One question that comes to mind when travelling in Andorra. Is it ruggedly beautiful or concrete ugliness? High in the Pyrenees is the nation of Andorra. Sandwiched between France to the West and Spain to the East, this mountain kingdom is one of Europe’s coveted vacation and skiing destinations and is well known for pristine powder-snow slopes and snowy peaks. Due to the mountainous nature of Andorra, there is only one road entering Andorra from France, and only one widely-used road entering Andorra from Spain. Entering on the main road from the Spanish side is a relatively straightforward drive; however entering from France (Perpignan) which we did, was a more stressful affair involving many hairpin bends. The road was twisty and steep and not for anyone who has motion sickness. On the sun-scorched Spanish side, the Pyrenees are barren, red and brown compared to the one flanking France. The mountainous terrain was broken by sparkling streams and gentle coniferous forest with more waterfalls here than in the Alps.
The drive from Perpignan to Andorra took about 3 hours with a distance of 154 km only. Many would wonder what would the kids be doing on these extensive road trips. Sleep! Games, chatting, laughing, fighting, eating and most of all singing! Teaching each other new songs that they have learnt. It was a wonderful experience for working parents like ourselves to listen to them banter with one another, learn their rhyming songs that they so eagerly want to teach us. Here are two particular songs that have been repeated over a 100 times almost like a broken recorder and these are the words to the songs.
“Down by the bay, where the watermelon grow. Back to my home I dare not go. For if I do, my mother will say, have you ever seen a pig wearing a wig, down by the bay….The song gets repeated many times with the last part as a rhyme .. have you ever seen a cat kissing a bat, down by the bay..” I think you get the idea.
At other times, it will be something similar to scissors, paper, stone but with a twist, where interesting sentences are being recited:
“Thousand a monkey men, sitting on a rubber band, hopscotch the rubber band, what colour is his underwear?” Then we would hear a shoutout of a colour: example TURQUOISE, and the word gets spelt, followed by another series of sentences, then finally the scissors paper stone. We had fun learning these games at meal times too. They do want the iphone and we do cave in at times especially when I have to prepare the meals and they were really getting very bored and would request to play some of their favourite games. It is inevitable and I think it is about managing the time spent.
One very interesting thing, Andorra is a curious and distinctive pocket of European life with an identity of its own, operating as a tax haven and banking enclave. It is like a Dr. Jekyll and Hyde, a country coexisting within two realms, nature and modern concreteness. It is ruggedly beautiful, right smack in the heart of the Pyrenees with green mountains, with chamois, trout streams and wildflowers; but at the same time, it is totally devoted to building shopping malls, hyper marts, rows of duty free shops selling liquor, cigarettes and perfumes as well as shops selling tax free items from high end carbon bicycles to Nespresso machines, to luxury watches and high street fashion. Being a ski town, I can really understand why this is so. There will be nothing much to do when night falls hence shopping would be perfect to tempt tourists to part with their money. Almost all the local population works in the retail, services and travel industries.
Inspired by the crepes we ate at Perpignan, kids wanted to have them for breakfast. I did not have milk so we changed the recipe for one-cup ingredient pancakes to use 1 cup water, I made it into a crepe instead of a thick fluffy pancakes. And the recipe worked wonderfully for savoury and sweet crepes! We had ham and cheese rolled up crepes and sweet pancakes with homemade strawberry jam and yoghurt. What a treat for the kiddos! This has to be the most versatile recipe I have in my repertoire.
Inspired by the soupy casserole we had at Can Roca, I made an attempt to make a vegan version, Vegan Arroz Samfaina La Cassola made with rice, peppers and vegetables cooked down like how I would do a french ratatouille. The best of both worlds, a spanish paella marrying the french ratatouille to create a new hearty rice soup. Must be the fresh mountain air that helped me with coming up with a great soup! Sourcing for the rice and saffron would prove to be the most challenging of all. Plenty of Italian rice but not many stock the spanish rice variety and saffron was insanely expensive in Singapore.
