Almanzora Group of Friends are pleased to announce a 5-night 6-day trip to Andorra/France/Spain.
(Post-trip writeup and photos below)
Dates tour: 05/06/2022 – 10/06/2022
Day 1 – Driving north – We leave the Almanzora valley to travel northwards and after comfort stops, we reach the town of Vall d’Uixò. Here, we take a very interesting visit indeed: Les Coves de Sant Josep, the famous dripstone caves traversed by an underground river. We continue to the lively resort of Salou to overnight. Dinner and hotel in Salou.
Day 2 – Tarragona, old Roman capital – After leaving our hotel, we make our way to nearby Tarragona, where we will enjoy an official guided tour of the old city, with views of the splendid Roman Amphitheatre with its backdrop to the Mediterranean. After some free time for lunch, we make our way to the Principality of Andorra, up in the Pyrenees. Dinner and hotel in Andorra.
Day 3 – Typical market day in Spain – There are very few wool mills left in Spain, but the one we visit today is extra special: it’s water powered by the river Segre. The owner will be telling us all about it and pointing out the very special machinery. We then go to La Seu d’Urgell for the traditional weekly market. You have time on your own to explore the market or to visit the Romanesque cathedral of Santa Maria, one of the oldest in Spain. We then drive out into the country for lunch in a restaurant with amazing views. After lunch those who wish to, can take a 20 minute walk down to Os de Civis, a picturesque mountain village. Dinner and hotel in Andorra.
Day 4 – Andorra centre and surrounding countryside – Sightseeing on foot in the historic part of Andorra la Vella including a visit to the 300-year-old parliament and the main square with a beautiful view over the city and the surrounding countryside. After time for lunch in the city, we go and visit architect Ricard Bofill’s famous church in Meritxell which houses the Guardian Angel of Andorra. Finally, up in Canillo, we visit the excellent vintage motorbike museum. Dinner and hotel in Andorra.
Day 5 – The Little Yellow Train – Today’s excursion takes us into France first driving through the valley of Cerdanya along the River Segre, until we cross the French border at Bourg Madame. After a while through the French Pyrenees, we catch Le Petit Train Jaune, which is the highest railway in France. It reaches 1600 m at the town of Mont Louis. It’s a fantastic piece of engineering, especially when you think of the very limited technology, they had over 100 years ago. After a beautiful ride in the Pyrenees our coach comes to pick us up, and we head to the Spanish enclave of Llívia for free time for lunch before we make our way to Salou. Dinner and hotel in Salou.
Day 6 – Departure – After enough time for a nice breakfast, we check out from our hotel and make our way to the Almanzora Valley.
- Hotel Best Los Angeles**** – 1 night on HB in Salou. Art Hotel****
- Art Hotel****3 nights on HB in Andorra.
- Hotel Sol Costa Daurada**** – 1 night on HB in Salou return journey.
- Boat excursion in the famous caves of Saint Joseph in Vall d’Uixò.
- Official guided tour of Tarragona.
- Visit of a water powered wool mill in the Pyrenees.
- Visit and walk in the weekly market of La Seu d’Urgell.
- Traditional Pyrenean lunch including drinks in Os de Civis.
- Guided tour of the historic centre of Andorra to include the Old Parliament (Casa de la Vall).
- Visit to the Sanctuary of Meritxell.
- Visit to the vintage motorbike museum in Canillo.
- Le Petit Train Jaune trip from Mont Louis to La Tour de Carol in France.
- entries included.
- Tour manager for the duration.
- All transportation needed as per itinerary.
- Catalan Tourist Tax.
PRICES – per person sharing a double room.
490 euros for members and 502 euros non-members
A deposit of 125 euros is payable on booking in the Group of Friends centre.
The price is based on 36 to 40 people travelling, should we exceed these figures then the price will reduce.
There is unfortunately a single supplement of 105 euros and we encourage people to share a twin room wherever possible.
Travellers are strongly advised to ensure they have adequate travel insurance.
Day 1—5 June
A bright and early start at 07.45 in Albox, picking up the remainder of the group en route to the motorway.
