Sandwiched between France and Spain, high in the Pyrenees, the tiny principality of Andorra is a world unto itself, boasting stunning landscapes, rich history, and a unique blend of cultures. While Catalan is the official language, French and Spanish are also widely spoken in the capital, Andorra La Vella, the highest in Europe. I’m here for the 2nd edition of the Andorra Taste Festival, a celebration and exploration of high mountain cuisine.
I arrive in Barcelona as there’s no airport in the country and it’s then a two hour road trip. We climb up into the mountains, past stone houses clustered into villages, sheer walls of rock looming above, and sheep grazing in the sparse pasture. Andorra La Vella, at 1023 is surprisingly modern, with high rises, tax free shops and casinos lining its streets, although there is an old quarter near the river.
The festival comprises three days of chef presentations and then three more of pop-up stalls offering public tastings. It’s also the occasion to present a Manifesto of Mountain Cuisine, a document that fifty chefs and gastronomy professionals have signed up to. It aims to promote the food and wine heritage of mountain regions,
More than 30 chefs give presentations over the first three days including Catalan Joan Roca, Paco Méndez, who combines Mexican cuisine with local products from Andorra, and the Peruvian Gastón Acurio. Scheduled also is Nepalese Ngatemba Sherpa, who cooks at 4000m, although sadly he’s only a video presence as his visa has been delayed.
The Alps are the guest territory this year, with Three Michelin star Sven Wassmer from Swiss restaurant Memories, in Bad Ragaz, talking about his cooperation with local farmers and producers to deliver the best ingredients. Rebecca Clopath from Biohof Taratsch in Lohn, Switzerland, goes one stage further and runs a farm herself. She sources mosses, herbs, even sap from the forest, for her distinctive cuisine.
What comes across clearly is that cooking at altitude has its own challenges not least the ingredients – herbs are limited, only certain animal species can survive and the growing season is short. Cooking times need to be modified, yeast acts differently and foods dry out more quickly. Yet all these factors make the taste of mountain cuisine unique, something to be sought out and celebrated.
In Andorran gastronomy cured meats, embutidos, figure highly, as this was the only way of preserving for the winter. Bringuera is made with pig’s head, bacon and prepared in the autumn. Donja, with a fattier consistency, is from pig’s neck and farmers took them into the mountains as a source of energy. The best embutidos were brought out on special occasions, even for marriage proposals.
And, a surprise for me, is a high altitude wine tasting led by Ferran Centelles, the former sommelier of El Bulli. Grapes grow differently in the mountains, remaining small, with little juice, yet this concentrates the flavours. Surprisingly, wine has been made in Andorra since the middle ages and today there are five active wineries with vines at 1000 and 1300m. Of course the wines are more expensive but, on the evidence of the tasting, well worth seeking out.
Andorra Taste Popular
For the second three days, the festival expands to the outdoors where Andorra Taste Popular takes place in a pop-up food court. Nineteen local restaurants each offer a different dish in tapas size, highlighting their mountain cooking. Highlights are the Odetti Bistró’s Pork Cheek Brioche, Restaurant Bruna’s Meat Cannelloni with Seasonal Mushrooms and Sauleda by Julia Onix’s Coca De Llavaneres with Chocolate or Cream. There’s also live music and show cooking demonstrations.
During the festival, I also get a chance to visit the rugged terrain above Andorra la Vella. In the winter this transforms into a snowy wonderland, perfect for skiers and snowboarders. But in late summer, the flowers are still blooming and valleys and lakes are connected by hiking and biking trails. Even better, small restaurants offer wonderful mountain food with panoramic views of the Pyrenees from their terraces.
INFO: The next Andorra Taste will take place in September 2024.
Visit Andorra has information about the country.
GO: Vueling flies direct from London Gatwick to Barcelona.
The Gatwick Express is the fastest way to the airport from central London.
STAY: The Grand Plaza Hotel makes a luxury base in the centre of Andorra la Vella.
EAT: Rest. Diamant in Andorra la Vella.
Celler d’en Toni in Andorra la Vella.
Borda de l’Avi in La Massana.
Borda del Pi in Canillo.