On September 2004 I went to the central Pyrenees (Spain) with my wife. We don’t like arranged travels and we prefer to travel on our own, because we think is the only way you can get in touch with the real country and its people. This way of travelling is harder and more expensive than others, but also more pleasant, relaxing and, that’s the best, gives you a different point of view on the culture and way of life.
After my experience here you have my advice if you plan to travel on your own to the central Pyrenees. You have to understand that this is MY PERSONAL POINT OF VIEW and that it is not my intention to criticize the people or culture of the mentioned places. You also must take into account that these observations are from year 2004. Things might have changed (either in the right or in the wrong way) since then.
Travel to central Pyreness
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This was a round trip to the central area of the Pyrenees, starting and ending at the city of Barcelona Find hotels in this city / area, because we have taken our car with us with the ferry from Mallorca Find hotels in this city / area. Although it would have been possible to get to the Aran valley, our first destination, in only one day, I preferred to split the way in two journeys and so start the holidays in a more relaxed way.
So, the first day we just moved from Barcelona to Cardona Photos of the area, a small village where the most interesting things are the impressive and well preserved castle on top of a hill, the ruins of a roman bridge and the salt mine. We have booked a room in the castle (Well, I should say that the castle now holds the excellent Parador Nacional de Turismo de Cardona ) and after a restful night we went to the old salt mine, with its curious and unique salt mountain . This mine is no longer in production and some of the corridors of the higher levels can be visited in a very interesting guided tour. I certainly recommend you this visit if you pass by Cardona.
From there we drove towards Solsona and then, by the C 14 road towards La Seu d’Urgell and Andorra. However a few km. before La Seu d’Urgell, at Adrall, we took the N 260 towards Sort Photos of the area where we stopped for a late lunch. Then, following the C 13 we drove up to the Port de la Bonaigua (2072 m) where you enter the Aran valley Find hotels in this city / area. A little after we arrived to Vielha (Viella), the capital city of the valley, and went directly to the Parador Nacional de Turismo de Viella , where we had booked a room for the following nights.
As I had already been in the Aran valley in the past, this time my main intention was not to visit the valley itself, but make some radial excursions. So, the following day we decided to go to the National Park of Aigüestortes Photos of the area for a short walk by the surroundings of the “estany” (lake) of San Maurici . We went with our car till Espot, where we had to park it because you can’t drive inside the park. However in Espot there is a regular service of 4×4 “Taxis” that for a reasonable price take you by the trails inside the park. In our case the Taxi left us near the Estany de Ratera (a small lake a few hundred meters above the Estany de Sant Maurici) and we went by foot till a close viewpoint where you can enjoy an incredible panoramic of the lake and the surrounding mountains. From there we walked down to the lake, by a narrow track that passes by the waterfall of Ratera, and finally bordering the lake leads to the Taxi’s stop, where we took the next Taxi down to Espot.
The next day we left Viella again and went south by the tunnel towards the Vall de Boi (Boi valley) Photos of the area, famous for the many Romanesque churches, most of them well preserved. Apart from the architectonic beauty of the small villages of this valley, its natural environment is also exceptional, and if you like open landscapes I can recommend you take the road that goes up to Taüll and the sky resort of Boi-Taüll, from where you will enjoy beautiful views of the valley.
We possibly planned a too short visit to the Boi valley (I hope to return there sometime and spend some days at least), but as we already had some hours left we drove by the N 260, passing by some semi-abandoned villages Photos of the area, and went to the close valley of La Vall Fosca Photos of the area. We had already been there some years before, so it just was a short visit in order to enjoy again the natural views that this valley offers.
The following day we had arranged a meeting in the town of Viella Photos of the area with a cousin of my wife, that by casualty was spending his holidays in Vall de Boi, together with his wife and their daughter. We spent the day visiting the town of Viella , doing some shopping and having lunch together.
