Llívia, a country within a country Sarah Lyon, Writer | Posted: 08 February 2017

It’s almost 30 years since Inntravel launched its first European walking holiday. Sarah Lyon looks at that pioneering 1989 destination…

...Grand Cerdanya in the eastern Pyrenees. Look around the Inntravel office and there are still members of staff who can remember the blood, sweat and tears that went into organising the company's first European walking holiday. Even the title of the holiday caused some sleepless nights… should it have a French, Spanish or Catalan ring to it?

Self-guided walking holidays in Spain

Although that original holiday has been revamped and reborn since those early days, it still allows walkers to wind their way through the magnificent scenery of the Cerdanya mountains that surrounds the Spanish enclave of Llívia.

Back in 1659, the Treaty of the Pyrenees, which brought an end to the 30 years of war between France and Spain, saw Phillip IV ceding 33 villages from the Querol Valley to France. Among their number should have been Llívia, but due to a technicality, the territory remained Spanish, having been named a villa and not a village 130 years earlier by Charles I.

From that day forward, Llívia’s 1,500 or so inhabitants have found themselves occupying a small Spanish island amid the vast sea of France. Life here is very cordial, with excellent relations between neighbouring towns and villages, but the bureaucracy of being a country within a country can be challenging to say the least.

Self-guided walking holidays in Spain

While its neighbours sort out simple issues such as road maintenance and water supply between themselves, Llívia must refer such matters to the Catalan regional government, or on occasion Madrid, which can lead to delays and frustration.

But enough of the negatives and back to this medieval town itself. On approach, perhaps because of the mountains that surround it, Llívia has an air of cinematic suspense. There can be no denying that it is a very pretty place, with a charm and laid back feel that belies the fact that it is only about two hours away from cosmopolitan Barcelona.

Striking from the off is that most residents are chattering away in Catalan, while all around the surrounding area people speak French.

The enclave is separated from the rest of Cerdanya – and Spain – by a corridor with a width of about two kilometres. Access is provided between Llívia and Puigcerdà (the nearest Spanish town in the Pyrenees) via a road that is considered neutral and that is administered in turn by France and by Spain, with a rota of 6 months each.

Self-guided walking holidays in Spain

Just as Inntravel found all those years ago, the magnificent mountain pastures, glacial lakes and hidden corners of this part of the world are beyond breathtaking. The only thing that comes close after all these years is the unforgettable hospitality and Catalan cuisine…

Llívia Trivia

Llívia hosts an annual classical music festival in the church of Nostra Senyora dels Àngels every August;

Good skiing can be found nearby;

The distance between Llívia and mainland Spain is less than two kilometres;

Simple chunks of stone, marked with ‘LL’ on the Llívian side and initials representing the nearest French village on the opposite side, mark the border;

Llívia was an important Roman settlement and was also the ancient capital of Cerdanya up until the early Middle Ages;

Llívia is home to a museum of traditional medicinal herbs, housed in Europe’s oldest pharmacy;

Self-guided walking holidays in Spain

The town sits at an altitude of 1,223m and stands due south-east of the principality of Andorra;

Finances and taxes all come under Spanish jurisdiction;

Telephone dialling codes as well as postal codes are all Spanish;

Llívia is about eight square miles in area, almost seven times bigger than Monaco.

Related holidays

The Grand Cerdanya

The Cerdanya is a grass and wheat-filled plain amid the mountainous borderlands of the eastern Pyrenees. Experience demanding walks here where French and Spanish traditions meet, and be rewarded with fabulous views, warm hospitality and excellent Catalan cuisine.

More about our walking holidays in the Cerdanya >

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