07-05 Four hills and a bit, a bite and a flat

We learned quickly that any deviation from the main highway in Andorra would require some hill-climbing.   Today our legs would be put to the test.

The Bit.

First stop was Santa Coloma, a charming church with a rare round tower,  situated just slightly off the highway (just a bit of a hill.)

Santa Coloma

Santa Coloma

Some parts of the current church were built in the 10th century, but there have been numerous modifications since, including the side porch which is unusual everywhere but Andorra–I guess they needed shelter from the weather.   We were not able to enter the church to see the remains of the frescoes there, most of which is on display in Berlin!

Santa Coloma tower and porch

Santa Coloma tower and porch

Tower detail

Tower detail

We encountered el Pont de la Margineda on the highway–in fact it has its own roundabout!

El Pont de la Margineda

El Pont de la Margineda

This was the first of many Romanesque bridges we encountered in Andorra and Spain.    Currently the bridge seems to go nowhere, but it certainly is beautiful.

On the bridge

On the bridge

Hill No. 1:

We coasted down the highway to Sant Julià de Lòria and I set off up the hill towards our next destination, Sant Serni de Nagol.    I kept going for a few minutes, not wanted to stop in the middle of a hill (it was all hill!)    Upon reaching a switchback I found that my trusty companions were not following me.    I waited a few minutes and reluctantly coasted back down to find Jim and Gwen waiting at an intersection, uncertain about which way I had gone.     We set off back up the hill and pedalled on for 10 or 15 minutes until we reached an intersection.    The signs there puzzled me, no indication as to which way we should take to Nagol.    Out came the map and the embarrassing realization that we were on the wrong road.   We had a snack at the bus stop (where there were stairs to sit on and a spectacular view of the valley and mountains–you can see the same by going to Sant Julià de Lòria on Google maps and locating street view in the fork of the ‘Y’ south-south-east of the town,on the road from Sant Julià to Aixirivall and Aubinyà.   Unfortunately our weather was not as good as that in the street view.)

We coasted back down to Sant Julià and sensibly stopped at the tourist office, conveniently located at the corner of the intersection where we (well, I, really) had taken the wrong turn.    The clerk was very helpful and also directed our attention to the little church of Sant Bartomeu, located about 100 yards from the office, right on our way to Sant Serni.   Sant Bartomeu

Hill No. 2:

We now headed up the correct hill to Sant Serni.

Sant Serni de Nagol

Sant Serni de Nagol

The church itself is rustic but attractive, and the side porch faces south and gives a wonderful view of the valley.

 La vall de la valira from Sant Serni

La vall de la valira from Sant Serni

The Bite:

A short coast down the hill brought us to the path to Sant Martí de Nagol.    We had seen pictures of the church, but seeing it clinging to the rock on a cliff high above the Valira valley was stunning.

Sant Martí de Nagol

Sant Martí de Nagol

As we approached a meadow on the way to the church, we were greeted by some curious residents.

Welcoming committee

Welcoming committee

Being city slickers, we’ve had little to do with horses (and Jim is extremely allergic to them),  so we approached them with some trepidation.

Getting by the horses

Getting by the horses

We successfully negotiated this passage, but further along the path the dark horse in the middle of the welcoming committee was not giving me much room to pass.   I gingerly went by, but just as I passed, I felt a sharp pain and realized I’d been nipped in the butt.  Fortunately the bite didn’t tear my shorts or break the skin–it was probably just a friendly (?) reminder that this was a tollpath, and horses require a little treat from visitors.

Up close we could see that the church does indeed cling to the rocks.

Sant Martí built into the rock

Sant Martí built into the rock

Again, we couldn’t enter the church but could look through a window in the door to see a flame.   Perhaps a candle was kept burning here by the faithful.

Hill No. 3

As we returned from Sant Martí the heavens opened and it started to rain in earnest, so we headed back up the hill to Sant Serni, where we knew there was a covered porch.    When we arrived there were two young women doing some maintenance in the church and they let us look around for a minute or two inside.   There was no light, but we could see the same rustic construction.

We coasted the three or so kilometers back to Sant Julià and headed back up the hill on the west side to Sant Miquel de Fontaneda.   This was the longest and steepest hill we’d encountered, testing our mental and physical endurance.    Jim and Gwen seemed fine, but I cursed the hill not a few times.

Partway up the hill we encountered more equine curiosity, but fortunately these dangerous horses were behind a fence.

Dangerous horses

Dangerous horses

Sant Miquel de Fontaneda was also built into the side of a hill, but this one was a little easier to navigate.

Also built into a hill

Sant Miquel de Fontaneda

It was interesting to be able to climb right up to the bell tower, and to examine the slate roof at close quarters.

Up close with a bell tower

Up close with a bell tower

Roof and bells

Roof and bells

On the way down the hill we noticed Sant Mateu del Pui d’Olivesa, a small chapel on the edge of a farm.   You can see how the original building has been raised.

910–912
In Sant Julià we visited the church of Sant Julià i Sant Germà de Lòria.   The outside is distinguished only by its tower, but there were two interesting Romanesque wooden sculptures of the Mare de Déu inside the church.    Sant Julià i Sant Germà de Lòria

The flat and the last hill

We sat outside the church and ate another snack, and headed off for the campground, only to find that one of my tires was flat.   It was relatively easy to repair with step-by-step instructions from Jim.  Then a trip up the last hill along the busy highway to the campground and supper.

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