Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2007/33 posted by hidden europe on

In the heart of the Pyrenees, just to the east of Andorra, lies a great depression in the mountains that is a sunny oasis of fertile soils in an otherwise rather wild region. It is known as Cerdanya on the Spanish side and Cerdagne on the French side of the frontier. Not a lot of folk head for Cerdanya as a primary destination, but many pass through en route to ski slopes, mountain resorts and of course Andorra.

article summary —

Dear fellow travellers

In the heart of the Pyrenees, just to the east of Andorra, lies a great depression in the mountains that is a sunny oasis of fertile soils in an otherwise rather wild region. It is known as Cerdanya on the Spanish side and Cerdagne on the French side of the frontier. Not a lot of folk head for Cerdanya as a primary destination, but many pass through en route to ski slopes, mountain resorts and of course Andorra.

For rail travellers with time on their hands, there is a spectacularly beautiful rail route that climbs over the Pyrenees, to provide a link between Toulouse and Barcelona, serving the Cerdanya area en route. Somehow the French and Spanish railway administrations have never quite managed to coordinate their timetables, so the connection at the border station of Latour de Carol, where passengers must always change trains, might stretch to an hour or two. There are worse places to be stranded.

The entire Cerdanya region is one of Europe's deliciously ambiguous border zones. The area juggles three languages with dexterity: Catalan, French and Spanish, not to mention a handful of dialects. And the international frontier meanders across the region without reference to natural features. The very permeability of the border drains energy from communities on the French side. The oddly named French village of Bourg-Madame is notably down at heel, while neighbouring Puigcerdà on the Spanish side of the border is a hive of activity. Easily the most curious of the villages in Cerdanya is Llívia, a place which is Spanish through and through. It is located in a little parcel of Spanish territory entirely surrounded by France.

In an area of Europe where border crossings are mercifully free of formality, everyday life in Llívia is no longer greatly inflected by the village's exclave status. But there was a time when France and Spain tussled over access to Llívia. Today it is a good place to stop off for lunch when exploring this Pyrenean region.

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This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.