During the winter of 2013, we decided to take a trip up to Andorra from Barcelona for the weekend. We were not interested in skiing, but rather, were going to tromp around in the snow and visit a hot spring resort that I had read about, Caldea.
We headed directly to Andorra la Vella, Andorra’s capital city, from the border. Perched at 1,023 meters above sea level, it is the highest city in Europe. My first impression of Andorra la Vella was that it seemed like a 1970s ski resort town that hadn’t changed much since the time it was created. The buildings didn’t have much character, but they were full of shops. Since Andorra is a tax free zone, many Spaniards, French, and Portuguese make the journey north (or south, depending) to shop ’til they drop. Although several friends had alluded that shopping was the main thing to do there, we decided to go anyway.
We booked a pet friendly, cheap hotel room right in the center of town for 2 nights. Although our room had no window and paper thin walls, it was right on the main drag, and within walking distance of Caldea. I was so excited about going to the hot springs, and to let the much needed healing relaxation begin. The place looked crazy when I looked it up. The facade resembled a glass cathedral, and the interior appeared to be dotted by floating pods of hydro-thermic water. The website boasted about the luxurious treatments, saunas, steam rooms, and medicinal properties of the hot spring water. It sounded so promising.
Around 11 AM the next morning, we headed to our reserved spots at Caldea. Upon entering the facilities, I was not hit with the sulfurous smell I am accustomed to when soaking in a natural thermal spring. The annoying smell of chlorine was overpowering, which was not a good sign. We entered the main pool area to find screaming children, floatation rafts, and tepid water. I couldn’t believe it! I had read that the water comes out at 68 degrees Celsius, how was it barely 20 degrees in that pool?! I asked around to see if there was a hotter pool, and there was, but everyone (and their grandma) was in there! It was a tiny pool with 30-40 people crammed in. Of course they were, it was snowing outside. Who in their right mind would want to be in cool water when its freezing cold outside?? Needless to say, I spent a majority of my time in the sauna, which also was overcrowded for my liking. I would definitely think twice about spending 30 euros per person on the entrance fee again.
After our Caldea experience, we wanted to treat ourselves to a nice meal. Its kind of like when you go to the movies and the flick you see is a complete bore. Afterwards, you have to watch a good movie to get the bad taste of the other out of your mouth. Back in our room, we perused the internet looking for recommended restaurants close to the center. My husband found a promising place located, as he put it, just a few blocks away. We headed out into the blustery, snowy night, expecting to eat some quality, traditional Catalan food. Five minutes turned to twenty-five, and we finally found ourselves at the front door of an unassuming place, not in the center of town, but in the middle of a neighborhood on the outskirts. Can Manel, was warm and inviting. The restaurant was full of people, and had the ambience of being in a close relative’s dining room. We gladly sat and started with two delicious gin and tonics.
After reading through the menu, we decided on some items that are normally gluten-free: roasted lamb and a grilled NY strip steak. As usual, we informed our waiter of our food allergy, just in case there was wheat hidden in something on our dish. He was shocked that we hadn’t said something sooner, because they catered a special menu just for coeliacs. What a pleasant surprise! He promptly brought us a plate of gluten-free breads, olives, and sliced cured meat, and we added numerous appetizers on to our dinner order.
They offer many apps that are hard to find gluten-free like croquetas (breaded potato rolls with meat), caneloni with béchamel sauce, and pasta carbonara. Many of their specialty main course items are also made gluten-free, as well as some amazing desserts. Their entire menu selection is viewable on their website, which is linked below.
With spot-on service and delicious, local food, Can Manel is truly a special place. When in Andorra, this restaurant is a must try! It was definitely the highlight of our trip. Next time we are in Andorra, I think we will eat at Can Manel, then bypass the city, and head straight out to the countryside.
Address: C/ Mestre Xavier Plana, 6
AD500 ANDORRA LA VELLA
Tel: (+376) 822 397