Nestling in the north-western Pyrenees of Lleida, three and a half hours away from Barcelona, the Vall d'Aran, whose capital is Vielha, is a heaven for lovers of mountain sports, such as skiing. A valley with Romanesque churches, ancestral traditions, its own government institutions and an Occitanian language: Aranese.
The Vall d'Aran, located on the French side of the Pyrenees and surrounded by mountains standing 3,000 m high, remained practically cut off from the rest of Catalonia until the early 20th century, when the port de la Bonaigua road and Vielha tunnel were built. This isolation helped the valley maintain its vernacular architecture, and its own language, system of government and culture. Its location in the Atlantic basin, means it has a colder, more rainy climate than other valleys in Catalonia. The mountain vegetation of the Pyrenees in the Vall d'Aran consists of pastures and forests of fir trees, scots pines and beeches which are inhabited by roe deer, chamois deer, wild boar and bears. By mid-autumn, the snow has begun to cover the Vall d'Aran in a blanket of white. This marks the beginning of the ski season at Baqueira Beret, the biggest skiable area in Catalonia: 108 Km of pistes, 7 Km of cross-country skiing, 33 ski lifts and 1,000 m of slopes.
There are Romanesque churches in nearly every village in the Vall d'Aran: Santa Maria d'Arties (13th century), in the Lombard-Romanesque style; Sant Andreu de Salardú (13th century), with its three naves and octagonal bell tower; Era Purificación de Bossot (12th century), with its interesting porch.
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