Well, it was time to say goodbye to the Aran valley and move to our next destination, so we left Viella by the N 230 southwards and some km before Pont de Suert we took the N 260 towards the National Park of Ordesa. Near Castejón de Sos we made a short visit to the Benasque valley Photos of the area. In a few hours we drove by the road that follows the valley and got a first (and very positive) impression of what this valley was. It’s certainly in my list for some future, longer visit. Continuing our way by the N 260 we got to Ainsa and took the A 138 that leads to Bielsa by the banks of the Cinca river Photos of the area, where we took a narrow road that goes along the Pineta valley Photos of the area, at which end the Parador Nacional de Turismo of Bielsa is located. This is the most incredible place where a hotel can be, amongst the mountains, at the foot of the Monte Perdido and in the middle of one of the most beautiful corners of the Pyrenees, with no other buildings in dozens of km around. Some years before I had made a quick visit to the Pineta valley and I was very impressed, and now my dream of returning there for a longer stay in the Parador Nacional had come true!
The Pineta valley is at the east of the National Park of Ordesa Find hotels in this city / area, so the day after we decided to go to Torla Photos of the area, the natural entry of the park, and made some excursion by car by the surroundings (you can’t drive inside the park). When you get to Torla there is an incredible view of the town, up in a small hill, and the huge mountains of Monte Perdido in the background. The village of Torla itself is worth a visit, and the surroundings of the church are specially interesting, offering breathtaking views of the mountains.
From Torla we drove towards Bujaruelo Photos of the area, by a ground trail, along the Bujaruelo valley. This is a nice excursion either if you do it by car or by foot. From the trail you have excellent views of the mountains and the many water streams going down the slopes. Bujaruelo is actually nothing else than a mountain refugee beside a beautiful and well preserved roman bridge, but the environment is a dream.
When I had been in Ordesa, some years before, I made a nice excursion by foot, from Torla, along the ordesa valley, till the “Cola de Caballo”, a waterfall at the end of the valley from where one of the routes to climb Monte Perdido begins. This is a quite easy walk that I can certainly recommend you. The only drawback is the that you will meet hundreds of persons along the track…it’s not exactly what I would call a solitaire walk…
The following day we had planned a excursion by foot by the Añisclo gorge Photos of the area. This is a marvellous gorge carved by the Vellos river. There is a good track that goes up following the river towards the heart of the National Park, offering the spectacle of a virgin nature at its best. I have no words to describe this place…you will have to discover it yourself…
With the pictures of the Añisclo gorge still in our minds, the day after we had no other choice that leaving the marvelous central Pyrenees and drive towards Barcelona, however, we still had time for a short excursion by a narrow, but the good, road that goes up toward to the village of Plan Photos of the area. In Barcelona we took the ferry back home and back to everyday routine….but, fortunately, the Pyrenees are so close that I’m sure it was not the last time we spend our holidays there….Read More
On September 1998 I went to France Find hotels in this city / area with my wife. We don’t like arranged travels and we prefer to travel on our own, because we think is the only way you can get in touch with the real country and its people. This way of travelling is harder and more expensive than others, but also more pleasant, relaxing and, that’s the best, gives you a different point of view on the culture and way of life.
After my experience here you have my advice if you plan to travel on your own to France. You have to understand that this is MY PERSONAL POINT OF VIEW and that it is not my intention to criticize the people or culture of France. You also must take into account that these observations are from year 1998. Things might have changed (either in the right or in the wrong way) since then.
(Click on the icons to find hotels in that city or area)
If you are thinking of enjoying the marvellous french Riviera, change your mind. The well known “cote d’azur” is little more than about 80 Kms of overcrowded cost, and Saint Tropez Find hotels in this city / area, Saint Raphael Find hotels in this city / area, and Cannes Find hotels in this city / area are just another touristic resort.
Anyway, if you persist in the idea of visiting the area by car, avoid doing it on a weekend in Summer (as I stupidly did !). You will spent the whole day in a never-ending car bottleneck.
In our first lunch in France we found out that lunch-time in this country is rather different that in Spain. Restaurants in general close at 1:30 PM and after that time you can only eat some sandwich or crepe in the stands by the street….so you have to get used to have lunch earlier…:-)
Fortunately, at the end we reached Monaco Find hotels in this city / area. Monaco is worth to stay one or two days (But no more). In that time you can visit almost everything in this “little” exponent of how it must be “good life”.
