Llívia, a Spanish City Landlocked by France

Llívia is an enclave of France. 1,223 metres above sea level, it is separated from the rest of Spain by a corridor about 2 km wide, which includes the French Munipalities of Ur and Bourg-Madame. Llivia is linked to the nearest town in Spain, Puigcerdá, by the N-154. It is a nice day trip destination from Perpignan, France.

This is a typical mountain village. There isn’t any border control before entering the town. We saw the European Union sign at the edge of the town. Everything looks peacefully. However, it wasn’t the case decades ago. Due to the historical reasons, there were some disputes between the two neighbours.

New houses at the edge of LLivia, Spain
New houses at the edge of Llivia, Spain

Why is the town an enclave of France

Llívia was an important Roman settlement and was also the ancient capital of Cerdanya up until the early Middle Ages. In 1659, after years of war, the Treaty of the Pyrenees, signed between Louis XIV of France and Philip IV of Spain, ceded the comarques of Roussillon, Conflent, Capcir, Vallespir, and northern Cerdanya (“Cerdagne”) to the French kingdom. According to the treaty, only villages should be ceded to France. Being considered a city and not a village due to its status as the ancient capital of Cerdanya, Llívia did not become part of the French kingdom.

Local restaurant in the center of Llivia, Spain
Local restaurant in the center of Llivia, Spain

The pros and cons of being an enclave 

Being a landlocked city, Llívia had several disputes with France. One lasted 40 years long was the water dispute. Llivia’s water sources were problematic. The French got the water before Llívia and they didn’t send it up the hill always.  Sometimes the French cut the water off. The water disputes raised periodically when water supplies dried up. In 1973, there was an agreement to allow the town to connect to a third source, and was ready to be signed. But due to the bureaucracy of Madrid, the issue was settled 49 years later.

Another dispute for example, was about the right of the road. Llivia is linked to the nearest town in Spain, Puigcerdá, by the N-154. But back in the 1980s, the French put up a stop sign at the edge of the town. Now the road is considered neutral and is administered in turn by France and by Spain, with a rotation of 6 months each. But you need to be aware of the change of the speed limit.

Nevertheless, Llívia had enjoyed one economic advantage. Before the Euro time, Spanish used pesetas and France used Francs.  French liked to buy things in Llívia because things were cheap there. Now both countries are in the Euro zone, the advantage is getting minimized over the years.

The main street in LLivia, Spain
The main street in LLivia, Spain

The main interests

I like this town as well. Houses look very stony. At the edge of the town are the new houses. In the center are some well-maintained old houses with fresh painted shutters. After having spent a couple of days in the French Pyrenees and at the French coast, it is nice to see a mountain town for an exchange. Less than 2000 inhabitants live in Llívia.  In the summer afternoon, it is still the siesta time just like centuries ago. Hardly anyone is in the road. Shops are closed and many restaurants are closed as well. A typical Spanish life.

Pharmacy Museum

Up the hill is the museum. The Pharmacy Museum is an important attraction. The pharmacy is registered since 1594 and it is considered the most ancient pharmacy in Europe.

At the beginning of the 17th century it was run by family Esteva, who had run it for seven generations until 1926, it was closed by the last pharmacist. In 1965, Diputació de Girona bought it and then donated to the town on the condition the contents remain in the town.

The pharmacy has a large display of albarelli, a type of ceramic jar used in pharmacies, as well as antique drugs, and one of the most important collections of prescription books in Europe.

Pharmacy Museum in Llivia, Spain
Pharmacy Museum in Llivia, Spain

The castle

The castle gave to Llívia the most glorious times. It was located at the top of the hill. It was a superb enclosure formed by a rectangular tower with 4 circular turrets – one in every angle – and an inferior enclosure where the population lived. Remains are dated from IX to XV centuries when the castle was destroyed by Louis XI army.

Castle in Llivia, Spain
Castle in Llivia, Spain
Narrow street between the stone walls in Llivia, Spain
The stone walls and buildings in Llivia

Activities in Llívia

One of its most known cultural events is the Music Festival which is held since 1982. The events take place offers the in the Church of Our Lady of the Angels (Nostra Senyora dels Àngels ).

In the summer time outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, swimming are available. In the winter, it is also possible to ski. The nearby skiing area is half hour driving by car. You can also make excursions to French villages, Andorra. In fact, it is a nice day trip from Perpignan.

See three countries in one day

Llívia is usually not a classic tourist destination but it is unique by all means. The three countries day trip tour starting from Girona combines Llívia, Dorres (a charming small French town), and eat and shop in the capital of a small country in the middle of the Pyrenees, Andorra!

