, rental of clubs and carts, practice area, paddle tennis and squash courts, swimming pool. Bar and restaurant. Open all year.
The nearby ski resort at La Molina also offers all kinds of adventure activities during the summer months, including delta, hang-gliding, ballooning, horseback riding, hidrospeed, and downhill mountainbiking (after taking chairlift up a 2000 meter-run). Call me for details. I've been told the best skiing, at least on the Spanish side of the border, is best at Masella.
Where to ski nearby...
La Molina (2537m altitude) has 29 trails, 7 chairlifts and 11 T-bars. Info: 972 89 21 64
Masella (2530m) 88 trails, 4 chairlifts and 7 T-bars. Info: 972 89 00 53
Vall de Núria (2268m) 9 trails, 4 lifts. Info: 972 73 07 13
Lles (1700m) for cross-country skiing, 35 km course, skating. Info: 973 35 35 11
Arànser (1700m) for cross-country skiing, 39 km course. Info: 973 35 15 11
Walter2000 (2000m) 12 trails, 7 lifts. Info: 972 74 03 53
Sant Joan de l'Erm (2000m) cross-country, 63 km course, 20m ski-jump, skating. Info: 973 35 15 11
... and many more ski resorts in neighboring Province of Lerida and in Andorra and France.
Six km over the frontier along a neutral stretch of road is a twelve-square-kilometer enclave of Spain in France, called Llívia. This town remained Spanish because, when the Roselló (Rousillon) was turned over to France in 1659, mention was made of its thirty-three villages, but not of its only town, Llívia. It possesses some picturesque old streets, a fortified church with a thirteenth-century defense tower, and the small Museu Municipal de Llívia across the street. The Farmàcia Antiga, which opened its doors in 1416 and closed in 1926, preserves a fascinating collection of apothecarian equipment and a complete nineteenth-century pharmacy.
Restaurant Can Ventura (972 89 61 78) on Plaça Major 2 is set in an elegant eighteenth-century building. Artichokes stuffed with seafood, trout with almonds, pastel of anglerfish and shrimp, steak and slate (you do the meat as you like on red-hot slate), stewed calf hock, magret of duck with port wine, etc. La Ginesta (972 89 62 87) on the Avinguda de Catalunya is a popular place with good prices, including a menu for under 2000 pts. On the same Avenue of Catalunya at nº 24 is El Bon Gust, a carry -out traiteur specializing in roasts.
Heading west out of Cerdanya on the N-260, you'll come across the town of Bolvir, site of another hotel/restaurant of the French chain Relais et Châteaux. Torre del Remei (972 14 01 82) on the town's Camí Reial, is said to offer the very best of innovative Pyrenean cuisine in a luxurious setting. If you are not interested in splashing out so lavishly for a meal, or just prefer good old fashioned Catalan soul-food, head for Ger, the next town after Bolvir and look for El Rebost, a popular favorite for a wide selection of local sausages, game stews and duck with pears.
Snaking west along the Segre river, hemmed in by the Sierra de Cadi to the south and the Pyrenees to the north, a lovely stretch of well-paved road descends through the farmlands of the Cerdanya valley, a green landscape punctuated by groves of tall Lombardy poplars and huddled slate-roofed farmsteads. Note: once you have passed the signs for the Tunel del Cadí, you have passed into the province of Lleida (Lerida in Castillian) where all phone numbers have a 973 prefix. To the right a little side road leads to the tiny town of Meranges, which includes an ascent to Estany de Malniu, just below the glaciers where Andorra, France, and Spain meet. Twenty km down the Segre river, Romanesque Bellver de Cerdanya, a town on the northern edge of the Parc Natural de Cadí-Moixeró, has an attractive hilltop old town and an excellent tourist office which can advise on walks through the park or arrange for the hire of Jeeps or Land Rovers. Bellver is also home to some good restaurants, my favorite being a small and not very attractive bar/restaurant called Sant Josep on Sant Antoni, 33 (973 51 04 29). This unassuming little place has midday menus with game dishes in season for 1,400, all included. Down on the N-260 just across from the bridge is the Hotel Bellavista, with a large dining room, often filled with old-age pensioners on a weekend outing, and fairly good meals for 1,800 pesetas. Bellver's most expensive restaurant is el Picor Negre for nouvelle cuisine, although I would recommend the very attractrive Hostal Bianya for quality cuisine at 2,100 ptas the menu.
Further along the N-260 at Martinet, a by-road with marvelous views leads 18 km up to Lles, and Arànsa, the latter with a beautiful road up to the 5 kilometers below the Lagos de la Pera, a faviorite destination for hikers and a veritable paradise for trout fishers. The road gets bad after the restaurant el Fornells, and unless you have a 4x4, you are advised to make the 5 km hike up to the lake. I've never done it, but I've seen photos and I've been told that the natural amphiteater around the lake offers some of the best scenery in the Pyrenees. In fact any turn north or south off the Segre river will lead you to lovely villages, like Toloriu or Arsèguel in the Cadí and Bescaran in the Andorra side of the valley. If you press on the N-260, I've been recommended the restaurant at the Hostal Dolçet in Alas, just across the Segre before reaching La Seu d'Urgell.
