However, the hiking trail was snowy when I jumped off the bus. Without snowshoes or cross-country skis, I took the 2 km long paved road instead. Churches rise above every village in the Val d’Aran, and there was one at the entrance to Bagergue. Built in a local Romanesque style popular in the Middle Ages, the churches of the Val d’Aran were built not only as places of worship, but also as castles, watchtowers and fortifications to guard the border.
Bagergue is home to Catalonia’s highest cheese dairy, where local producers have revived a traditional mountain recipe that has regained popularity throughout the Val d’Aran; while bearing witness to the weather and alpine culture, the villages I had passed through to reach Bagergue – Salardu and Unha – had a museum dedicated to Pyrenean exploration and a museum solely dedicated to snow.
Morell said up to 92% of the valley’s economy is based on tourism: hiking, mountain biking and rafting in the summer; and snow sports in winter. Despite its official status and legal protections, Sans Socasau had mentioned that increased tourism and immigration to the Val d’Aran was causing Aranese to be slowly pushed out by larger languages like Spanish.
“Not enough people speak Aranese,” Sans Socasau said. “Only about 20% of the inhabitants of the Val d’Aran speak the language regularly, at home. The language is in danger, and in 20 or 30 years it may not even exist anymore.”
Del Valle sees things differently. Although she speaks Spanish or Catalan to communicate with tourists or newcomers, she also speaks Aranese at work, and she knows that the second generation of migrant families who settle in the Val d’Aran learn and are taught in Aranese at school. Indeed, the government estimates that around 80% of the inhabitants of the valley understand Aranese, even if they do not always speak it.
“If you talk to the president of the Aranese language society, del Valle told me, he will say that Aranese is about to die. But Aranese is an official language in all of Catalonia. It gives power to our language, and even if we spoke Catalan or Spanish in the valley to understand each other, I don’t think Aranese is in danger, at least not any time soon.”
Places that don’t belong is a BBC Travel series that delves into the playful side of geography, taking you through the history and identity of geopolitical anomalies and places along the way.
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