Have you ever been to Vall d’Aran? Not yet? Let’s join us in this full review of the 12 + 1 most beautiful villages in Vall d’Aran (Arán Valley). This territory has a unique history and a singular culture that goes beyond its connection with the nearby sky resorts. Actually, Vall d’Aran offers very diverse leisure options, snowmobile routes and walks, Romanesque churches, excellent gastronomy, museums, vestiges of a past and present full of local history.
Polybius, a Roman historian, speaks of a Pyrenean tribe called Arenosis in the 3rd century BC, already. In 76 BC, Pompeo annexed the upper Garonne valley for Rome, until 585, when the Germanic conquested this territory. During the 10th century, Vall d’Arán belonged to the county of Cominges, until Alfons d’Aragó arrived in the region and secured its protection with the Emparança treaty, in 1175. In 1283, the Vall d’Aran passed into French hands until 1312, when after a long diplomatic struggle and a popular referendum, with the granting of the “Querimonia privilege”, Vall d’Aran came back to Aragonese hands. Later on, during the Napoleonic invasion the territory passed briefly into French hands again until 1815, when it returned to the Spanish Crown.
Vall d’Aran is a county in the middle of the Pyrenees surrounded by snow for six months a year. Before the existence of the highway, and the more modern Vielha tunnel, the Arán valley received only one exit to the outside through France. A history of moderate isolation has preserved its singular culture that has evolve to be an specific value and an appreciated asset currently in the valley. The construction of the Vielha tunnel in 1948, of exceptional size at the time, was an improvement in the quality of life in the region, since it allowed access during the long winter periods in which the territory was cut off by snow.
The Garonne River, the most important in the French South, rises on the slopes of Baqueira Beret, and shapes the valley in its impetuous race towards the Atlantic. The river has been over time the main way for communication, and even today, the main road follows its path along this remote valley. Its villages, built on cliffs and hills that fall over the stream, keep in their interior an architecture similar to that which we can see in the Alps.
Where to stay?
There are plenty of options for accommodation in Vall d’Arán. The valley is very interesting but small, you could go on a morning back and forth to its borders more than once. So, if you want something strategic choose Viella to stay. If you want something more rural or specific you can dive into the large offering of the valley. Save some money and book via our link at the lowest prices guaranteed: Get the best prices guaranteed booking via this link!
Hotel Viella: It is located on the road to Gausach, which is a normal street that heads to this village that is actually part of the outskirts of Viella. The rooms are renovated and the cleaning is good. Don’t expect luxuries but it is good value for money.
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Where to eat and drink?
The gastronomy in Val d’Arán has two main dishes, the trout from Garonne river and the traditional Olla Aranesa (Aranese soup). Since the valley is touristy there many options of international tourist food like pizza and others, You can find some places with french influence, specially in Viella. Almost every village has its own rural restaurant, not all of them are the good level that they use to look like.
Era Lucana Restaurant: Classic old school restaurant with the traditional basic of the Aranese cuisine. The portions are very big and the quality of the food is excellent at a very reasonable price. It is normally noisy and it can be overcrowded, especially now during the pandemic. In addition, it seems that they don’t care about reservations at all.
The 12 + 1 most beautiful villages in Vall d’Aran
Vielha (in Aranese) or Viella (In Catalan) is actually the capital of the valley and even being quite small it has the services of a proper town. This is the place to go if you miss the city, for fusion gastronomy, shopping or nightlife (When this is allowed). Viella offers a variety of leisure activities at the height of the expectations of the biggest mountain fans. The specialized shops are among the best on the peninsula, and the beautiful town center, crossed by the Nere river, is a succession of traditional stone houses and modern buildings that, as in all around the valley, respect traditional Aranese architecture. Viella has plenty of slate roofs, well-cared wooden facades, some cute narrow streets, more than one hidden square, and interesting historic heritage to discover.
