From time to time I like to talk about Spanish culture here. This is something I also do when practicing a Spanish conversation with a student, and helps them to undestand the language.
When somebody talks about Spain, even in autumn, what usually comes to mind is the warm south, big sun, you sitting on a beach, drinking a cocktail and overlooking Morocco. Even though tempting, that is just too much of a cliché. Instead, I will make you dream about the far north-east, abundant hanging valleys, in the corner of the Pyrenees, the Vall d’Aran. Hiking, good food, cultural activities, adventures and beautiful villages sounds so good that it would be a pity for this place to only be read about, and not visited. And to do so, I will take you to a virtual journey firstly explaining a bit of history and then moving on to food to satisfy your appetite, so that you can be prepared for a further mountain exploration and finally end your journey in a beautiful village listening.
Being at the north-western tip of Catalonia, and the headwater valley of the river Garonne before its final flow into the Atlantic in Bordeaux, France, makes its history and culture different than any other valleys in Spain. Its culture has clear Occitanian roots, which makes Arenese the official language of the valley, in spite of Spanish and Catalonian. Archeologists in Naut Aran have found the first signs of life to be during the Bronze Age. Further remains in Arties, Les and Tredos date back from Roman times. Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque periods can as well be testified by the architecture and many churches around. Firstly being a part of Catalonia, Vall d’Aran faced tense relations with France which ended in invasion and conquest by the French troops in 1283. However, after James II of Catalonia and Aragon secured an appointment that brought Vall d’Aran back to Catalonia in 1313. In the same year, James II implemented important tax exemptions. The valley was divided into six parts, each one having its own councilor, all together forming the Conselh Generau, existing until today.
Feeling hungry after a history lesson? Well, I have something for your longing appetite. The Aranese cuisine has its roots from garden hunting and fishing. Our appetizer will be the traditional soup Olha Aranesa, a mixture of beef, chicken, pork and duck with various herbs and vegetables. Next, we go with a Duck Confit served with a fruit jam. To end, crêpes with wild berries as a dessert. What about a cup of coffee and then moving on to hiking?
As Vall d’Aran is a river of mountains, most of them higher than 2000m above sea level, there are numerous breath-taking hikes. One is the famous Royal Path, or Camin Reiau, 150 km long, historically used as a way of communication between villages intertwined in the valley. In addition, it was used by the Roman to build the now-existing routes. The National Park Aigues Tortes as well offers many toured hikes through villages and the lakes of Saboredo and Colomers. Scattered around the mountains, Vall d’Aran has 33 villages built in wood, slate and stones, and witnessing towers and steeples.
Can you just imagine the staggering view of an alpine snowy valley rich with rivers, lakes and mountains around? Paradise for the soul and seasoning for your imagination. If you want to see autumn as a second spring, where every leaf is a flower, do not even finish reading this sentence- pack yourself and do not forget to take your winter clothes!