Vielha Tunnel: Traversing Spain's Pyrenees at High Altitude
Nestled in the Province of Lleida, in Catalonia's north-western corner, Spain, the Vielha tunnel stands at an impressive elevation of 1,635m (5,364ft) above the sea level.
How long is Vielha Tunnel?
Set high in the northern part of the country, in the Pyrenees mountain range, this tunnel connects Vielha, the Aran valley's capital, to the Alta Ribagorça comarca. Part of the N230 road, the road is fully paved. Stretching 5.2km (3.25 miles), it has two southbound lanes and a single northbound lane, with gradients reaching up to 7.5%.
History of Access: From World's Longest to Europe's Most Perilous Tunnel
Prior to the 20th century, Spain's Aran valley was largely isolated, especially during winter when snow often blocked the main access road for extended periods. In 1948, the Alfonso XIII Tunnel was inaugurated, claiming the title of the world's longest road tunnel at 5.24km. However, by 2000, its lack of safety features earned it the dubious distinction of Europe's most perilous tunnel. This prompted the opening of the Juan Carlos I Tunnel in 2007. As of 2011, the original Alfonso XIII Tunnel serves as an emergency route, mainly for trucks transporting hazardous materials.
Navigating the Routes to Vielha Tunnel
While accessible year-round, the tunnel might close briefly during severe winter conditions. Two main routes lead to the tunnel's summit. From Vielha, it's a 12.3 km climb with an elevation gain of 664 meters, averaging a 5.4% gradient. Starting from Villaler, the ascent spans 18.7 km with an elevation rise of 656 meters and an average gradient of 3.5%.