A “must” in Monaco is the Oceanographic Museum. Everything there, from the Aquarium and museum to the building itself (built right on the cliffs), is outstanding. You can spent the whole morning there and then have a lunch on the restaurant on the terrace…
If you want to have dinner at a good restaurant at a resonable price (as “resonable” as prices can be in Monaco, of course) you can try the “Maison du caviar”, near Beausolei. Don’t get confused by the name of the restaurant, they have many dishes apart from caviar.
Hotels in Monaco Find hotels in this city / area are extremely expensive. A good alternative is to stay at hotel Olympia, wich is in Beausolei (France), but only a few streets away from Monaco and at a short walk from the Casino of Montecarlo. It is a small and recomendable hotel at afordable prices.
Unless you have a Rolls or a Ferrari don’t drive near the Casino….otherwise you will feel very, very “little thing”…
From Monaco we went to Grenoble Find hotels in this city / area. This city maybe is not woth the travel itself but it can be a good choice to spent a day in your way to Paris. Don’t forget to spend an afternoon visiting the surrondings, there are plenty of secondary roads leading to the ski resorts in the near Alps, that give you an excellent an pleasant view of the environment.
In Grenoble, don’t waste your time going to the cathedral, it’s just another building (and not one of the best, by the way..). Instead you can take the telepheric to “la bastille” from where, if you are lucky with the weather, you will enjoy a great panoramic of the city with the Alps at the background.
If you visit the city on the first tuesday of the month, don’t run to the shelters when you hear the raid-alarm at 12:00…it is just sounding as a conmemoration for the workers…the city is not being attacked…:-)
A good hotel to stay there (always within my reduced budget) is the Hotel D’Angleterre. They also offer you an interesting discount in the public parking nearby and in the tickets for the telepheric to “la bastille”.
Another day of driving and we got to Paris. This is for sure one of the most beautiful cities in the world…and it is not a topic…it is true…At least once in your life you must visit Paris Find hotels in this city / area.
One of the problems of Paris is the dense, and somehow chaotic traffic. The best thing you can do if you go by car is to search a parking near the hotel and leave it inside as long as posible.
In Paris, get ready to pay for everything. Don’t expect to do anything apart from walking down the Boulevards and visiting churches without paying….even using the toilettes in the bar will cost you 2 francs.
The best way to move accross the city is of course the underground. You can buy a special ticket for visitors called “Paris Visite” that can be used for a certain number of days (1 to 5). Just remember that the day you buy it counts as a full day…I mean that if you buy a 2 day ticket at 23:00 it will be usable only for 25 hours….so you had better get it early in the morning…
Just a comment regarding the bars. While in Spain one of the cheapest thinks you can drink is a mineral water, it seems that in Paris water is for tycoons.
Be ready to pay 20 to 30 francs for a 1/4 L. bottle…..Coffe is about half that price…
I recomend you spend one day visiting Versalles….not the city of course, but the palace and the gardens…..you will understand then why the French revolution took place…
I you get to Versalles and find all the stores closed that is because it’s Monday….curiously, almost all the activity of the city is related to the visitors of the palace….and it can’t be visited on Mondays…
Well, you haven’t planned very well your visit and won’t be able to watch the marvels the palace hides inside,..sic….but be happy !!, you can still visit for free all the surroundings and walk the gardens down to the lake almost alone…something you can’t certainly do the rest of the week….Believe it or not, I HAVE taken some pictures of Versalles WITHOUT any person!!…very little tourists can say that…:-)
Another thing about Versalles…don’t forget to take with you some pieces of bread….otherwise you won’t have the chance to feed the big fishes (carps I think) which are used to take the food from the hands of the visitors, as if they were dogs…
If you are going to go up to the tower Eiffel you should know that you can do it for free, (by the stairs, of course…:-)…but you can also take the lift (a “little” more expensive, by the way)….If you are planning to go the “third” (highest) floor and when you get to the tower you see a banner announcing that the “third floor is closed”, don’t worry….it simply means that it’s closed at “that moment”…. they will posibly open it half an hour later or before….Just stay on the queue and buy your ticket for the “top floor”. The view from top of the tower is worth both, the wait and the price…
I am not going to recomend you to visit anything in special. There are great travel-guides of Paris and in fact EVERYTHING is worth being visited….(even the really nice church we had near the hotel, that was not even mentioned in any guide, and that could be considered as a cathedral in many other cities). Don’t plan to stay less than 5 days in Paris…in that time you will only have time to have a first look at the most outstanding places….
