Llívia, a Spanish City Landlocked by France

1223 meters above sea level, Llívia is away from Spain, separated by a 2 km corridor, and is an enclave in France. Llivia connects to Puigcerdá, the nearest Spanish town by the N-154. You can make a day trip from Perpignan, France.

During our summer holiday in French Pyrenees, we went there in the late afternoon, after visiting Andorra. The entire village looked so peaceful. However, it was hostile area decades ago since there used to have disputes between France and Spain.

  • Why is the town an enclave in France?
  • The pros and cons of being an enclave
  • Sightseeing in Llívia
  • Year-round activities in Llívia
New Houses at the edge of the town;

Why is the town an enclave in France?

Llívia was the ancient capital of Cerdanya 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 belong to France. Therefore, as the historic capital of Cerdanya, Llívia remained part of Spain since the treaty unintentionally excluded Llívia.

Local restaurant in the Enclave in France

The pros and cons of being an enclave 

Being a landlocked town, Llívia had several disputes with France, particularly transport and water. Its water supply was problematic. The French got the water before Llívia, and they didn’t send it up the hill always.  Sometimes, the French even cut the water source off. In 1973, both countries made an agreement that allowed Llívia to connect to the third water source. But due to the bureaucracy of Madrid, both neighbors settled the water issue 49 years later.

The transport dispute was about the use 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 border. Then Llívians stole the stop sign away. The actions were ongoing and led to the main dispute as well. Now the road is administered in turn by France and by Spain, with a rotation of six months each. You need to be aware of the change in the speed limit between the two countries.

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

Stone street scene in the centre of the Spanish Enclave in France

Sightseeing in Llívia

Llívia is quite different from other Spanish towns in the Pyrenees. Houses look very stony. Most new and modern buildings are at the edge of the town, while some well-maintained old houses with freshly painted shutters are in the center. In that hot summer afternoon, it was still siesta time like centuries ago. Nearly nobody was on the road. Shops and many restaurants were closed. 

Pharmacy Museum

Slowly walking up the hill, we saw the first attraction, the Pharmacy Museum. Registered in1594, the pharmacy is one of the oldest in all of Europe.

At the beginning of the 17th century, the Pharmacy was run by the family Esteva. The Esteva had operated the Pharmacy for seven generations until 1926 the last pharmacist closed the business. In 1965, Diputació de Girona bought the Pharmacy and donated it to the town.

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

Pharmacy Museum in Llivia, Spain

The Bernat de So tower

Built-in 1584-1585, the Bernat de So tower stands right in front of the pharmacy. Its construction was part of a conflict with Puigcerdà. In the 1970s, all artifacts from the pharmacy moved to the tower. Later in 1981, when the Municipal Museum opened, these artifacts became part of its collection. The top floor  used to be the offices of the Board of Trustees. But nowadays, it hosts temporary exhibitions.

Bernat de So Tower

Year-round activities in Llívia

One of its most known cultural events is the Music Festival. The event holds in the Church of Our Lady of the Angels (Nostra Senyora dels Àngels).

In the summertime, outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, swimming are available. In the winter, the main activity is skiing. The nearest skiing area is about 30 minutes of driving. 

From Llivia, it is possible to make an excursion to one of the smallest mountain countries, Andorra.

Narrow street between the stone walls in Llivia, Spain

Travel tips

Where to stay

The following hotels are good choices for the winter and summer holidays:

  • Hotels in Hotel Bernat de So provides comfortable 3-star accommodation in Llivia. It also offers ski equipment hire and an outdoor pool.
  • Hotels in Mas Meya is 7 km away from the ski lift. France’s border is just 550 m from the hotel, and Puigcerda town centre is 2 minutes of driving. Cerdanya Golf Club is 4.5 km away.

How to get there 

  • By bus: The bus takes around one and a half hours From Perpignan and about three hours from Barcelona to Llívia.
  • By car: The self-driving time from Perpignan via N116 is also about 90 minutes, and from  Barcelona via C-16 is about 90 minutes.

15 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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