After a good night’s sleep we decided to find breakfast in town rather than have the buffet offered at the hotel. We have found some amazing little cafés all over France by doing this, what’s more you usually end up paying half of the cost of a hotel breakfast. We enjoy delicious coffee (often sadly lacking in even our favourite French hotels since they all started installing that horrible machine they seem to think is preferable to the real thing), with croissants and fresh crusty bread as well as butter and jam.
Then it’s time to set off again, but on the way to Andorra there is a visit we need to make – yes, you guessed it, to a wine producer. This one is in the depths of Quercy on the edge of the Cahors area and is one we have visited before.
We came across Tour de Belfort two years ago while (fruitlessly, as it turned out) looking for some Cahors wine to taste. We had pretty much given up and were heading for Perpignan when we saw signs to “dégustation” and followed the signs to a tiny, ancient village called Belfort du Quercy. We ended up finding the Cave but there was no-one there so we did what the sign said and went up to the house where we rang and were welcomed by the charming Eugene and Sylvie Lismonde who insisted we sit beside their pool and eat canapés while tasting the wine, even though they had only just arrived from the UK. Eugene and Sylvie, along with their daughter Muriel who lives in the UK with her family, make very good IGP wine under the name “Tour de Belfort”, using interesting combinations of grapes not allowed under the more traditional “appellation contrôlée” system. The 2011 red, for example, is a mix of Malbec and Cabernet Franc grapes.
So we wanted to visit them again and buy some more of their wine to take to Spain with us. We arrived to discover that yet again Eugene and Sylvie had just returned to the chateau that day, this time from Switzerland! They were as charming and welcoming as ever, and of course we bought some of their excellent wine (plural, again). We left saying that we would see them in another two years – dear Sylvie’s words as we left were “no, not two years – you must make it one year next time!”
So, off we set to Andorra where I had booked a tiny hotel (just three rooms) that I was quite excited about in a ‘place’ (i.e. it only seemed to have this hotel plus a sanctuary to Sant Julià) called Bixessarri. The drive through the Pyrenees was as amazing as it always is – Samson the Skoda excelled himself hauling us (and our wine) up those hills,
We managed to resist the temptation to buy cut price electronic goods and cheap sunglasses in the nasty strip development that was Andorra la Vella, and followed both signs and charming Miss Google’s directions up into the mountains along a single-track road with endless hairpin bends and fabulous views until we reached the Parador de Canòlich which has to be one of the most beautifully-situated hotels anywhere. We had barely opened the car doors before the lovely Rosana was standing in the doorway of her Parador laughing and calling out “¡Hóla!”. She welcomed us as if we were long-lost family members, showing us to our room and pointing out all the mountains and countries from its window – you could see a French mountain in the distance one way and a Spanish mountain in the distance another way.
She spoke Spanish to us, although she speaks some English too, and I had noticed a couple of features of her language that seemed not from Spain so when she revealed she was Argentinian I felt slightly smug that I had at least spotted something even if I didn’t identify the country! She has lost the Argentinian sing-song way of speaking, but there were definitely some aspirated ‘s’s…. sorry, linguist-nerd took over for a moment there.
She asked us what time we wanted supper, then Julia sat on the terrace, set the ipad to the tennis and watched the end of the Wimbledon final in the most unusual and beautiful surroundings……
Then we went out to walk round the hotel and drink in the views. We also had a mission to complete – Eugene and Sylvie at Belfort had been interested that we were taking the wine to Spain via Andorra, so we had decided to send them pictures of “Tour de Belfort on tour”. Therefore we solemnly took out three bottles – one of each colour – and positioned them on a pillar near the sanctuary in front of the hotel and with soaring mountains behind them, took the photo and sent it off. A couple had just arrived to check in and you could see the distress in their eyes as they watched these two English women behaving in a clearly insane manner, carting bottles of wine around and sniggering in a slightly deranged fashion, and you just knew they were wondering if they had made a terrible mistake in booking this hotel for tonight….
What an amazing place this is, both the hotel and the situation – all of this and breakfast for 65 euros for two of us. Rosana and her Andorran husband Josep run this little hotel that his father had built at the end of the 1940s and it is both utterly delightful and very well appointed; the bathrooms have first class fittings and the whole place is spotlessly clean. Oh, and the wifi is amazing!
We had a delicious supper cooked by the wonderful Rosana; it was a barbecued mix of rabbit, chicken and lamb with a positively lethal aioli – not only was I glad that all of us in the hotel were eating the same amount of garlic, but I sincerely hope everyone else in Andorra was consuming similar amounts because if not tomorrow we’ll kill them, simple as that.
The view from the bedrooms is stunning, and if you climb up the next hairpin bend above the hotel and look back down, as we did after supper, you see the little stone hotel set like a jewel in the coronet of mountains. We didn’t really want to turn in for the night because it meant missing the view for a few hours, but with another long journey to Valencia tomorrow we had to.
Gosh, the world holds such amazing places – we are lucky on our little blue-green planet!