Just to the south of Andorra, La Seu d´Urgell is one of the most historically important towns in the Catalan Pyrenees. Since 1278 the Bishops of Urgell have been joint-rulers of Andorra, first with the Counts of Foix and now with the President of France, and are the only remaining prelates with temporal authority. Their Cathedral of Santa Maria was built in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, replacing the original eight-century church, and displays a marked Lombard influence. The perfectly symmetrical façade, with its geometric moldings, culminates in a lovely campanile. The inside is dark and rather forbidding, but with its lofty nave and its three aisles, a large transept with five apses, and the beautiful Chapel of Sant Miquel, it is most impressive. Best of all (and one of Catalunya´s most under-rated sights) is the diocesan museum (10-13,16-19h, 300ptas.), just off the cloisters, a modern and thoughtfully displayed collection of ancient religious art, including a number of statues of the Madonna and Child, and 26 mural paintings, 19 of which are from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
The museum's greatest treasure is undoubtedly the tenth-century Beatus, a Visigoth illustrated manuscript on the Apocalypse. The Beato de Liébana codex is named after an eighth-century abbot of the monastery of San Martín in Liébana (in Cantabria) who originated the practice of copying texts in this way. We are lucky to be able to see this masterpiece. In September 1996, a French art-lover masterminded a plan to steal the codex, and the manuscript was missing for four months. National police caught up with Monsieur Ollier, now in jail, and recovered the Beatus, albeit with page 15 lost to an unidentified buyer. The museum also boasts the earliest known map of the Pyrenees.
La Seu town, a lively commercial and agricultural center, has its share of narrow cobbled streets and arcaded shopfronts. Among the old houses is one which belonged to the last of the anti-Popes, Pedro de Luna. La Seu was also site of 1992 Olympic kayaking contests, and you can try your luck with the rapids after renting gear at the Kayak center at the Parc del Segre. La Seu celebrates its Festa Major on the last Friday of August with sardanes, parades, and lots of good food.
Speaking of food, the area around La Seu is famous for cheeses, and you can pick up the local cheeses, sausages and pâtés at the Tuesday and Saturday market. If not, the best artisan sausages are to be had at Casa Quera, Major 29, and at Isern on Jueus 16. Cheeses at Cadí on Sant Ermengol 37, and at Casa Eugeni on Major 58. Next to Santa Maria there is a comfortable but not very elegant Parador with restaurant built into the shell of the fourteenth-century church of Sant Domingo, the old cloister has been turned into a replica of an airport lounge. Mesón Teo on Av. Pau Claris 38 (973 35 10 29) is one of the finer restaurants in town and specializes in roasts and bacalao a la Catalana. A few kilometers beyond La Seu on the N-260 is Castellcuitat, and the turn off for the Hotel El Castel (973 35 07 04). This is a fort that has been transformed into a luxury hotel complex, with American style ground floor suites piled up in front of swimming pools which in turn are piled up in front of parking lots. The restaurant is supposed to be very good - it is yet another Relais & Châteaux!... the McDonalds of haute-cuisine?
Nature buffs will have a field day around La Seu. During the winter, cross-country skiers zip across the area around Sant Joan de l'Erm, 18 km to the NW on the road to Sort, and during the summer kayakers hurtle down the Riu Valira, where there's a yearly international canoeing and kayaking festival in the first week of June. Hikers can roam the nearby gentle peaks, scouting for delicious wild mushrooms, a gourmet's delight. Check with the excellent new tourist office in La Seu - just follow the signs marked "i" - for info on hikes (they gave me 20 brochures with detailed maps of on hundredds of hikes), excursions, and organized activities.
The Aravell Golf Andorra course (973 36 00 66) lies six kilometers out of town, and commands magnificent views of the Cadí mountain range. The 18-hole course was designed by José María Olazábal. Practice areas accomodate thirty players. Bar and restaurant. Hire of clubs, electric buggies and caddie carts. Open year-round except on Mondays.
Andorra is where French and Spaniards go to ski in winter and do duty-free shopping year-round. The main town, Andorra la Vella, has a long and ugly main street packed with little shops, many of them run by English-speaking Asians from the subcontinent. Should you decide to buy anything - let's say a camera, for instance - be sure to open the box in the store, in front of the clerk, and check that all contents listed are there. All too often I've discovered that items purchased in Andorra lack important elements, such as the world-wide warranty or some accessory listed on the box as part of the contents. If something is missing but you're still interested in the purchase, you can bargain for a better price or insist on missing items being replaced. Quite frankly, unless you're going skiing or really need to go shopping, Andorra has very little, aside from some fine mountain scenery, some Romanesque monuments, and a few spas, to recommend it. Worst of all, if the Spanish boarder police feel like working, they inspect almost every car for contraband, so the back-up at the border can be horrendous. Border guards now ramdomly inspect every third or fourth car.