The beautiful Val D’Aran in Spain is the heart and soul of the Pyrenees. This magnificent mountainous valley stretches 40 kilometers and encompasses 33 historic medieval villages, Spain’s highest glacier Maldeto on Aneto at 3404meters, and Baqueira Beret ski resort – Spain’s largest skiing.
Val D’Aran is a special place to visit – with a rich culture – historically and linguistically, gorgeous scenery, delicious gastronomy of native ham, cheese, wonderful wines – think Rioja, and delightfully friendly Spanish people.
Fun fact, Aran is Basque for valley, so Val D’Aran is actually the valley of the valleys. Redundant perhaps, it sounds like a magical spell, capturing how magical this region is!
More fun, three languages are spoken here fluently and frequently here, Spanish, ancient Aranese and Catalan. Fortunately for visitors, most locals also speak French and English, or Span-glish – a meld of Spanish and English.
Vielha is the capital of Val D’Aran, and the most bustling of the otherwise peaceful medieval and gothic villages and ski towns. Vielha is the hub of shops, lodging and restaurants, with 5,000 inhabitants, the entire valley is home to 9,000.
Prior to construction of the Vielha tunnel, opened in 1948, the Aran valley had little communication from outside, especially during winter. The ski resort of Baqueira Beret didn’t open until 1964, with Spain’s first single-chair. Now it is Spain’s largest ski resort, approaching a million skier visit annually. Baqueira is a big ski mountain, with over 5,300 acres, 36 lifts and 170 kilometers of pistes, plus Nordic, and dog sledding and snowmobiling, and lots of free ride off-piste skiing opportunities for experts.
Top Things to Do in Val D’Aran
Ski Baqueira Beret – this sizeable, scenic ski mountain, 5,600 acres, has terrain for abilities, from broad boulevards for kids and those learning to ski, to upper mountain steeps, long groomed runs, Snow Parks, and big snowfields for powder skiers, with an efficient 36 lifts from a gondola to six-pax chairs and pomas and magic carpets.
Visit an authentic cheese maker, a Spanish Queseria, in the charming medieval village of Baguergue. Two brothers at Hormatges Tarrau make delicious cheeses just like their grandma, using her recipes! Enjoy the tour and cheese tasting, and be sure to pet the kids – the local goats and sheep that graze around this highest village in Val D’Aran.
Mush some huskies. Go dog-sledding with Montgarri Outdoors from Beret. Feel the power of these winter sled dogs as they pull your sleigh. You can go for short ride or all the way to lunch or dinner at a remote historic refuge.
Snowmobile to a 12th century sanctuary for dinner. Montgarri Outdoors will tour you on snowmobiles, 8 kilometers into a snowy forest from Beret to a monastery Refugi Montgarri. Here in a stone castle by a medieval church, enjoy an amazing rustic meal cooked over an open fire. Four courses ensue at Montgarri, a starter of local pate, foie gras and cheeses, followed by crocks of Aranese stew, and the main plate of grilled steak and duck with potatoes, followed by a decadent dessert and shots of house liquor. Pay caution after all that fabulous food and vino to your wild dark ride into the night on your sled back to Beret. The return trip seems longer and more slippery, or it did to us when our sled slid off track. Its an exciting adventure like no other.
Pinxto Pote in Veilha– this fun friendly tapas style pub crawl of small plates and wines is especially popular on Tuesday. Veilha village is brimming with Spanish bars and cafes, and this a fabulous format to have a bite and drink at each. Its social and the pinxto are so good, served with a glass of local wine, delicious cheap and cheerful about $5 Euro each.
Bike or hike Val D’Aran in summer. This splendid valley is full of flaura and fauna, and invigorating terrain to explore in summer months. The resort towns of Baquiera are less busy in summer, unlike most Alps ski town like Zermatt, Chamonix, The Jungfrau’s Grindelwald and Wengen. Calfate Ski Center rents electric bikes to assist you on the big hills. Guides are available for hiking.
See the Romanesque and Gothic churches, listen to the language, immerse yourself in the Catalunya culture and see why these Aranese people are so fiercely proud and independent. The Catalans are also very friendly, happy to describe their paradise, and welcome you. Friendlier in our travel experience than the French or Swiss (just being honest).
Spa at Montarto Hotel, after exploring the Val D’Aran’s great outdoors, or skiing Baqueira Beret’s vast slopes, visit this lovely 4 stay Montarto Hotel and relax and rejuvenate at the Spa and wellness center with a thermal circuit of Hydra spas – polar, pebbles path, Scottish shower, essence and contrast shower, ice fountain, Finnish sauna, steam bath and thermal deck chairs. There’s also massages and treatments available.
Val D’Aran is easy to reach, just two hours from Toulouse France, over three from Barcelona, six from Madrid. Your visit could include a few days touring Toulouse or the magnificent city of Barcelona and Gaudi’s great works of architecture.