Llívia: A Curious Spanish Enclave in France

Jun 3, 2020 1 comments


A welcome sign on the road to Llívia, a landlock state of Spain inside France. Photo: LMspencer/Shutterstock.com

Deep in the Pyrenees, surrounded by French territory, the small town of Llívia is the envy of Catalans—for, for the past 350 years, Llívia has been reasonably independent from its Spanish homeland—something which the rest of Catalonia has been struggling to achieve for the past one hundred years at least.

Separated from Spain by a mile-wide corridor, Llívia’s independence is more than physical. When Catalonia held an independence referendum in 2017 to decide on the fate of the country’s wealthiest region, the Spanish government declared it unconstitutional and sent forces to prevent people from casting their vote. Only Llívia was spared. While hundreds were injured in clashes with police across different Catalan cities, the atmosphere in Llívia on election day was festive. The town center was packed with a celebratory crowd, and a local restaurateur organized a barbecue for the voters.

Llívia was an important Roman settlement and the ancient capital of Cerdanya up until the early Middle Ages. In 1659, after more than two decades of war, France and Spain reached a peace agreement called the Treaty of the Pyrenees, according to the terms of which all Spanish “villages” north of the Pyrenees were to be handed over to France. But Spain held on to Llívia, pointing out a technicality that Llívia was a town and not a village, and thus cheated France out of it. The surrounding villages became part of the French kingdom, but Llívia stayed in Spain and became an enclave of France. The five-square-mile municipality is now connected to the rest of Spain by a narrow, two-lane “neutral” road, the N-154, which is administered by both France and Spain with a rotation of six months each.


Being enveloped by French territory gave Llivia certain tactical advantages, such as the ability to hold the independence referendum unmolested. On referendum day, when Spain shutdown the internet across Catalonia, Llivia’s mayor decided to use the French internet connection so the vote could proceed. They even took the ballots to France to have them counted, just in case.

Llivia’s residents have long maintained a strong sense of independence. There are Catalan flags flying all over the town from the roofs of houses and business establishment.

Llívia also enjoys a symbiotic relation with its French neighbors. The town shares a hospital with France, as well as many other municipal services jointly administered and funded by the two countries. The French are drawn to the Spanish exclave because of its wealth, and because things are cheaper there. There are no customs at Llívia and as a result the little town has become a regular shopping center for the surrounding French villagers.


Aerial view of Llívia. Photo: ANSELM PALLÀS/Flickr

But there are also drawbacks of being a landlocked city in a foreign country. Sorting out simple issues such as water supply and road maintenance can take ages because there is twice the amount of bureaucracy to deal with. One lasted 40 years long. Llivia originally had two water sources, both of which were erratic. 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 delayed for 49 years.

Madrid’s apathy towards Llívia is one of the reasons why the support for independence from Spain runs strong in the town. Thanks to its unique history, thousands of people are drawn to Llívia from France and mainland Spain every year allowing this sleepy little town to enjoy economic prosperity. There are quite a few things to see here too, such as the 15th century castle, a ski resort and Europe’s oldest pharmacy.


Llívia’s citadel. Photo: ANSELM PALLÀS/Flickr


The Esteve Pharmacy, Europe’s oldest pharmacy, now a museum, in Llívia. Photo: Christian Bertrand/Shutterstock.com



# NY Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/24/world/europe/catalonia-independence-spain-llivia.html
# The Telegraph, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/spain/1417704/Spanish-enclave-breaks-down-the-barriers-with-France.html
# El Pais, https://english.elpais.com/elpais/2014/09/04/inenglish/1409817452_821710.html
# G. W. S. Robinson, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-8306.1959.tb01614.x


  1. A very well-researched and unbiased piece of writing. Congrats!


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