The day is not over. We drive down from Canillo, a small village on the road to Pas d’Envalira, which now can also be bypassed by taking the Tunnel d’Envalira, one of Europe’s highest road tunnels opened in 2002. From here, I venture back to the big city of Andorra la Vel- la. A 10-minute walk upstream from Plaça de la Rotond,a I find myself drawn to Caldea Spa Complex in Les Escaldes. Numerous hot springs bubble up here and were known by the Romans, who used them for medicinal purposes. Now the springs are housed in an ultra-modern glass structure, and massages as well as different type of baths are offered. Even though hiking and skiing the surrounding mountains was such a pleasurable adventure, my sore legs and my aching muscles desperately need thermal waters. When in Andorra, do as the Romans do! An hour of deep-tissue massage and ample time to soak in the warm waters of their Wellness Center, called Inúu, revive me.
I spend my next few days discovering the modern ski resorts, enjoying the groomed slopes and chairlifts of Pal and El Tarter, and also the apres-ski scene, which is fairly new to Andorra. These days, you can choose Abarset, a bar with good tunes at the edge of the base of El Tarter, or hot spots in Soldeu, like Aspen or Fat Alberts. If you decide to stay on the mountain, make sure to book a night at the Iglú-Hotel Grandvalira, on the slopes at Grau Roig. After a few fast runs down the adjacent resort of Pas de la Casa, I meet Prisca Llagostera, the hotel manager, at the ice hotel on the Grau Roig side. Prisca has a huge grin on her face while she explains to me that her grandmother hitchhiked her way from England to Andorra in the 1950s and knew Alex and Olivia, my grandparents, long ago. Prisca shows me the dining room and bar, followed by a couple of the five bedrooms available to guests who might enjoy sleeping at an altitude of 2,300 meters with an average temperature of 0 Celsius. During the visit, I chat with an international group of friends that, as I find out, are part of the crew of a luxury yacht docked in the port of Barcelona. The Australian, South African, and European crew is enjoying a few days in Andorra before heading out to sea for the summer months. They offer to share a few drinks and so I decide to sit on a block of ice, covered with a fur skin, and enjoy schnapps and interesting conversation.
On the last day of my visit, I meet up with Marc Font, son of my mother’s best friend who used to take part in the ski outings with Alex and Olivia. Marc has taken over his father’s sport and hunting store on Baixada del Molí, and has expanded to a second store at Pas de la Casa, close to the French border, to cater to the European market. We visit a good friend of his,
Joan Albert, who owns a farm in the town of Sant Julia. He grows and exports tobacco to the USA and produces wine from a vineyard high up on terraces at 1100-1200 meters altitude. Joan, Marc, and I bask in the astounding views and sip his precious Escol Riesling, which add to my feeling of contentment. I’m happy with the rediscovery of my roots and feel the urge to share the mountain with my family as an annual visit.
Months later, while at home in the US, I come across a song by Pete Seeger, who in 1962 summed up the life in Andorra in one happy song, called “Andorra, Andorra”. I, too, “want to go to Andorra”.