Heading up the east coast of Spain to our first stop, Vall d’Uix’o, to visit the caves of Sant Josep, the famous dripstone caves traversed by an underground river.
What a wonderful experience. Entering the caves we had to keep our heads low to reach the river, where a boat was waiting for 12 keen travellers to embark on a magical tour along the river, at times keeping the body doubled over to miss the roof of the cave.
In the centre of the largest cavern, the lights were switched off and we were introduced to a display of coloured lights and music, highlighting the acoustics and drama of this amazing place. A wonderful 45-minute experience.
After this short stop we continued northwards to the lively resort of Salou for our overnight stop. Indeed, it was a lively resort, aimed at the teenage years with non-stop music until dawn – not for the faint-hearted!
Day 2—6 June
After breakfast we drove about 15 kilometres to the historic city of Tarragona where we met Adam, our very knowledgeable guide, for the morning.
Adam told us one Catalan legend holds that Tarragona was named for Tarraho, eldest son of Tubal in c. 2407 BC; another attributes the name to Tearcon the Ethiopian’, a 7th-century BC Pharaoh who campaigned in Spain. Another theory is the city was probably founded by the Phoenicians, who called it Tarchon, which, according to Samuel Bochart, means a citadel. This name was probably derived from its situation on a high rock, between 75–90 m (250–300 ft) above the sea.
Adam guided us around the city explaining about the excavations from Roman times of the chariot racing course and rules, the amphitheatre and Gladiator fights with the myths surrounding these events and the influence of the Scipio brothers – Roman soldiers who fortified and extended the original fortress for defence and arsenal against the Carthaginians.
Tarragona has a rich and varied history with conflicts which span through its history up to and including the Spanish civil war.
The group then found themselves a bar/restaurant to have lunch and refreshment before setting off for the Principality of Andorra with everyone in agreement that the visit to Tarragona was a very interesting and worthwhile experience.
Day 3—7 June
Today we visited the oldest working water driven wool mill in Spain (Fabrica Lanera Del Puente De Arseguel) now owned by two sisters, one of which gave us a tour of the mill. They now predominantly make pure wool socks but do have the ability to make blankets etc.
The machinery in the mill is all over a hundred years old, still working and powered by water from the river Segre. Included is the strangest washing machine, made of wood and the inside resembling an ancient wooden toilet. A very interesting tour and experience with quite a few people purchasing the socks.
From Areseuel we travelled then to La Seu d’Urgell where we had time to visit the market in the town walls. This village hosted the Barcelona Olympics for canoeing events on the white-water rapids. The course was created from water diverted from the river Segre and quite a few of the group would have liked to try the white-water rapids on the rubber boats there.
From the village we travel through Andorra to reach the Spanish village of Os de Civis high in the Pyrenees mountains. Here we had a traditional Pyrenean lunch at an amazing restaurant in Hotel Os de Civis. We were expecting just a light lunch as we had an evening meal booked in our hotel in Andorra, but no it was a full-on menu of the day with soup, salad, meats and cheeses, main course of lamb or chicken and desert. The wine flowed and every time a bottle was finished it was replaced. Coffee and a chopitos were also served. A raffle was held, and a delighted Eileen Cotter won a complete Jamon leg.
We all went in as customers and came out as freight – we ate so well; there was also an amazing gift shop from which many of us bought a bottle or two of the hard stuff. Some of the group managed to walk the 20 minutes down to the village. Needless to say, not much food was consumed by our group in our hotel that evening. A long but thoroughly good day.
The alarm went off early this morning as we had to get down to breakfast by 7 a.m.
We were all ready to leave by 8 for our trip into France for the Little Yellow Train which runs on the highest railway at 1600 metres through the French and Catalan Pyrenees. The views on the way to the station at Villafranche were stupendous and the excitement was mounting.
We arrived at 10.30 – an hour before our expected departure – and then disaster struck! We were informed that the guide had been told an incorrect time and the train had left. The next one was due at 3.30 pm. However, as luck would have it we were within easy reach of the beautiful medieval walled town of Villefranche de Conflent. We spent a very pleasant few hours exploring and having a nice drink and lunch and some of us even managed a siesta!
