A couple of hours drive from Barcelona, in a Spanish enclave just inside the French border of the Pyrenees is a town called Llivia. If you like hiking or skiing, and eating afterwards, then you will love this place as much as I did.
In Llivia the main language is Catalan, then Spanish although most of the younger generation learn and speak French we were told. You can hear all three languages as you walk around, but I didn’t hear any English.
There are numerous ski slopes within a 30min drive of Llivia so pop to one of the ski hire shops to get the lowdown on the best slopes for you, and of course where there is most snow. there are also a number of hiking trails clearly marked with varying levels of difficulty. They are mapped and signposted, with details of difficulty from the church car park.
If you get a chance pop into the Wine Palace on the main road. They have a vast selection of wines, and of vermouth, as well as spirits. We also sampled their vermouth on tap (pictured) – a snap at 4€ for a two litre bottle and much better than standard bottled brands.
Now onto my favourite part: the restaurants
La Caleche is truly unique and simply amazing food. They are a lovely couple who ‘escaped’ the pressures of fusion food cooking in Barca and have peacefully honed their craft in Llivia. The decor reminds me of the alps with checked tablecloth and wood panelling but the food is amongst those of the best restaurants I have ever eaten at: and not nearly as much money – around €100 for a feast for two including copious alcohol. Ask for the degustacion menu. He will bring in a number dishes of the most creative food with local condiments: foie gras marinated in local sweet wine, served in crunchy crackers and with home made sweet sangria; patatas bravas that are divine (voted to be in the top 5 best in the whole of Spain); caneloni stuffed with mushrooms served with a truffle sauce; home made vanilla ice cream on pain d’epices with hot chocolate sauce. Need I go on?
CalCofa is known for it’s steak served on hot slate. Divine. Especially if you are a pig like me and have the rump steak with a slab of fresh fois gras on top. Luckily you can exchange the frites for vegetables. The chocolate fruit fondu is a good option for dessert if your stomach is large enough.
Can Ventura, also on the village square has a fantastic menu for €34. again, the food is delicous. We loved the boletta caneloni and my boyfriend was drooling over the chocolate dessert. Keep an eye out for the fresh fish caught in local rivers.
If all the eating has worn you out, then Go for a hammam and swim in the natural hot springs of LLo. It’s well worth the 11 euros per person but try and go before the après ski crowd come in.
Another trip that we enjoyed was to Mont Louis fortified village. It has a nice path around the citadel, which is now used for military training. Whilst you are there pick up a selection of local honeys – finger-licking treats.
On the way back to Barcelona you could drive to Villefrance des Conflents – gateway to Cathar country. A stunning, charming fortified city with a prison citadel worth visiting and great caves. It means you have to drive back via Perpignan which is 4 hours as opposed to 1:45′ but with planning a great detour.
So in short, a wonderful destination which I imagine is just as good in summer. Just don’t tell anyone, we wouldn’t want it getting crowded….