There’s something special about the medieval churches in the Val d’Aran, Spain. All are quite small, stone-built in Romanesque style, and date from the 11th to the 15th century.
Many have a similar floor plan: a basic rectangle contains two rows of stone pillars, dividing it into a nave with an aisle on either side. While one end of the church is flat, the other has three half-circular apses. The center apse contains the main altar while the two side ones have smaller altars. Each church has a tower as well, and sometimes a smaller tower holding one or more bells.
What struck me about these churches is their carvings around the windows and doorways. Each church’s decorative detail is different, ranging from extremely understated or rough-hewn, to much more sophisticated and detailed. Most, except to some extent Sant Miquèu in Vielha, have not been appreciably updated, like so many city churches, which have Gothic elements superimposed over Romanesque.
I enjoyed stopping in random villages throughout the Val d’Aran and spending some time noticing the details and and taking pictures.
Only three of the churches—Salardu, Bossòst and Vielha—are open to tourists (for free), though all of the ones I visited have schedules for mass, so presumably you could visit them during services. It would be especially pleasant in the spring, I think, to spend some time in the Val d’Aran walking from village to village, taking pictures of these charming small churches as well as the many remaining ancient farm buildings.
Disclosure: I went to the Val d’Aran as part of a discounted package provided by Pyrenees Experience. I’ve already written about what to do in the Val d’Aran, from skiing to spa-ing, and also about the over-the-top hotel we stayed in.