A pe­cu­liar­ity in the Pyre­nees

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - NORM SI­MONS WIL­LIAMSTOWN, VIC­TO­RIA Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to Fol­low the Reader: travel@theaus­tralian.com.au. Colum­nists re­ceive a pack of Maine Beach prod­ucts cre­ated us­ing cer­ti­fied or­ganic ex­tra vir­gin olive oil from the McLaren Vale re­gion of

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.

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