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Forget skiing – Andorra is an unexpected summer holiday hit

Forget skiing – Andorra is an unexpected summer holiday hit

Andorra doesn’t have an airport. Even if it wanted one, there’d be nowhere to put it. But while most visitors hurtle down the motorway from Toulouse or Barcelona to reach this pint-sized Pyrenean principality, I intended to follow a more convoluted route. From the sleepy town of Villefranche-de-Conflent in south-western France, the Ligne de Cerdagne beckoned me into the Catalan Pyrenees.

This rail journey is better known as the Train Jaune because of its canary yellow livery. When the line was built more than a century ago, its 39 glorious miles of track required some serious engineering – not least 19 tunnels – to conquer the mountainous terrain and put an end to the isolation of the area’s upper cantons. Though it operates year-round, open wagons are attached in summer so that passengers can get a better look at the vertiginous drop-offs on either side as the train crosses the line’s many bridges and viaducts.

Rain was forecast but the sky was blue, so I decided to chance an outside spot. We meandered sedately through a bucolic landscape characterised by narrow gorges, mountain streams and trackside lupins. The train stopped a handful of times, once to pick up a couple of backpackers at Bolquère, the highest train station in France at an elevation of 1,593 metres; I disembarked a few stops down the line at Bourg Madame.

The Train Jaune has open-air carriages in summertime

(Julia Hammond)

Information on how to reach Andorra from here had been sketchy. The few paltry sources I’d found gave the internet equivalent of a shrug and advised hopping in an expensive taxi. Undaunted, I figured I’d walk across the border into Spain and find a bus. This seemingly sketchy plan worked: a couple of hours and three buses later, I found myself in the Andorran resort of Arinsal in the middle of a thunderstorm. The rain had finally caught up with me.

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The Andorran Pyrenees are an adventure tourist’s playground with a plethora of opportunities for mountain biking, high altitude hiking, horse riding and caving. I was keen to take a more leisurely approach, however, and had arrived with no firm plans. In fact, my inspiration for the first day’s activities came from an advert I saw on the bus.

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