A peculiarity in the Pyrenees
We skirted Toulouse, in the south of France, on the ring road about midday. Our ultimate destination was Barcelona and our route would take us to Spain through the Pyrenees via the 9km-long Somport Tunnel.
Our journey started in the little village of Saint Leon sur Vezere in the Dordogne region. We programmed our GPS to guide us to the little-known Spanish enclave of Llivia, just inside the French border high in the Pyrenees. The village was supposed to be ceded to France in 1659 in the Treaty of the Pyrenees as part of the spoils after the Thirty Years War, but the 13sq km piece of Spanish territory was simply forgotten about and has remained inside France for the past three and a half centuries.
It was in the early afternoon heading into the foothills of the Pyrenees that we started to do some serious climbing. As we drove higher, the directions of the GPS became erratic. On a series of switchback turns, English Jane, the voice of our GPS, announced that a sharp left turn was coming up. Had we taken this advice we would have ended up in a river bed 40m below. Our apprehension increased as the light began to fade. English Jane announced a deviation in the route. The alternative road she proposed was little more than a goat track.
We continued on only to find that the deviation was caused by closure of the Somport Tunnel. There was nothing for it but to press on over the summit. Fortunately, a truck with Spanish plates passed us and we followed. Some time later we descended into a high valley.
We turned off the main road, drove a few kilometres through pasture land and arrived in Llivia just before dark. The only indication that we had crossed a border was one small sign and a stone marker that read “Llivia”.
The story goes that every May members of Spain’s Guardia Civil and French gendarmes meet at the stone marker and check whether it has been moved by either side to gain more territory. And there is an ongoing border dispute over cows. Are they French cows grazing in Spain or Spanish cows grazing in France? Something to chew the cud over, I suppose.