Crossing into Andorra from Spain, the road follows the Valira del Orient, a river valley. Les Escaldes and Encamp are typical mountain villages: now they're becoming resorts.
Just after Encamp Transmitting towers of Radio Andorra, beaming broadcasts to Spanish lowlands to the south.
Meritxell A wooden statue of the Virgin was found in the woods around here, many centuries ago. It was believed to have been put there miraculously. The place is now the national shrine.
(These events followed a pattern that recurs elsewhere in Europe. A statue of the Virgin shows up in some wild setting, and is thus taken to have been a miracle. Other examples of this are Montserrat in Spain and Chartres in France. The explanation of this pattern is that during the Middle Ages, relics of past saints were highly prized. But in the case of the Virgin Mary, there was a saint who could not leave any relics, because she was believed to have been assumed, bodily, into heaven. So instead, little statues were venerated; in fact these statues were usually of pagan origins (the mother-goddess), but were later given a Christian interpretation.
Soldeu At 6,000 feet, the highest town in Andorra. Afterwards begins the sharpest ascent, up to the highest pass in the Pyrenees: the Envalira Pass (7,800 ft.).
After the French border The town of Ax-les-Thermes, where women still wash clothes at he communal pool, fed by natural hot springs.
Foix The Counts of Foix once ruled over Andorra, then they were forced to hand it over to the kings of France. The area around Foix is "cave country." Many of these caverns are covered with pre-historic wall paintings. Bones and pre-historic tools have been uncovered here.
Over the centuries, as different religious groups in France were under persecution, they sought refuge in these caves. E.g. early Christians, Albigensians, Huguenots. The biggest cave is Mas-d'Azil. Its Caverne Merveilleuse extends 2-1/2 miles. During WW II, it was used as an underground aircraft plant.
The land evens out until we reach Carcassonne.
(COURIER: Now start your introduction to Carcassonne.)
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