In spite of the fact that I loved Paris very much, I have to admit that I get fed up of big cities very soon, and we decided to have a few days rest before going back home. So we went to the central part of France, where many health resorts of thermal waters are famous, in the region of Auvergne.
To be more exact we spent two days in the small village of Mont Dore. The charm and beauty of the landscapes, together with the peace and silence of the villages make of this area one of the most remarkable places to rest.
A recommendable hotel in Mont Dore is Hotel Le Panorama….As its name indicates it has a nice view on the village and down the valley…it is extremely quiet and you can spend some of your time at the swimming pool, playing ping-pong or billiard, or just sitting at the hall smoking a cigar while watching the rain through the large windows. Although I liked very much the location and facilities of this hotel, I can’t say the same about the rooms and the staff….they both need to be “updated”.
If you get worn-out of all this I recommend you take your car and visit some of the pretty medieval villages of the surroundings, and enjoy their regional cheeses and sausages.
No far away there is also a small but curious farm of kangaroos and castors…You can take pictures, touch and feed the animals…something different from the usual zoos..isn’t it?. It’s cheap and you, your companion and the children can have a nice experience with these “wild” animals.
Also, in the hotel itself, there is the restaurant L’Oree du Bois where you can taste some of the marvelous local dishes before going back home.
On September 2007 I went to Denmark (see map) with my wife. We don’t like arranged travels and we prefer to travel on our own, because we think is the only way you can get in touch with the real country and its people. This way of travelling is harder and more expensive than others, but also more pleasant, relaxing and, that’s the best, gives you a different point of view on the culture and way of life.
After my experience here you have my advice if you plan to travel on your own to these areas. You have to understand that this is MY PERSONAL POINT OF VIEW and that it is not my intention to criticize the people or culture of any of the mentioned places. You also must take into account that these observations are from year 2007. Things might have changed (either in the right or in the wrong way) since then. You must also bear in mind that this is not a travel guide, but just the description of my own journey and my own impressions. If you don’t agree with some of the opinions below just write your own WEB page with you own opinions, but don’t bother me.
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The main idea of this journey was to visit Denmark, where we had never been before. When planning the journey it was obvious that we’ll have to spend some days at Copenhagen, but it was difficult to decide what other places in the country would be worth to visit. Finally, taking into account the few days we had and the fact that we were arriving and leaving by the airport of Copenhagen we decided to concentrate on the islands, leaving most of the continental part (Jutland) for a future travel.
I found a relatively cheap direct flight from Palma de Mallorca to Copenhagen in Lastminute.com with Spanair . The flight lasted for about 3 hours and when arrived we went directly to get the car I had booked at Budget . I had booked a Peugeot 307 SW, but as they didn’t have any available I was given an Audi A4 Avant for the same price (no need to say I didn’t complain…).
And there the problems began…. suddenly I realized I had forgotten the travel guide in the seat of the airplane. I immediately went to the customer service of SAS (the partner of Spanair in Denmark) and they “kindly” told me that nothing could be done. That the airplane had been already cleaned and that it was not their responsibility (!!). The girl told me that I should go to the lost and found department of Copenhagen police !!. Well, buying a new guide would solve the problem, so after my initial anger I decided it was better to forget the incident, take the car and drive towards the city.
We went directly to the Hotel Avenue that I had booked in hotusahotels.com . This hotel is not at the centre of Copenhagen, but this was not a problem for me as I would have a car. The hotel itself was good for me, it offers free WiFI to guests, the crew was always very helpful, room and bathroom are clean (but both very small) and you can use their car park for an reasonable fee. The only drawback was the price of the room, but this is the same for all hotels in Denmark. They are terribly expensive, specially if you are from a country like Spain, where you are used to get the same (or even better) quality and services for half the price.
