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Llívia, Girona (Spain): A Quirk of History

A few days ago I briefly visited the exclave/enclave of Llívia, Girona (my next book is all about this lovely Catalonian province). I had been staying in Andorra for several days and visited Puigcerdà and Llívia on the way back home.

About Enclaves

I am fascinated by micro states, enclaves, exclaves, unusual border areas and other quirks of history, places such as Luxembourg, Vatican City, Liechtenstein, Gibraltar… there are very many of them. Did you know there is a house that straddles the border between Belgium and the Netherlands, with different parts of the house in each country?

I find enclaves particularly captivating (note that what constitutes an enclave and an exclave is quite technical and here I have simply used the word ‘enclave’). Enclaves are little pieces of territory belonging to one country that through a quirk of history have found themselves completely surrounded by the territory of another country. For example, Campione d’Italia, near Lugano, is a tiny piece of Italy completely surrounded by Switzerland. Another of various European enclaves is the Spanish town of Llívia which is surrounded by France about a mile from the Spanish-French border.

How Llívia Became an Enclave

Llívia is very small—the town and surrounding territory is just under 13 square kilometres—and has a population of around 1500. This enclave is part of the Spanish province of Girona, itself one of the four provinces that make up the Spanish autonomous region of Catalonia.

Aside from its administrative division into provinces and autonomous communities, Spain is organised into comarcas and Llívia is part of the Pyrenees comarca of Cerdanya.

Following the Franco-Spanish war (1635-1659) Spain ceded by treaty several territories to France, including part of Cerdanya (French: Cerdagne). But because the treaty only ceded villages to France and Llívia was considered a town of Cerdanya it remained part of Spain. Thus, for nearly four centuries Llívia has found itself in the curious situation of being a Spanish enclave completely surrounded by France a stone’s throw from Spain.

Puigcerdà (Spain), in the Pyrenees, several kilometres from the enclave of Llívia
What to See and Do

If you visit the town look our for the whitewashed border markers dotted about (when I first visited some years ago I was fixated on finding these markers). When driving into the town, which is surrounded by the lovely and stunning Pyrenees scenery, at first glance it is made up of a central street and various residential buildings (a fair bit of it quite new-looking). However, look our for a sign indicating Centre Villa (town or village centre) and follow the narrow (at times very narrow) streets up the hill to the old, small town and ancient church. Here you get a real insight into the town’s medieval nature.

This town of Girona province is small enough to park up and explore by foot comfortably (in fact it’s probably the best way to look around the old town). There are plenty of places to eat good Spanish food in this town surrounded by France. The old castle of Llívia is nearby on a hill.

Find Out More

The town has a useful website (in several languages, including English) with plenty of information about Llívia and what to see and do. If in this area of Girona this unusual little enclave is well worth a short visit.

Read more about some of Europe’s enclaves in this news article. For those interested in the technical difference between exclaves and enclaves, here is a useful and amusing explanation. Llívia is actually both an exclave and enclave.

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