At last we boarded the train and travelled through from Villefranche to MontLouise la Cabanasse over bridges and deep canyons.
Our coach was waiting for us at the end of the journey and by chance our return route was blocked so we had to return to Andorra via the mountains and went via Pas de la Casa pass at 2008 metres and the village of Pas de la Casa, The scenery over the pass and along the road up to the pass and into the village was absolutely stunning. Our excellent driver transported us safely back to our hotel in time for dinner.
On our final day in Andorra, a few of the group decided they would like to have a bit of retail therapy in the city, however, most of the group opted for the cultural sight-seeing morning.
Our first port of call was the Meritxell religious site in Andorra, a highly symbolic place for the inhabitants of the Principality. It houses the image of Our Lady of Meritxell, the country’s patron saint.
This is a polychrome statue based on the original Romanesque work, which was destroyed in a fire in 1972. The Basilica is also home to statues of other Andorran saints, the patrons of the country’s other parishes. All the works are from the Andorran sculptor Sergi Mas.
Its importance meant the temple was granted the title of minor basilica by Pope Francis in 2014, making it the only such place of worship in the Principality. Since then, Meritxell has been included in the so-called Marian Route, which connects four other important sanctuaries in Spain and France: El Pilar, Montserrat, Torreciudad and Lourdes. For this reason, the temple has become a centre for attracting visitors motivated by faith and spirituality.
As previously mentioned, the original Sanctuary of Meritxell suffered a terrible fire on September 8th, 1972. As well as destroying the statue and other objects of value inside, the sanctuary itself was almost completely ruined. Almost nothing remains of the original temple, but visitors can now admire one of the most interesting buildings by the renowned Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill. The result is, in his words, “a re-creation of the Romanesque” style, which was present in the original church, and which left a significant mark on the Principality.
Next was a short journey to the Motorcycle Museum, located at the entrance to the Canillo cable car building. It houses a permanent exhibition of 121 motorcycles (all privately owned), ranging from the late nineteenth century to modern times. It has unique pieces such as the Henry Capel Loft Holden, of British origin, patented in 1896, and a 1900 Diamant, of French origin, both steam powered.
The most contemporary samples on display are the four raid bikes donated by the five-time winner of the two-wheel drive Dakar Rally, Cyril Despres. Also on display was a Solo Electra, manufactured by the Japanese brand Honda in 1968, which was the first to be manufactured with electric propulsion, Bultaco and Montesa motorcycles that made history in Trial competitions and a 1940 BMW with sidecar, widely used in World War II. An interesting visit down memory lane for some of the men (and ladies).
Meeting up with the rest of the group, our final visit was to Casa de la Vall – built in the late 16th century as a manor house for the Busquets family, on a rock overlooking the valley of the river Valira.
In 1702, its purpose changed when it was acquired by the Consell General, the Parliament of Andorra, and used as its headquarters until 2011. Representatives of the country’s parishes convened there, and it also acted as the seat of justice. In 1962, it underwent a major renovation to improve its physical condition, gave a sense of unity to the building, while also providing it with a better main session room. In 2011, the Consell General moved to a new building, also in Andorra la Vella.
After lunch in the old town, it was time to say goodbye to beautiful Andorra and wend our way south to our overnight stop in Salou before returning to the Valle de Almanzora.
A day of travelling back home after an excellent trip. We had a few comfort stops and a lunch stop en route home.
We were treated to a fun quiz on the journey and many thanks go to David Russon for organising and being quizmaster for this light-hearted entertaining quiz which was enjoyed by all.
Finally, a big thank you goes to our driver, Manuel, our tour guide, Andy, and of course all of the group’s travellers who made this short holiday a wonderful experience.
Photos from Andorra curtesy of Shirley Brook and Val Boscott. Featuring Tarragona, the oldest water powered wool mill in Spain, Villefrench and the little yellow train. Finally Alan found a pint of guiness in Salou.
Some more photos from our trip to Andorra featuring the 300 year old parliament building. Courtesy of Val & Alan Boscott.