Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sold on Soldeu: Gondolas, Spas, Dining and Day Off the Hiking Trail

This is how you "get high" in Soldeu
 Today, there was a rest day from hiking. And frankly, we needed it. While I won't say we did not prepare for this trip, I can state we didn't prepare enough. If anyone is considering hiking Andorra, I highly recommend at least a weekly trip to Mt LeConte, House Mountain, Gregory Bald, Rich Mountain, and/or Chimney Tops, if you live in Tennesee. Folks from the west coast have more options to practice. So needless to say, we were grateful for a day of planned nothingness.

Purple Parrisians encounter purple pea family flower
We ate a late 9:30AM breakfast in our hotel, Hotel Soldeu Maistre, a family run establishment with wonderful hosts. It is not a fancy place, but absolutely adequate, even if we are sleeping like Desi/Lucy, Ozzie/Harriet, Rich/Laura Petree in twin beds. Friendly staff make up for lots of other perks...like air conditioning! We made our way to the nearby gondola for a trip up the local ski mountain. The ingenious Andorrans are "staying alive" in the summer with a gondola ride, mountain biking trails, hiking trails and a big danged golf course at the top of the ski lifts. 
Your lift keeps lifting me, higher, higher and higher, Higher! See the mountain bike track on the right.
We really enjoyed the ride up and we took a very short (one hour) nonstrenuous hike around the top to enjoy views down into our host city of Soldeu. We saw tons of wildflowers, which woefully, I don't know the names of.
Okay Daisies. Got that one, but cannot name the solid yellow flower.
I couldn't photo them all, but here are some samples:
Purple Parrisians photograph pink petals
And another one not like the other one:
Pinkish purplish bells--they toll for us!
I could go on and on with flower pics but one more only and I'll stop. All beautiful and spread over the mountaintops. We see many on hikes as well:
Yep. This could go on all day.
We thought often of Paul's buddy, Cy Anders looking out at the ski slopes and all the snow making equipment and the avalanche prevention cannons.
Top of a local slope with the village of Soldeu nestled below
Something Cy didn't have to deal with that they do here though is cows. There were cow paddies everywhere produced by Scottish Highland cattle.
After milling about on the mountain, we made our way back by gondola and looked for a lunch spot. We were rewarded with a beautiful restaurant at the bottom of the slope that looked back up toward the lift and an amazing lunch of various local tapas:
We believe this means sun and moon in Catalan, but it could just mean Hungry Tourist.
These courses were so good and we shared them. The portions were enormous.
A starter (complementary) of olives and capers...the original tapa dish. See mountain in background.
The local version of Ceasar salad. The local version of everything here includes a ham or sausage and probably some Manchego
We also had a dish called pigeon rice with sausage. We thought pigeon described the type of rice, but judging by the size of the meat and character, we think they might have actually put a pigeon in it.

Two lucky ducks preparing to eat pigeon rice.
They also served a canneloni. The pasta was fresh. And it was stuffed with...
Mystery meat. It tasted good so we knew better than to ask. I'm sure it was testicles or worse.
Of course, we had to drag ourselves back to the hotel for a 30 minute nap before preparing for our next highly strenuous activity--- a hydrotherapy spa and a massage for Paul at SPORT HOTEL, Andorra.
Three story indoor outdoor hydrotherapy/spa area with sauna, steam rooms and aromatherapy area.
We literally spent three hours in here rotating between various temperature pools and I spent time in all the hot stone dry saunas (two different temperatures and humidities), the steam and aromatherapy areas. This was SO relaxing and my sore knees and hips were screaming, "Thank you so much, you freaking slave driver, for giving us break. YES!" In fact, we plan to go back EVERY NIGHT we are here, time permitting. And Paul discovered a very high end restaurant in this complex--I'll leave that to him to describe...and the massage of course.

We then came back to our rooms, dutifully checked work email/read books and then we were off for dining experience #3 of the day. Thank heaven the portions were considerably smaller. The name of this stunning tiny little restaurant:
Iaia is Catalan for GRANNY
This establishment had about 8 indoor tables and five outdoors and was hopping with people.
We didn't have a reservation, but they recognized Paul as a reserved guy and gave us a table anyway.
All the wines were made by a family vintner is Spain. There were only 6 on the menu. Our in house sommelier consulted with the owner/waiter, a British progeny raised in Sevilla, and came up with the "young" 2012 bottle:
Lovely Rioja. It really opened up with time too.
Paul cannot resist a Spanish omelet with the potatoes so that was our first tapas:
Eggs/Taters. What's not to love?
That was followed by some really great Manchego. Paul went ape over the red pepper paprika jelly:
That jelly's got a kick to it!
Our last course was three skewers of curried chicken, a local pork sausage and a minted lamb
No one needs fewer skewers. Like Ben Stiller says, "This world needs more food on sticks."
This restaurant had much simpler food than the fancy lunch place but I am eternally grateful they know "tapas" means a lid ...ie, something small! 

All in all this was a beautiful sunny day with a good walk on a mountain top, a fun mode of transport, some really tasty eats, and a glorious soak in the world's largest hot tub WITH MY HUSBAND. Woo hoo. One of the best days ever. Andorra might have only 65,000 inhabitants, and the population of this city is about 1000, but we were glad to make it 1002 and become SOLD ON SOLDEU!!

Paul's Ponderings:  What a relaxing day out....we both felt refreshed after the light hiking and time in the water.   The restaurant for lunch was a find.   If I'd been told when I heard of Andorra in the 8th grade that one day I'd be sitting there at the foot of a ski slope, drinking Cava with a great lunch, then headed for the spa followed by tapas while I was actually visiting this faraway place, it would have turned on the tilt sign in my head.   But, that's how this great day turned out.   A virtual toast to Ms. Livingston and her French class from about 1974 at this point!  We've had a great time up here -- tomorrow it's back to strenuous hiking in the Pyrenees....


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