It is a beautiful, sunny Sunday morning when we see the snowy mountain range of the Pyrenees appear in the distance. We are heading to Andorra, the landlocked principality at the heart of the mountain range separating France from Spain, and I cannot help but think back of my previous visit to this sixth smallest nation of Europe. In the 1980s, I was a mountain cycling fanatic, riding up the high mountain passes of the Alps, and in August 1983, I decided it was time to try the Pyrenees. It was almost inevitable I would cross into Andorra when I started cycling west from Perpignan. We are taking the same road, and the higher we get, the more I appreciate the effort and fearlessness of that young guy cycling up all by himself at 18 years old. Back then, it was summer, the roads were swarming with cars, and the sun was burning on his head.
Now, we drive through fields of snow, passing cars have boxes on their roofs, on the way to go skiing, and we stop every now and then for pictures. When we get on the mountain pass proper, there is a lot of traffic, the snow gets higher, and the views better. In 2002, a tunnel was constructed so that Andorra would be easier to reach, especially in winter. I am afraid this means that the mountain pass is closed, and am overjoyed when we can take the turn up the mountain pass without a problem. On the other side of the valley, we see skiers coming down the snowy slopes. At Pas de la Case, we cross the border between France and Andorra: the last kilometres are on Andorran soil. There is a long queue of cars on the other side of the road, waiting for customs clearance: Andorra is a tax paradise for shoppers. I am searching in my memory for any recollections of my climb up this same road in that summer of 1983, but whatever I find, are vague images.
Once we reach the top, I see that things have changed. There are more buildings, there are new markers, and the altitude of Envalira mountain pass now says it is 2408m high, where in 1983 is was still 2407m. I walk on the snow, past some skiers, for better views into the principality of Andorra. We have a tasty lunch in one of the restaurants, and find old black and white photos of what Envalira looked like decades ago. I also find the marker that I saw when I made my way up the mountain pass in the early 1980s. Driving down the pass over the hairpin bends is beautiful, also because sun is shining bright. Several days later, when I am on my way back to France, and don't have much time, I decide to drive up the pass again. It is early morning, the sky is overcast, and there is a special light on the empty ski slopes. I again have this special feeling, knowing that I have been here as a teenager, trying to imagine how things were back then, seeing how they are now. I make another stop at Envalira mountain pass, fill up the tank of the car at the gas station that was already there in 1983, albeit under a different name, before descending to Pas de la Casa, to France, and to a world without snow.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Envalira mountain pass (Andorra). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Envalira mountain pass. Read more about this site.