The Port de Vielha Nature Trail once again covers an old natural pass that was used in years gone by as a channel of communication between the regions of Arán and La Ribagorza. This natural pass, marked with signposts for the GR-211-5, is crossed every May 22 as part of the traditional pilgrimage of Santa Quiteria, thus celebrating the thawing of the last snows which enables the pass to be crossed.
The starting point of the Trail is the southern entrance of the Vielha tunnel on the N-230 highway where, on one side of the road, you can see the Conangle refuge, and where you will find signs that mark the beginning of the path. For 11 kilometres, it crosses the pass, which has a very steep gradient, until it reaches the town of Vielha, visiting some of the most characteristic ecosystems of the Catalan Pyrenees on its way.
You will initially walk along a wide track on the banks of the River Nere, passing a turn-off on your right. Just before beginning your ascent via the high-mountain route, you can see the beginning of a beech wood. This turn-off to the right is marked by boundary stones and a sign that reads Grand Route or, in Spanish, Gran Recorrido (GR) 211-5, which will mark the whole Trail.
You will then reach a post where you have to turn left to enter a strip of pine trees (Pinus uncinata) that accompanies the steep climb between stone blocks. After zigzagging, you will come to another sign for a Nature Trail that climbs up a gentler slope as far as the sign for kilometre 10, at an altitude of 1,800 metres.
After crossing a stream, you will pass the last black pine trees that are able to withstand the harsh mountain conditions. From here onwards, the scenery will be filled with the pasturelands that can be found at high altitudes. Once again, a rocky ascent takes the visitor to a turn-off on the left passing a stream and the mouth of some old tunnels. The outline of a building that might be a bunker soon appears at kilometre 9, at 2,205 metres.
While admiring the magnitude of the Pyrenean mountains, you continue your journey surrounded by pastures and by climbing gently until you reach the Toro hill. At this point, the path turns to the right, making its way through a section of large granite blocks that must be crossed in order to reach Port de Vielha, situated at a height of 2,423 metres.
In this way, you will conquer the highest point of this route, from where you can see the Aneto peak, hidden among other large mountain ranges such as the peak of Forconada and the Fechau. If you glance over the other face, you will finally see the mountains that overlook the Val d’Aran.
Your descent begins with a long stretch of scree where you must be very careful as the rocks tend to slide on top of each other. After overcoming this extremely difficult section, the route becomes slightly easier on turning into a path that runs between pastures. Once again another quarry appears which oddly enough is filled with raspberry bushes (Rubus idaeus). On the horizon, the town of Vielha can be seen, while the Trail narrows and leaves the Estany de Fon Freda to the west. The slope becomes steeper in tandem with a glance of the first pine trees growing on the edge of the forest.
By following the GR markings, you can make out the path that is obscured by soft pastures. Before entering the forest, you will reach one of the Nature Trail’s two-way signs, which indicates that you have to turn slightly to the right. By doing this, you will cross a mountain stream by walking over a wooden bridge in front of the kilometre 5 milestone.
From this point onwards, you resume your descent to discover La Cabaña del Pontet, which you have to go around to the left. Walking among fir trees (Abies alba), you will come to a long track that leads to kilometre 4. After passing it, you reach a crossroads where you have to turn right, while the Trail plunges into a fir tree forest passing a path on the left. A few metres further on, the valley viewpoint offers you an exceptional view of the Val d’Aran.
The information panels that are found here describe the characteristics of the valley and of the path. Up until this point, it is also possible to go by motor vehicle from the north entrance of the Vielha tunnel along the forest track of the Port. The Nature Trail continues among hazel-nut trees (Corylus avellana), black poplars (Populus sp.) and yew trees (Taxus baccata), along a narrow path which, although it can barely be seen at the beginning, starts just to the right of the viewpoint.
When the vegetation opens up, the itinerary leads to a power plant at whose rear you cross a bridge. Continuing along a gravel-covered track, you pass the entrance to the A-14 highway in order to go in the direction of Vielha. This last leg has been renovated and some of the final kilometres have even been tarmacked to make it easier for vehicles to drive along. Advancing along this smooth surface, the route ends at a resting area outfitted with barbecues, a parking area for bicycles and a final interpretation panel. You can finally enjoy the town of Vielha.