Living in Barcelona / Travels & Adventures

Llívia : A little bit of Catalunya hidden in France

A few weekends back, I was surprised by Milos with a little trip up into France to celebrate our 11 year anniversary. We went to see the snow, which sparkled on the mountain tops.

Being from Africa, snow has always held a special place in my heart, as it was incredibly rare in winter. And rarer that you could roll around in it, have a snowball fight or watch it falling from the sky. If this actually happened, it’s as if the world stops, and you take notice of it. I remember a family trip to the coast where long hours in the car were suddenly relieved when we found ourself in a winter wonderland as we passed through the Karoo on our way to our destination. The photographs now are treasured in my family’s albums.

When I lived in Japan, the winters that I spent there were magical, and I recall walking through the forests, all the leaves wearing little white shirts. I love how the snow covers everything, and makes it all crisp and beautiful, a truly ugly concrete building can be transformed into a work of art, pretty enough for a picture. On the first heavy snow of winter one year, we left the house at three o’clock in the morning to run around the empty streets revelling in the fresh snow.


On this trip, Milos specifically wanted to take me to a little keyhole of Catalunya. If you look on the map, you can see that there is an island that belongs to Spain surrounded by French territory. The area is mostly made up of one town, and some areas of natural parks. There are natural hot springs, and the town of Llívia is one of the gateways to skiing in the Pyrennees.

It is a Spanish exclave within the French département of Pyrénées-Orientales. In 2009, the municipality of Llívia had a total population of 1,589. Llívia is separated from the rest of Spain by a corridor about 2 km wide, which includes the French communes of Ur and Bourg-Madame. The Esteve Pharmacy, located in Llívia, is a medieval pharmacy, one of the oldest in Europe, founded at the beginning of the 15th century. It keeps albarelli, i.e., a medieval type of ceramic jar used in pharmacies, as well as antique drugs, and one of the most important collections of prescription books in Europe. In 1659, the Treaty of the Pyrenees ceded the comarques of Roussillon, Conflent, Capcir, Vallespir, and northern Cerdanya (“Cerdagne”) to the French crown. Llívia did not become part of the French kingdom as the treaty stipulated that only villages were to be ceded to France, and Llívia was considered a city and not a village because of its status as the ancient capital of Cerdanya. (source)


We drove around the whole area, ate some pates and cheeses in France, and giggled each time we crossed the border from Spain, into France and back into Spain and then into France, even though we were travelling in the same direction. It was a lovely surprise, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. My only regret is that we were unable to ski for the day, as both Milos and I had a bit of a cold, and figured that freezing temperatures and exercise would aggravate our bodies, and the following week would then become a bit of a right off.

Llívia, and France itself is a relatively easy drive from Barcelona, about 2 hours or so, and can make a lovely day trip, no matter the season. There is so much to do in the area, that you would probably want to extend your trip over a weekend, and explore the regions history, hiking, vistas, and let’s not forget: The FOOD!



6 thoughts on “Llívia : A little bit of Catalunya hidden in France

    • A part of Catalunya that belongs to Spain? I did not! I know that the region of Catalunya with Catalan speaking people stretches up into France, as you say Catalogne, but I did not realise that it was actual Spanish Territory, are you certain?

  1. It’s a misunderstanding, sorry If I didn’t sound clear . I was just speaking of the French Catalogne, in the Pyrénées Orientales départment, capital city Perpignan . It’s the northern part of Catalunya, and is located in France, just like the Basque Country . The case of LLivia is special .
    Those Pyrénées mountains seem to have been the wierdest of all French borders . With the Basque Country and Catalunya.across the border, both with their main land in Spain, you can see Andorra, strange two-headed principality in the Mountains . And let’s not forget la Navarre ( Navarra), which used to be a kingdom across the Pyrénées . Still now, there’s a Spanish province and a French ancient province both called Navarre/a . Henri IV was king of Navarre and became king of France . Since then, an old French phrase says : anything or any people “de France et de Navarre” when we mean really everybody .
    The Spanish influence is quite strong in the South-West of France, in the way of living and in summer ferias . .The south-western dialect of Occitan is very close to Spanish . And during the anti-Cathars crusade, led by northern French, German and English nobility against Occitania, the king of Aragon fought together with the Earl of Toulouse, for the Cathars .

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