Andorra has wonderful mountain landscape but it is difficult to access without a car. The tour is a very good choice for those who has less time, less mobile but eager to add more countries on their list.  Are you inspired to travel there? Please click here to book the tour.

Travel tips

La Cerdanya are is a perfect region for outdoor activities. To combine the overnight stay and the outdoor activities, you can book a 6-day Pyrenees Bike Tour. The trip starts from Barcelona, passes many villages including Llívia, and includes a stage of Tour de France. It includes 5 nights accommodation in double room with half board 3 Gourment Dinners as well as other services. you can find the detail of the offer at viator.com.

Where to stay

If you prefer to stay in Llívia to ski in winter or hiking in summer, then the following hotels are good choices.

Hotels in Hotel Bernat de So provides comfortable 3-star accommodation in Llivia. It also offers a safe, ski equipment hire and an outdoor pool. Rooms have a modern décor, air-conditioning and a telephone. They are also fitted with heating, a hair dryer and a shower.

Bernat De So Hotel Llivia, Spain
Bernat De So Hotel Llivia, Spain

Hotels in Mas Meya is 7 km away from the ski lift. France’s border is just 550 m from Mas Meya, and Puigcerda Town Centre is 2 minutes’ drive away, where you will find a range of shops and restaurants. Cerdanya Golf Club is 4.5 km away.

Mas Meya, Puigcerdà in Spain
Mas Meya, Puigcerdà in Spain

How to get there 

There is bus connections from Perpignan. It takes around one and a half hour. The self-driving time between Perpignan and Llivia is also around 90 minutes and via N116.

It takes around three hours from Barcelona by bus.  The self-driving time between Barcelona and Llivia is also around 90 minutes and via C-16.

14 Comments

  1. What a charming little town that has such unique heritage. Until today I had not even heard Llívia was an important Roman settlement and was also the ancient capital of Cerdanya. Would love to visit it one day.

  2. What an amazing read. Llívia looks like quint little town, with a lot of history. This is surely a fascinating destination for history lovers. I would definitely like to spend a few days as I am always a girl that like offbeat destinations. I am delighted to know about the ancient pharmacy in Europe. The three countries day trip tour sounds like a plan. Loved reading this post

  3. What a charming little town. I haven’t heard about it but I would love to visit someday. And yes, the Spain/France border is quite interesting and there are a lot of interesting little disputes. I also recently wrote about a tiny island that’s owned by France for half of the year and by Spain for the other half of the year.

  4. Llivia is so beautiful. There is so much history in this town. Pity that they had to suffer for water for so long due to its dispute with France! I love the entire look of the city with its stone buildings, architecture and the cobbled roads.

  5. Love your post about this unique and charming city called Llivia. The history of LLivia and how it came to be a Spanish city landlocked by France is remarkable. I love visiting places with such amazing history. I would love to see the castle and pharmacy museum when I visit here. And I love the concept of visiting three different countries in one day.

  6. Llivia is so beautiful! I hate the fact that our towns in the US can never look like this, or have this kind of history. I think attending the Music Festival would be a fun, cultural experience to be a part of. I visited a pharmacy museum when I was in Romania, so I’d be curious to visit this one and compare the two!

  7. This is interesting. I had very little information about Illivia and I love the stone houses and walls. It looks something from the fairy tale stories. Happy to know that they were still able to preserve the older structures.

    Hope to get a chance to visit in the future.

  8. Love to visit places with so much of rich history behind it. It’s so unique that Llivia is shared by both France and Spain. The streets of the town look beautiful. I especially loved the Castle. It seems so rugged. Thanks for the recommendations on stay and how to reach.

  9. I can’t believe how much I’ve traveled in Europe and still I’ve never heard of Llivia! I love the cobbled streets and obvious history of the place. You may have mentioned this, but do more people speak Spanish or French, or indeed both?

    1. Hi Jessica,

      In this town some people are also able to speak French. I heard someone were talking French in the supermarket. But near the France/Spain Pyrenees border, more people speak both language, Catalan and French.

      Regards,

      Mijia

  10. I would love to get lost in time by visiting Llívia. The city is really pretty, seems like from a by-gone era. I am intrigued by the idea of seeing three countries in a day – that’s really interesting. Thanks for sharing this place with me that I was completely unaware of.

  11. I love those little bits of history. There are so many small territories in Europe that intrigue me because of their seeming “independence” from the entire state in terms of history and culture. The architecture is also marvelous. I really love the Old World.

  12. Very beautiful pictures of Spain. I never thought about being landlocked since I’ve lived my whole life on the coast but there’s lots of beautiful landscape.

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