Discovering the Val d’Aran: The origin of the Garonne

On 1st of November 2018, while staying in the Parador of Arties for four nights, sunshine and a blue sky are waking us up. By car we drive up to the Bonaigua Pass (2072 m above sea level). From here we have a beautiful view. The bad weather is rising from the valley and will reach us tomorrow. 

There is snow around us and – languishing – I watch some skiers walking up the hills, where the chairlifts have not yet started to run. “It was great”, one of the ski tourists tells me, “why have you left your skis in Switzerland?”

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Where is the source of the Garonne?

The Garonne does not have just one source, but at least three. The first source is in the south, the second in the east and the third in the west of the Val d’Aran.

The first source in the south – the Rude-Garonne :

One traveller from the 19th century contends that the Rude-Garonne is THE source: « Toutes les artigas ou affluents de la vallée d’Aran se plaisent à se considérer comme la Garonne originelle, mais celle qui au moment semble étinceler au loin sur notre gauche a plus que tout autre droit à ce titre. Appelée la Garonne de Rude, elle a sa source dans les lacs de Sabouredo, sur la bordure nord du Parc d’Aigues Tortes» (Bessons, Tomme I, p. 192).

Exactly like for the traveller of the 19th century, the valley of the Rude- Garonne is also sparkling for us on our left, when we return from the Port de la Bonaigua to the Val d’Aran.

That former traveller contends that the Rude-Garonne is more entitled than other affluents to be called the origin of the Garonne, but it seems that he is not quite right – there are more sources.

The second source in the east – the Beret-Garonne:

The Beret-Garonne originates in the Uelh deth Garona on the Pla Beret (Uelh deth Garona means “Eye of the Garonne”).

The Beret-Garonne joins the Rude-Garonne in Tredòs which was formerly the highest and last village in the valley. Above Tredòs are now located the ski resorts Baqueira and Beret, with the huge parking lot that must be filled with cars sparkling in the sun, once the winter season starts.

These are the ski pistes attracting so many tourists and even the king of Spain.

The third source in the west – from Pic Aneto and Jove’s eyes:

As Wikipedia writes, “the third thesis holds that the river rises on the slopes of Pic Aneto at 2300m above sea level and flows by way of a sink hole… (reemerging) at Uelhs deth Joèu (“Jove’s eyes”) in the Artiga de Lin.” It then joins the Rude-Beret-Garonne in Vielha.

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The long way of the Garonne to the Atlantic

The Garonne starts as a Spanish (or more precisely as a Catalonian or even more precisely as an Aranese) river and crosses the border near the village Les at the Pont du Roi to become the third longest river of France (in all about 600km, from which 524km in France). I have come across the Garonne in Toulouse, near Moissac and in Bordeaux. North of Bordeaux, the Garonne joins the Dordogne and, now called Gironde, reflects the sun to warm the first-class vineyards of the Haut Médoc at sites such as Pauillac, St. Julien or St. Estèphe.

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Dreaming of hiking in the Val d’Aran

I could imagine hiking in the Val d’Aran in summer or early autumn, along the Garonne, from village to village, from one 800 years old church to the next, up to the three sources of the Garonne, and up to the passes and mountain peaks, …

… to enjoy the landscape and the flora…

… that also reminds me of the Alps (here: autumn crocus found on a path along the Garonne).

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The Val d’Aran is a new world that I have discovered

From how the people preserve their language, the Aranese, I understand that they have their own strong identity which differs from Catalonia. I am happy that Ursula had the idea to spend some days here. A fascinating world has opened up for me in the Val d’Aran.

In their two volumes named “sur les Chemins du Val d’Aran”, Madeleine & Françoise Besson describe their home valley that they love for the brave people and for three essential, natural riches.

The brave people they illustrate with a distant grand-mother of theirs, Maria Prades. After the first Carlist War, in 1840, her husband was imprisoned for smuggling (which was an important business then). Maria Prades was his young wife at that time. She decided to free her husband from prison. On foot she crossed the mountains, continued to Madrid, had an audience with Queen Isabel II and returned with a letter that liberated her husband.

The three essential, natural riches are the water that gives life and that has been mastered by the people; the abundant flora; and the chaplets of Romanesque churches hanging on the mountain slopes or placed in the villages that prove more than 800 years of religious verve. (« … trois richesses essentielles de la vallée… : l’eau qui lui donne la vie et que la vallée a su maîtriser ; la flore, l’une des plus abondantes des Pyrenées ; et le chapelet des églises romanes accrochées aux flancs des montagnes ou placées au cœur des villages et qui témoignent depuis plus de huit cents ans de l’élan spirituelle de la vallée» (Tomme II, p. 128).

Reading the books of Madeleine & Françoise Besson was a wonderful extension of our visiting the Val d’Aran.

 

Sources:

Madeleine & Françoise Besson : « Sur les chemins du Val d’Aran – Voyage autour d’Arties», Lacour 2005 (Bessons, Tome I)

Madeleine & Françoise Besson : « Sur les chemins du Val d’Aran – ses habitants, ses mots, ses fleurs», Lacour 2005 (Bessons, Tome II)

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