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Andorra

We said goodbye to Spain and drove on to Andorra, with very little petrol left in the tank. Our aim was to make it over the border as we knew petrol was cheaper in tax-free Andorra. With the light flashing at us for the last half hour we could not have been more relieved to see the bright lights of the petrol station.

 

As we arrived at night we had no idea what Andorra looked like, but judging from the map we could tell it was small. We presumed that meant we could park in the centre of the main city, but to our dismay we found Andorra la Vella very anti-campervan. Instead we settled for a car park a few kilometres out of town, right near a river that was gushing loudly. We told ourselves that running water was much better to fall asleep to than the traffic in town, to justify the remote location of our car park.

Daylight brought a whole new scene. We could see that Andorra was surrounded by mountains, a few with snow on top, and a really tiny town stood as their capital city. That was about it.

What do you do in a tax-free city? You go shopping, without giving a damn about the budget. We bought a new sat nav, a Garmin (our TomTom just wasn't quite modern enough for us); Danny picked up a digital TV receiver for the laptop and a fancy bottle opener he was after, while I purchased a new watch and a one litre bottle of vodka for €2.75. It was the best bargain I had ever seen on alcohol. We looked around at clothes and shoes but it seemed to be only slightly cheaper versions of super expensive clothing. I also checked out cameras and heart rate monitors but I couldn't decide what I wanted, so I left it. Most shops sold pepper spray, which was a little disconcerting.

 

At night we headed over to Caldea Spa, the largest thermal spa in Europe. It was so popular that we actually had to make a booking to enter (thankfully the helpful staff at the tourist office informed us of this). The place felt almost space age, with reflective metallic surfaces greeting us in the reception area. A guide led us to the change rooms and explained the procedure of getting ready (this was actually quite a process – no shoes in this area, etc.). Inside was amazing. A huge spa in the centre, several smaller pools sitting above it, a chute to swim through to an outdoor spa, plus further rooms leading off to the side – a hamam, a sauna, an ice water bath (literally melted ice – I sat down for five seconds and that was enough), various cold water baths, a hotter spa, plus water jets so strong they rivalled Thai massages. Danny and I kept going around in circles trying to experience everything. At one point there was what they called a "spectacular", which was a sound, light and visual effects show that involved fireworks as well as water being blasted in every direction (at one point it was "raining" inside). It was sort of lame and sort of funny at the same time. Overall we had a blast. Plus we got a shower out of it (always a bonus).

The following day involved a little more shopping, including grocery shopping that was not as cheap as we were hoping. From there we drove on to Canillo, a town about 10 minutes away (I know, we couldn't believe Andorra had more than one town either). On the way we stopped at a large store because there were bottles of alcohol lining the windows. Once we stepped inside we forgot all about the alcohol – it was filled with free tastings of cured meats, cheese and even cake. We went crazy for about half an hour trying over 20 types of meat, more than 12 types of cheese and several slices of cake. Danny thought he had died and gone to heaven. It took all our willpower to tear ourselves away without buying anything.

 

We eventually arrived in Canillo, where we picked up a brochure on walks in the area. There were hundreds of walks to choose from, which was not surprising given that we were in the Pyrenees. We picked one at random and drove to the start point, Pas de la Casa, right on the French border. When we arrived we found the area completely covered in snow, with skiers tearing down the slopes. We gave up on the idea of the walk. The incredible scenery from the road was enough for us.

We crossed over into France, saying we had nothing to declare to the border control officers. The cops pulled us over anyway and did a complete search of the van. I guess with Andorra being so cheap people stock up on goods and then sell them on at marked up prices. At one point an officer asked Danny if there was a dog in the car. His response was, "No, just my wife". Thanks Danny.