It was getting late for lunch so we just left the baggage in the room and went to a cafe nearby (the hotel doesn’t have restaurant) to eat one of the traditional Smorrebrod (a toast with salad and fish/shrimps or meat) that the Danes like so much to eat at lunch. Afterwards we went to the downtown to to have a first feeling of the city and walking a bit by the famous Strøget , that is said to be the longest shopping street in Europe. To the disappointment of my wife all shops were already closed at that time (Almost all shops in Denmark close at 17:00 !)
The following day was Sunday, so we decided to visit the downtown of Copenhagen Photos and information of the area as it would be easier to park than in a working day (and free!). Driving by the city of Copenhagen is not complicated, but parking in the old town is really expensive (free on Sundays), and understanding the complicated signals that supposedly tell you where and when you are allowed to park (depending on the day, time, etc.) is simply impossible for a foreigner. And fines are not cheap, believe me…. I strongly recommend you don’t get to the downtown in you own car in working days!
We went directly to the most important attraction of the city, the Little Mermaid , that although not being specially impressive is an icon of Denmark and thus you are supposed to visit it. We left the car at the car park near the Little Mermaid and walked to the near downtown, passing by the really beautiful Saint Albans church and the Churchill park, to end up in the impressive Marble church and the Amalienborg palace . From there we walked towards the Rosenborg castle , that is surrounded by a beautiful park, and then to the botanical garden Photos and information of the area, that is absolutely splendid and holds a huge greenhouse that is worth the visit.
It was getting late, so we went to Nyhavn , one the most popular corners of the city, and where there are plenty of restaurants with terraces along the channel. After lunch we took one of the open boats that leave from Nyhavn itself and offer one-hour cruises by the channels and harbour . This gives you nice view of the city for a reasonable price and we certainly enjoyed very much the experience.
Next day, Monday, it was time for some shopping, so we spent the whole morning going up and down by the Strøget, buying some amber (quite expensive, by the way) and other souvenirs. In the afternoon we went to the famous Tivoli gardens Photos and information of the area, a amusement park in the central Copenhagen, that in spite of its reduced size (about 75,000 sqr. meters) catches you for many hours. Tivoli is specially beautiful in the night, when it’s illuminated by thousands of coloured lights, so it’s a good idea to get there in the afternoon and stay till late in the evening, having dinner in any of the multiple restaurants, that cover all tastes and budgets.
The following day we left Copenhagen towards northern Zealand (the island where Copenhagen is located), driving by the coast road that takes you through a never-ending succession of houses that hardly allow to see the sea (the Oresund sound, that separates Denmark and Sweden). We got to the Kronborg castle Photos and information of the area, near Helsingør, that is specially famous for being the setting for much of William Shakespeare’s famous tragedy Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. From there we continued northwards by the coast to the village of Gilleje , and then went south to the Fredensborg palace Photos and information of the area, that we only could see from outside (It is the Danish Royal Family’s spring and autumn residence). A little further there is the impressive Frederiksborg palace Photos and information of the area, that we have to visit very quickly as it closes at 17:00 (as almost every place does in this country, grrrr!!). In order not to go back to the hotel so early we drove eastwards to the village of Hundested and spent some time walking in the sunset by the beaches nearby Photos and information of the area.
Wednesday was a rainy day but we had to go on with our plans, so we took the car and crossed the 16 km. long bridge that links Denmark and Sweden, spent some time in the city of Malmö Photos and information of the area, with beautiful parks and many pedestrian streets, and then went to Lund Photos and information of the area, one of the oldest towns in Sweden which has a beautiful cathedral. From there we drove down to the southern coast and went back to Malmö by the road along this absolutely flat coast of the Baltic sea. Crossed the bridge again and went back to the hotel with a really bad cold I had got….
Next day it was time to move to our new destination in the island of Lolland, but instead of going directly there (distance is really little) we stopped at Roskilde Photos and information of the area, which has a beautiful cathedral, nice pedestrian shopping streets, and a famous Viking ship museum. Then went down to Næstved Photos and information of the area, where we had lunch, and then to the beautiful Gavnø palace Photos and information of the area, that lays on its own island, and that we could only see from outside (do you guess why?…yeees, it closed at 17:00 !!)
