Discovering the charming Val d’Aran: Arties and its nobleman Portola

For end October/beginning November 2018 we had booked four nights at the Parador of Arties in the Val d’Aran.

The Val d’Aran belongs to Catalonia. It is located south of Toulouse in the Pyrenees. While most Spanish valleys in the Pyrenees are oriented towards Spain, the Val d’Aran faces north. In 1659, France under Louis XIV and Spain under Philip IV agreed that the Val d’Aran is to remain with Spain. However, in winter, the snow prohibited to access the Val d’Aran from the south. For being somewhat isolated, the valley has kept its own character which is different from Catalonia. There is much to discover such as Romanesque churches, the Aranese language, hiking paths in a rough landscape, the favourite ski resort of the king of Spain and the source(s) of the Garonne.

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The former castle of the family Portolá – now the Parador – in snow and ice

The Parador of Arties is a former castle of the noble family Portolà. From our room we can see the Montardo -THE mountain of the area (2883m). It is cold. All is covered with snow and the roof is icicled.

The tower reminds us of the fact that the parador once was a castle. In the background we can see the skiing area of Baquiera and Beret where the king of Spain practices skiing.

The tower reflects in the swimming pool that now does not seem to be inviting me for a swim.

Arties is proud of their noble family Portolà with Gaspar de Portolà being their most famous representative (1723-1786). Starting from what is Baja California today, he discovered California, first San Francisco and then the Monterey Bay. An area in San Francisco, a valley and a city are called “Portola” in California.

Near the Tower of the Parador, there is a statue of Gaspar de Portola…

… and in the saloon of the Parador near the fireplace we found his portrait as well.

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Arties on the Garonne, first covered by snow, then green again

Walking through the village we discover neat stone houses covered with shingles, most of them with closed shutters. Many restaurants, now also closed, make us assume that this village will be busy, when the skiing season starts. The yellow autumn leaves reflect in the sun and contrast with the snow and the Montardo mountain.

The village Arties stretches along the Garonne that originates in the Val d’Aran to continue its way to France and to the Atlantic Ocean.

Every village in the Val d’Aran has its own small Romanesque or early Gothic church. In Arties it is the Església de Santa Maria from the 12th century. The threefold apsis is decorated with pilaster strips and arcades, as it is typical of the Lombardian style. The church is closed.

The second church of Arties in early gothic style is called “Sant Joan” (a day later the snow has disappeared). It is a museum now. 

The village of Arties is located where the rivers Garonne and Artigues join. 

Madeleine & Françoise Besson wrote two beautiful books about their home village Arties that starts, when the village, located between two rivers, was inundated in the 1960s after heavy rainfalls. The village was poor at that time, before tourism started. The Bessons also write about the impressions of the rough life and the brave mountain people that travellers from the 19th century reported.

I captured the overview foto of Arties from the small Ermita de Sant Jaime.

Let me keep more Romanesque churches of the Aran valley for my coming blog. 

 

Sources:

  • Conselh Generau d’Aran (Elisa Ros Barbosa): Er Art Romanic dera Val d’Aran, 2007
  • Madeleine & Françoise Besson : « Sur les chemins du Val d’Aran – Voyage autour d’Arties – Tome I », Lacour 2005
  • Madeleine & Françoise Besson : « Sur les chemins du Val d’Aran – ses habitants, ses mots, ses fleurs  Tome II», Lacour 2005
  • Pauline Chaboussou et alii: « Los caminos Pirenaicos del Arte Romanico”, Synidcat mixed du Pays Couserans, Anfigraf 2008

 

 

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