Those on the group flights will be met at Toulouse Airport. There will be a meeting point in Toulouse for those not on the group flights to join the group transfer by minibus to our hotel in Soldeu, Andorra (approx. 3-4 hours). You will receive full details of exactly where to meet your leader on the Joining Instructions which will be sent to you 2-3 weeks before your trip starts.
Situated on the southern slopes of the Pyrenees, squashed between France and Spain, the principality of Andorra measures a mere 25km by 30km. Andorra's independence can be traced back to Charlemagne, who captured the region from the Muslims in 803 AD but it was only in 1993 that the Andorran people voted to establish the country as an independent and democratic state. Although small, Andorra is blessed with some of the finest scenery in the Pyrenees and is a great place for an active week in the mountains.
Please note that dinner tonight is dependant upon the arrival time of the group, and will be included as long as the group arrive in good time.
This morning you will take your first excursion out into the impressive mountains of this tiny country. The drive to Port Envalira takes approximately 30 minutes and at 2,408 metres is boasted as being the highest road pass in Europe, helping to connect El Pas de la Casa to the rest of the country. Starting at 2,500m you have a short 100m climb to the summit of Pic Maia. At this height there are spectacular views across the Andorran mountains. We spend the rest of the day walking along a ridge. Being mostly flat or downhill, this is a great introduction to the Pyrenees, and a chance to stretch your legs and acclimatize to the altitude. The scenery is stunning and the walk will hopefully give you the chance to see some of Andorra's flora and fauna. It is always worth keeping an eye out for the Griffon vultures which are often seen circling high overhead. On the way you will pass the Siscaro Lakes which, on hotter days, are a pleasant place to have a swim. From here the descent is more rapid and the path brings you out right opposite the hotel. You will arrive back at the hotel between 3pm and 4pm giving you a chance to either relax in the sun, take the bikes out for a ride, or visit one of the neighbouring hotel's spa centres.
Today's full day of activities takes place in the stunning Cortals Valley, about a 30 minute drive away. Half way up the valley you jump on the bikes for a ride along a flat track to Engolasters Lake, the perfect opportunity to take in some fresh air and enjoy the scenery. Around the lake there are plenty of tracks to choose from and you normally have the choice between an easy flat track or an exhilerating path through the woods. For the slightly less energetic there is also a lakeside bar. Retracing your route you return to the vehicles. You have the option to ride the demanding 3km tarmac road ascent to the barbeque area - a climb that follows part of the Tour of Spain route. However, the support vehicles are available for anyone who doesn't fancy this. For lunch you will stop in a Pyrenean meadow where there is time for a picnic.
After lunch you mount your bikes once more, and we head for the top of the valley. From here you cross a rope-suspended bridge and take an off-road descent followed by an on-road exhilarating switch-back descent to Encamp - a total descent of over 800m. For anyone not wishing to cycle the routes they can be done on foot, or there is the possibility of taking the longest gondola (ski lift) ride in Europe. At the end of the day you return by vehicle to Soldeu.
Today has been left free for you to choose from the many activities that are on offer in Andorra. You may decide to go horse riding or visit the thermal baths of La Caldea, take to the trees for zip-lining, or go canyoning. If you have a head for heights you can try your hand at Via Ferrata climbing. There are also plenty more opportunities for walking and mountain biking, or alternatively you may simply decide to relax or potter around the shops.
There has been a long tradition of trade in Andorra due to its unique location between France and Spain. However the most profits have always been available to those willing to smuggle contraband goods. The mountainous nature of Andorra and the border meant that the smugglers had numerous routes they could take. The Spanish Civil War gave the smugglers the chance to make large profits as French goods were taken into Spain where they were not readily available.
As the war drew to a close and the market seemed to be drying up, the Second World War started and the trade reversed as Spanish goods were now needed in France. Heading off road in your 4WD vehicle gives you the chance to get away from the developed valleys and see some of the lesser visited places in and around Andorra. You drive out of Andorra to the Port de Cabus on the Spanish border; where the tarmac ends so does Andorra. En route there are some spectacular views along valleys to distant peaks, the odd shallow stream to go through and the chance to stop in a typical mountain hamlet. The end of the smuggler's route finds you at the start point for your exhilarating white water rafting (minimum age 8 years to participate, and 8-12 year olds will only be able to raft on grade I & II). Here you kit up with paddles, helmets, buoyancy aids and wetsuits before joining your rafts and guides.
Setting off in the vehicles and with the bikes, you head off to the picturesque Ordino Valley. Starting at the top end of the valley at 2000m you get fitted with a bike and helmet and then follow with a guide the old iron route of Andorra. Iron was Andorra's first industry which brought the first real settlements to the area. Easy-going off-road tracks take you along the valley past the old iron mines, mills and forges, finishing in the village of Ordino. The tracks are mostly wide 4x4 dirt surfaces, no cars take these routes, and though the ground might be a bit rough in places, no technical mountain biking skills are needed, just a good knowledge of normal bike-riding. After a rest and refreshment in the village you drive up to the Col de Beixalls at 1800m where you once again take to two wheels for a thrilling 8km off-road descent into Encamp. Throughout the day there will be full vehicle support so that if people prefer not to bike it is possible to walk and/or ride in the 4x4. From Encamp it is just a short 15 min drive back to the hote, where we shouldl arrive between 5pm and 6pm.
A short drive takes you into the Incles Valley, where you start today's walk along the forested mountain slopes. This part of the walk is along a single track through the woods where there are many examples of pine forest plants, lots of beautiful flowers (rhododendrons in June), wild fruit in the midsummer, and wild mushrooms in September. Arriving on a plateau just above the tree-line at 2000m, the gradient lessens as you reach the beautiful Querol and Salamander Lakes.
It is common to see groups of thickset mountain horses grazing on these high slopes. The horses are allowed to roam freely and normally have large bells strapped around their necks to allow the owners to find them. Contouring along the valley you come to the Cabana Sorda Lake, which sits below an impressive semi-circular amphitheatre of rock - an ideal spot to stop for lunch. From the lake, eager walkers can continue the hike up to the peak at around 2600m giving you an amazing bird's eye view of the valley. For the people staying at the lake there's time for swimming, a refreshing dip in a waterfall, or watch the fishermen - there are plenty of mountain trout. After lunch you'll descend off the grassy higher slopes through thick woodland to reach the top of the valley. Here, you can either take transport back to the hotel or, for those with more energy, you can continue back on foot.
The group will be transferred to Toulouse Airport by minibus where those on the group flights will catch their flight back to London. The tour ends here for those not on the group flights.