Few days ago we had planned a trip to Val d’Aran, a hidden valley in the Pyrenees. We wanted to do some of the most beautiful hikes higher than 2.000 m among glacier valleys and lakes, we wanted to enjoy the summer landscape of the higher mountains of the Pyrenees. However, the weather had a different plan than us.
Val d’Aran is the northernmost valley of Catalonia and it has a completely different climate than the rest of the country. Known for its capital, Barcelona, and its beautiful beaches of Costa Brava, the mediterranean culture and the sunny weather, Catalonia attracts millions of tourists every year. The Pyrenees give to Catalans a close look to alpine environments, weather and landscapes, but Val d’Aran is completely another world. Aranese people have their own language, their own way of understanding live and its north orientation makes it the only place in Catalonia with an Alpine-Atlantic climate.
The 23rd of September we were in Barcelona with shorts with almost 30ºC. The 24th of September we drived to Val d’Aran and the 25th of September we had loads of snow with a maximum temperature of 4ºC. This is the story of how our plans changed, from summer to winter in 2 days, from green hikes to white slides…
We took advantage of the 24th of September to see the best waterfalls of Val d’Aran. First we went to Molieres waterfall, falling directly from the Aneto massif, the higher mountain of the Pyrenees with 3.403,5m above see level. The waterfall is located in the south face of the Vielha tunnel, so, strictly speaking it is not part of the valley, but it is part of the county.
Val d’Aran can only be reached through three different points: from France in the north, from Bonaigua Pass (2000m high) in the East and through the Vielha tunnel (5.230 m long) in the south. Its isolated location, 4h far from the capital, Barcelona, and with no near airport available, have preserved the nature and uniqueness of this valley. It is usually full of people during winter with its huge ski stations, like Baqueira-Beret, maybe the poshest ski place in Catalonia.
From Molieres warerfall we drived through the tunnel, descended towards the capital of Val d’Aran, Vielha, and continued towards Artiga de Lin small valley, just in the north face of Aneto. It is a beautiful place with a beautiful waterfall: Uelhs deth Joèu. We took the car again, and went to the northest part of Val d’Aran to find the biggest waterfall of the valley: Saut deth Pish.
In Saut deth Pish it started raining, weather changed and showed us how the following two days were going to be.
The 25th of September looked like 25th of December. It was so cold that we decided to stay in the lowest area of the valley, visiting beautiful villages like Les, Bossòst, Canejan or Vilamòs. After lunch temperature droped and it started snowing also in the lowest part of Vielha capital. With the car we drove towards higher villages like Arties, Salardú, Unha and Bagergue.
Bagergue is known to be listed as one of the most beautiful towns in Spain, it is also the highest village in Catalonia and we visited it under an intense snowfall with beautiful summer flowers showing their colours under the white blanket.
We ended the day in hour hotel, the Parador of Vielha, where we took advantage of its indoor and outdoor spa with jacuzzi. Under a slight snowfall, being in an outdoor jacuzzi with hot water was the best way to recover from the cold day.
The Spa has multiple services: bubble bath, outdoor hydro-massage bathtub, essential oil shower, Scottish shower, indoor-outdoor swimming pool, Finnish sauna, Turkish sauna, bithermal shower, etc. The indoor-outdoor swimming pool has incredible views over all the valley with a wooden bridge over the pool.
The next day started as cold as the day before and we could neither go higher than 1500m. For this reason we decided to do a hike in the lowest part of the valley, through the magic forest of Carlac, in the northernmost town of Catalonia: Bausen. There we had a non-stop rain during our hike, which crossed different waterfalls and passed by some incredible old beech trees.
Imagine witches, knights and monks in Medieval ages walking through Carlac forest. It is not difficult. It is one of those places where many of our child tales could have happened, like Red Riding Hook, Hansel and Gretel or many others.
And finally, the next day we saw the sun through the window of hour room at 8am. With this we knew the plan: Go towards the highest reachable point of the valley by car: Pla de Beret. Seeing the valley mixing the green of the summer and the white of the winter was incredible. The round restaurant of our hotel looked gorgeous under this landscape.
Pla de Beret is one of the higher parking areas of Vaqueira-Beret ski-station. From there it starts a beautiful and easy hike towards the Montgarri Sanctuary. However, it was so full of snow that we could not do that. We could only take photos, play snowball game and enjoy.
There are usually flights from UK that land in Lleida airport, a small landing lane 130 km far from Vielha. These flights are always full of young English people looking for cheaper options to ski than the Alps. They usually go directly from the airport to Baqueira-Beret, where they have more than 160 km ready for skiing.
Also French and rich people from Spain usually considers this ski-station as their prefered one. The beautiful landscapes, towns, hikes and also its gastronomy, makes from Val d’Aran a perfect destination for families and couples any time of the year. However, you may think you are traveling in summer and find a long winter weekend like us.
We ended the day visiting Banhs de Tredós, a thermal area which is the door to Aigüestortes National Park. There we created our snowman of the season who wanted to take a selfie with us. From there we went high again towards Bonaigua pass where the weather changed again and snow started falling… but we had enough, we drove back to Barcelona.