The Sopa de Pescado we tried at Bilboa inspired the next soup made. I could still vividly remember the taste of the Basquaise stew and with a well equipped kitchen, I set out to create my version. Here, I actually used the frozen mixed seafood, readily available in the frozen section of the supermarket. It was not the best choice but it provided me a good avenue to do a quick testing how the soup would taste like and whether I was able to recreate that wow experience. I would say it was a good attempt taste wise. The challenge would be to recreate the soup in Singapore, to get hold of the right Spanish spices and ingredients that would create magic.
Inspired by the pintxos/tapas we had at San Sebastian and at Barcelona, we made a series of tapas to be brought along for our picnic during our hike. To think about it, we did not have a single meal in any restaurants or fast food places in Andorra.
Tortilla Española or Tortilla de patatas(recipe), referred to as Spanish Omelette, is the most common gastronomic speciality found throughout Spain. It is essentially an egg omelette made with added potatoes and fried, similar to the frittata. This was inspired by the pintxo version we had at Bar La Vina in San Sebastian. Only difference, this was filled with potatoes and frozen mixed vegetables I had bought earlier for the vegan rice soup. I had it topped with goat’s cheese and blistered cherry tomatoes and lots of freshly chopped parsley. Great eaten with a squeeze of lemon juice.
Being adventurous, I made another 3 pintxos, my healthy versions of the Spanish dishes I have tried and most would have heard of.
1. La Pepita with its modern take on tapas, had me crave for the hummus topped with beetroot and finely chopped mint leaves and a drizzle of olive oil.
2. Bar Pinotxo squid with haricot beans inspired a vegan version using chickpeas cooked with lots of parsley and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar reduction.(recipe link)
3.Patata Bravas, a common pintxos and tapas found in every tapas bar. I have made it with sweet potato for a change. Surprisingly good when eaten with hummus.
4. My favourite: chopped avocado cherry tomato salsa. (marinated with olive oil, coriander and freshly squeezed lemon juice)
How many ways can we eat tapas? Let thee count the ways! Kids were crazy about corn thins and rightfully so. Great way to replace the baguette pieces typically used as base for tapas. Rice crisps or thins would make a choice for a gluten free option. What about French style in freshly baked vol-au-vent shells?
We tried sopa de ajo (Garlic soup) when we were in Zaragoza but it was not to our taste. I was determined to make a version that was healthier. Using good chicken stock, adding fried garlic crisps and a whole poached egg. To up the healthy quotient, I added some freshly chopped vegetables. (recipe to follow)
Yes, I got carried away! So much food for just 4 of us. LOL! With the containers that we had, we packed our freshly prepared food, all ready and excited for our picnic lunch.
The excursion to the Tristaina lakes is one of the most popular in Andorra. We were pretty nervous, as this would be the first time that we brought the kids on a real hiking trail. Previously, when they were younger, we would carry them on baby carriers on hikes. The kids were really excited as we just bought them both new sports shoes. This is good for a first time excursion, as there were many paths around the lakes that we could walk until we feel tired and cut back early if we so wish. This variety of options make the Tristaina lakes an excellent choice to see high altitude mountain lakes without having to climb for hours.
The kiddos went for an hour of pony ride led by us around one of Andorra’s village of La Massana. This was also a great way to discover Andorra in summer, seeing the stone architecture against the backdrop of the mountains.
My conclusion is that Andorra has a lot to offer with its picturesque Alpine like villages with stone houses, slate rooftops to its beautiful mountain snow covered peaks and duty free shopping. In my opinion, Andorra made the right move to incorporate the shopping into its offers. It is a necessary evil that has paid off for Andorra and her citizens.
We spent 3 days in Andorra. We drove back to Barcelona from Andorra to catch our flight home. This marked the end of our Spain holidays and my souperinspiration trip. Thank you for the wonderful memories. I loved hearing the different stories about what people believe and their traditions. For me, this is an enriching way to know a culture; by their stomachs!I have been inspired tremendously and have learnt a lot. As a working mama, I have learnt a little more of my little ones on our trip and it is a memory we cherish. Indeed, we are very blessed to be able to spend quality family time together and immersing them to be global citizens. May our travels and road trips inspire you and your family to do something different too!
Signing off! Muchos gracias.