In the north of Spain, wedged in a narrow Pyrenean valley and bordering France, you can find the Val d’Aran. An area that allies both history and nature in its most beautiful state, the Val d’Aran is very dear to my heart: part of my family originates from there and we still have relations living in the same village, even the same house dating back to the 17th century.
A narrow valley, it is famed for its ski slopes and hiking trails, dotted with chalets and flagstone houses, charming first-time tourists and recurring visitors alike. The last time I was there was May this year. My family and I travelled to Toulouse before driving the few hours necessary to the small village of Escunhau. Once there, we paid a visit to the small Romanesque church, Sant Pèir d’Escunhau, which is situated at one of the highest points of the village, facing the mountains and showcases traditional Romanesque sculptures and arches. Following that, we met up with our family and proceeded to drive to a mountain chalet for lunch, along a popular hiking spot: the valley of Era Artiga de Lin. Val d’Aran is a dream come true for outdoor sports fans, providing activities for everyone in all seasons: hiking, rafting, skiing, etc. And when the time has come to fuel up for more activities, Aranese cuisine is exactly what’s needed.
Whenever we visit, we always go for the same things: pan con tomate, the traditional Catalan bread rubbed with garlic, tomato, olive oil and a pinch of salt; fuet, a thin, cured pork sausage; as well as local lamb chops and blood sausage accompanied by potatoes. Hearty would be the best way to describe Aranese food. What I love about this area is the pride that people feel in their culture, which is firmly Spanish, but with plenty of French influences, as well as a strong historical anchor, particularly Medieval. Take their language, Aranese, which is still widely spoken and taught at school: it is derived from Occitan and an official language in Catalonia, as opposed to simply a dialect.
Our family there all speak it and switch very easily between Spanish, Catalan and Aranese. I can understand it quite well as there are a lot of similarities with French, but it’s equally as easy to get lost! After lunch all together, they took us to Uells deth Joèu, an impressive waterfall, with mountain water cascading over mossy boulders and into the river below. The scenery there is so removed from everyday city life and so peaceful, made even more beautiful by the fact that it is wild nature, complete with bears living in the forests, as opposed to neatly manicured man-made landscapes.
And despite what seems to be quite a remote location at first glance, it is actually within reasonable driving distance to more historic locations, including prehistoric caves in Ariège, holy sights in Lourdes and historic towns such as Carcassonne, making the Val d’Aran is a doorway to both Spanish and French history.
You can read about the rest of our travelling adventures on the La Fête blog.