The Valle de Aran is famous for its sophisticated, high-quality gastronomy, as reported in the press and in comments on the Internet. The visits by the Spanish royal family during the ski season (from December to March) and the affluence of the country’s middle and upper classes (in winter and summer) have given rise to a generous variety of restaurants with prices often similar to those found in Barcelona. Our first stop was the Bar Taberna Urtau, located in the Plaza de la Iglesia in front of the San Miguel de Vielha church at the entrance to the old quarter.
Open since 2009, it is the newest in a chain of three taverns: the oldest is in Arties, which has been open for over forty-five years, and the third is in Bossost, inaugurated in 2001. They specialise in ‘pinchos’ (baguette slices with varied toppings) and dishes with portions or boards with local produce, good for sharing. This is typical fare in the valley and often mentioned in Internet restaurant reviews. Our shared supper consisted of an appetiser of Palamós anchovies at 8.60 euros, a portion of eggs with foie gras at 7.60 euros, and a cheese board at 7.90 euros.
Following the waiter’s recommendation , we accompanied it with three portions of toasted bread with tomato at 1.80 euros each, a real delicacy. The quality of the ingredients was evident but the presentation was only slightly above average. We chose an excellent red wine; a 2011 Emilio Moro Finca Resalso DO Ribera del Duero, at 13.20 euros, from over thirty options available of whites, reds and cavas. It was a pleasant surprise when we noted the wine’s temperature. The idea that red wine should be drunk “at room temperature” is lamentably widespread. Serving wine in Seville’s 40º heat, or from bottles stored next to the kitchen’s stove, is a far cry from the 18º temperatures in the Valle de Aran. The bottle at the Urtau was served at around sixteen degrees in glasses designed to release the bouquet and oxygenate the wine well. Everything was going swimmingly until we reached dessert.
We decided to try the Tarte Tatin (caramelised apple tart), at 5.15 euros per portion. The apples, which should have been caramelised, were burnt; the butter in the base had probably been re-heated several times as the smell reminded us of the animal it came from. We did not touch it. When the waiter heard our opinion, he kindly took the plate away. A few minutes later he returned with righteous determination and told us that we would not be charged for the dessert, but the kitchen wanted to assure us that the tart was perfect. I am sure that the original recipe by the sisters Stephanie and Caroline Tatin, creators of the Tarte Tatin, was never consulted in the Urtau.
We finished our coffees and paid the bill for 48.85 euros. We then headed to the main street, Calle Mayor, in the hopes of regaining our wilted enthusiasm. After a few minutes, hoping to find something inspiring, we entered Bar Xatú at number 12, Calle Mayor. Newly created and run by an Englishman, it offers a menu based on pinchos, tapas, boards and a slim repertoire of oriental dishes, the latter probably owing to a nostalgia for a youth in England long since past. We decided to have a couple of beers on tap and two pinchos each. The preparation was simple, generous and with very good quality ingredients. We counted ten types of pinchos to choose from, although they were probably the only ones left as it was late. Salads at 8.50 euros and cheese boards at 16 euros in a bar may seem a little high, but as we said at the beginning, we are in the Valle de Aran and the prices are more similar to those in France than those in Spain.
I liked the place. It was unpretentious and simple, yet still aimed to please the tourist during the winter season as well as the local year-round customer. By including oriental dishes or chicken nuggets on the menu, they show they want to be different from the rest. There was no room or time for more. We ended the night with the sensation that there was much more to discover; not in other bars in Vielha, but in the ones we visited. One cannot give a general opinion about a place having only tried five per cent of the menu. We will definitely go back and, if any of you go to Vielha, it would be worth dropping into the Bar Taberna Urtau for its traditional good-quality fare or the Bar Xatú for the vitality of its offerings.
Vall d’Aran is one of the most beautiful valleys of the Catalan Pyrenees. It has the largest concentration of natural lakes and snowy peeks reaching 2000m. These make it the perfect place for a ski trip during the winter or for a jeep tour during the rest of the year. Vielha is a truly enchanting town and the capitol of Vall d’Aran. It is the best place to sleep in during your stay, as it has the best hotels, bars and restaurants of the area.
How to get there
Bus: Daily bus services take you to Vielha from the Estació del Nord bus station in Barcelona. The bus company is Alsa. The fare is € 34.87 and the journey takes between four and a half to six hours. Consult the website for the timetables.
Car: From Barcelona: Leave Barcelona via the B-23 and A-2 (direction Lleida). Get off at the N-230 and follow the signs to Vielha. It is a four and a half hour drive.
- Official tourist information site of Vall d’Aran
- Romanesque route of Pallars Sobira
- Tourist information offices
- Hiking and cycling routes in the Pyrenees.
- More Historical Sites in the Pyrenees
- Distance calculator and driving directions
Where to sleep
Bar Taberna Urtau is open: Everyday from 8:00 to 24:00pm.