Just before sunset we arrived to Maribo, the main town in Lolland island, and went to the Hotel Maribo Søpark , where I had booked a room. The problems began when they told me that there were no smoking rooms available, and in spite of me insisting that I had booked a smoking room I was forced to get a non-smoking one, what certainly exasperated my wife (the smoker..). The girl at the reception was kind enough to provide us with an ashtray an grant us permission to smoke at the balcony of the room (no need to say how “pleasant” was to smoke outdoors, in the fall, in Denmark, in the evening…). Regarding the room and the bathroom, well…. they should be fine in the 80’s, but little had been renewed since then…. The leather of the chairs was worn out, the sheets were broken, the curtain of the old bath tube was dirty, the balcony hasn’t been cleaned for ages and it was full of spiders,…….. The only good point of this hotel is the location, right at the shore of the Søndersø lake, with nice views and in a restful place. Let’s say it’s the wrong hotel in the right place, and it’s certainly not cheap at all.
Maribo Photos and information of the area is a small town with no special tourist interest, however its location in central Lolland, by the shore of the charming Søndersø lake Photos and information of the area, makes it an interesting place to stay when visiting this most rural, and somehow less developed, region of Denmark.
A few km. north of Maribo you can find the excellent Knuthenborg safari park Photos and information of the area. If you are travelling with children the visit to this park is a must, but anyway if you like enjoying the nature and animals you should also consider spending at least one morning there. You can take a bus at the main entrance, but definitively the best way to visit the park is with your own vehicle. The ticket is not cheap, but it’s worth the money.
The next day we drove to the east of the island of Møn, where Møns Klint is located. If you like natural landscapes I strongly recommend you visit Møns Klint Photos and information of the area, a famous natural resort with over 100m high bright chalk cliffs, on top of which a beautiful forest invites you to walk along the well preserved (although quite steep) footpaths that go along the coast for several km.
It was time to move on, so the following day we took the ferry that links the islands of Lolland and Langeland (there is no bridge between these islands) and from Langeland we crossed the bridge to the island of Fyn, driving directly to the city of Odense Photos and information of the area, where the most outstanding is the house of Hans Christian Andersen and the traditional houses of the neighbourhood Photos and information of the area. There are also many pedestrian shopping streets in the downtown, but this time we only had very little time to walk around.
When I was planning this travel my intention was to stay in a hotel in Odense, but for some reason there were no rooms available in any suitable hotel, so I finally booked a room in the Hotel KongebroGaarden in Middelfart Photos and information of the area, right at the shore of the narrow sound between Fyn and the mainland. The Hotel KongebroGaarden is a good hotel, with comfortable and excellent, although pretty small rooms, some of them with views of the Lillebælt sound.
Our journey was getting to its end, but still had one day left for a visit to the charming city of Ribe Photos and information of the area, in the mainland, known for being the oldest city in Denmark and for having more than 100 traditional well preserved houses. I enjoyed very much spending the day in Ribe and walking up and down by the pedestrian streets.
In the afternoon it began raining a lot, so we went back to the hotel early and rested a little in our last night in Denmark. The last day we crossed the island of Fyn eastwards, stopping again in Odense for some last-minute souvenir shopping, crossed the 18 km long bridge that links Fyn and Zealand islands and went directly to the airport of Copenhagen.
Copenhagen is a really worth a visit and there are also other interesting (but isolated) spots all over the country, but the landscapes and coasts that we visited somehow disappointed me a little (the only exception was Møns Klint). Might be it has to do with the fact that this is a very flat country, with no mountains at all (highest is about 170 m above see level only) and also because of the too domesticated nature.
The Danes are very polite and they are always willing to help you as much as they can. They are really nice people.
The food is quite different to what we are used in the Mediterranean, so it was really hard to get used to it (in fact we didn’t manage to get used to it). Most dishes are based on fish or meat, with very little vegetables.
The different lunch and dinner habits were also a problem (they use to have a relatively light lunch and a strong dinner). My wife is vegetarian and her opinion about the Danish food was even more radical than mine…. her words were “thank goodness there are Italian restaurants everywhere….” 🙂
Alcoholic drinks are VERY expensive. There is no Danish wine (too north for the vines), but fortunately there are many different good beers (very expensive, but good).