We stopped in Arties because its church of Sant Joan d’Arties, which is visible from the road. Once we parked the car we took some pictures and we realize that the real center of the town was a bit further following a narrow road. We didn’t expect that much and it was a mistake. The small town is full of colourful houses that keep the rural harmony even though there are plenty of visitors around filling the terraces of the cute restaurants. We could park easily again and we went up strolling till reaching the bell tower of Santa Maria d’Arties. Up there on a hill, this church seems like a castle because of its walls and its position. The panoramic views are awesome and nobody seemed to rush to go up.
We expected Bausen as the perfect traditional stone village for a Vall d’Aran postcard and indeed it was. The pity is that half of Catalonia could have thought the same during holidays. There was a long line of cars parked on the side of the road. We found a gap and we walked to the village. Inside it didn’t look that terrible and we could have a nice stroll and drink a beer in a cute terrace on a traditional street with mountain views. The village is really beautiful, don’t miss it!
We visited Canejan after Bausen and we expected something very similar but it wasn’t. Canejan is amazing but in a different way. There was no crowd of cars at the entrance of the village, even the panorama from the road and the village’s views are impressive. The village is on a cliff and its facade is very beautiful. Inside the patterns of the houses are more irregular and the church on the top of the village is a bit disappointing. We asked to stay for lunch at the only restaurant in the village. We needed to wait till they could cook for us and again and again between one dish and another longer than reasonable. The food was not outstanding either but we spent a nice time there. The views of the valley are extraordinary from Canejan.
Es Bordes is a regular village with many summer houses and some nice restaurants. The views of the valley are nice and its church of Era Mair de Diu deth Roser, from the 19th century, has a curious slab where you can see a knight praying. The village is the starting point for one of the most beautiful excursions in the Val d’Aran, to the Artiga de Lin.
Vilamòs is probably the most authentic village in Vall d’Aran. There is a proper local lifestyle for locals and the village is claimed to be the first and the eldest of Vall d’Aran. Its church of Santa María was built in the 12th century and is a clear gem of the Romanesque. Its construction in this period makes it one of the oldest in the Aran Valley. In addition, Vilamos has the Ço de Joanchiquet Ecomuseum house, which attempts to recreate what a house and life was like in this town of Vall d’Aran.
Arròs is small and beautiful. The buildings keep the traditional patterns in harmony. The village has the archive of the Conselh Generau d’Aranone, one of the most appreciated historical treasures of the valley. It is also possible to visit the Gothic-style Church of Santa Eulària, the Casa de Ademar built in 1820 and, already on the outskirts of the town, the Pilar Chapel.
Bagergue is the only Catalan village on the list of Los pueblos más bonitos de España Association. It has a very nice church and a quiet vibe. There are a couple of nice terrace bar but unfortunately it is a bit misleading when they are open or closed. Bagergue is an upper position so you can admire Unha from it.
Unha is one of those fairy tale towns you cannot miss on a visit to Vall d’Arán. The views from the bottom of the valley to the village invites for a longer visit. It has a very beautiful church and some nice bars and restaurants where to rest after the due stroll along the village.
Salardú is located on the right side of the Garona river. It is located on the main road that goes to the Aigüestortes and Colomers National Park. There are memorable views of the town from the road, a panorama that glimpses both Salardú and Unha in the background. The village is quite big and it is a good option for renting an apartment to spend your vacation. The streets of the village are an asset by themselves and the church of Salardú and it ceiling Medieval paintings are awesome.
Tredòs is a small cute village. It follows the traditional stone patterns of Vall d’Aran. In the village you can find a very singular church called Església de Santa Maria de Cap d’Aran de Tredòs. The church has two unusual features compared to the rest of the ecclesiastical heritage of the Val d’Aran: a crypt under the altar and the location of the bell tower away from the main building.
Vilac is probably the most French looking among all the villages of Vall d’Arán. Just taking a look at the gardens and fountain in front of the church you will understand why. The Church of Sant Fèlix de Vilach stands out at the entrance of the village, very close to the parking lot. It was built in the 12th and 13th centuries in Romanesque style. From its gardens the panorama of the valley and Viella in the background is stunning. The interior contains some neoclassical sculptures and altarpieces, as well as a Romanesque baptismal font. The village preserves old houses with lintels from the 1700s and you can still see large houses with wide balconies and wooden coffered ceilings.