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Spain's other islands: a virtual journey around its enclaves

Enclaves of Spain aguanares

Curiosity doesn’t just make cats meet their ends. It can also swallow up you and your rainy Wednesday afternoon into a rabbit hole that can be hard to get out of.

Let me explain.

A couple of weeks ago I was skimming around a Google Map of northern Spain and noticed something I’d never noticed before. It seemed like a mistake at first, or a glitch on my screen. But on closer inspection, there indeed was an island of land belonging to the Burgos province floating around in the Basque Country. Marooned, cut off from the motherland, the Condado de Treviño is quite the news story it turns out. In keeping with the eternal squabbling over land that comes with the territory (pun intended) of northern Spain, the country’s newspapers piece together a familiar border dispute story of political posturing, municipal voting and uneasy truces that has spanned decades.

To put it into context, it's a bit like an island of East Lothian sneaking over into Fife. Or some of Yorkshire popping up in the middle of Lancashire. Vermont stealing a bit of New Hampshire. You get the's odd.

One man took his intrigue to the next level. In 1995 Ramón Carnicer actually wrote a book about Treviño and Spain’s 25 other enclaves, sweeping round the country on a not-so-grand tour. That there are only 23 places listed seems to have escaped everyone’s attention. Or no one had the heart to tell he missed a few on his jaunt.

It sounds like the sort of slightly odd meandering social insight that I might enjoy reading. But I can only find it for sale at Abe Books, where I’d have to part with not only $600 (plus shipping), but also my sanity to buy it. So instead I thought I’d lose myself in the magic of Google Maps and go hopping around the enclaves. There’s nothing like a first-hand view, even a virtual one. On my way I stumbled at random upon a mysterious clothes shop, a landscape designed by Dalí and quite possibly the most boring countryside view in all of Andalucía.

I hope you enjoy reading and, if you’re at any point worried that lockdown is having an adverse effect on my mental state, don’t be. This is perfectly normal behaviour.

1. Condado de Treviño

Size: 221 km2 | Belongs to: Burgos | Located in: Alavá

My first stop is the most famous enclave of all. On the edge of its namesake town, if we can call it a town, that striking Art Deco-cum-Brutalist building seems to cry for help, a decaying soul waiting for someone to love it again, or put it out of its misery.

Up on the optimistically named Calle Mayor, medieval stone houses, some with thick wooden beams reminiscent of our Tudor cottages, line narrow streets where the sun’s fingers cannot stretch into. There’s a supermarket the size of a corner shop, a squashed in cash machine and a closed up bar where I suspect a fuzzy television rattles out local news reports, a couple of regulars shuffle around talking in mumbled tones and a bartender incessantly polishes a glass to within an inch of its life. My 6 foot 5” presence here would cause quite the scene I imagine. All told, this glimpse into Treviño makes it feel more like an abandoned film set than the epicentre of a political intrigue.

2. Ternero

Size: 2.27km2 | Belongs to: Burgos | Located in: Logroño

As far as I can tell, this entire enclave is basically someone’s farm surrounded by vineyards and forested hills in La Rioja. There aren’t any roads for me to drive on here, nor drop my little yellow friend onto, but it looks nice from above. There’s probably more to detain me here than in Treviño to be fair, assuming they’d let me in for a cuppa or, better yet, a nice glass of red.

3. Sajuela

Size: 0.9km2 | Belongs to: Burgos | Located in: Logroño

It’s not immediately obvious who Carnicier might have actually spoken to here. Maybe a farmer ploughing a lonely furrow down there. Either way, I don’t think the powers that be in La Rioja will have spent much time lamenting its loss. I’m also rather beginning to get the impression this wasn’t quite the mammoth undertaking I first thought it was.

4. Orduña

Size: 33.6km2 | Belongs to: Vizcaya | Located in: Alavá

Signs of life! Here’s another 33 km2 of Álava that doesn’t belong to the province. To be honest though, if I owned this place I’m not sure I’d let it go easily. Compared to the other enclaves up in the north of Spain, this is a veritable metropolis. And quite a pretty one too, at least in its spacious tree-lined main square. Look at those lovely Basque facades and their balconies. Look at this church - Orduña’s very own Sagrada Familia. Look at those forested cliffs. I’m also quite intrigued as to what this circle of green is. I suspect I’m not going to say this too often on this list, but if I’m ever passing Orduña, I might just pop in for a look if I’m not in a hurry.

5. Valle de Villaverde

Size: 19.5km2 | Belongs to: Cantabria | Located in: Vizcaya

What Spain gives with one hand, it takes with the other. Vizcaya steals Orduña and, whilst it’s not looking, Cantabria pinches Valle de Villaverde from Vizcaya. The name alone promises a lot: Valley of the Green Villa. I never did find the green house. To be honest, I didn’t get past the Bolera - a very Cantabrian bowling alley. Life feels instantly more simple here, a place to meet friends and play semi-competitive games of bolo palma as pigeons flutter around and clouds loll by overhead. I’m disappointed to learn that Google’s road didn’t suddenly stop here as its driver got lost in the camaraderie of it all.

6. Berzosilla

Size: 19.61km2 | Belongs to: Palencia | Located in: Cantabria/Burgos

The first thing I noticed about little Berzosilla is that it has a ladies clothes shop with a solitary one star review to its name, left two years ago without further comment by an angry man called Manuel. On closer inspection, I think I can pinpoint poor Manuel’s sense of frustration. Look at the photo - it doesn’t exactly shout clothes shop does it? I like to think there’s a secret buzzer, or perhaps a big brass door knocker that you have to pound to ask to be let in. Maybe they just didn’t like the look of him. Uncooperative shop attendants notwithstanding, I rather like Berzosilla, and not just because it sounds like the lovechild of Burt Reynolds and Godzilla we’d all pay good money to see. There’s a real ghost town medieval charm to it - I love the fact that those plant pots are so well tended for, even if they’re the only signs of life in the whole place.

7. Lastrilla

Size: 4.95km2 | Belongs to: Palencia | Located in: Cantabria

This Palencian enclave in Cantabria is 99% tree, 1% red roofed stone houses. Unfortunately, I’m only allowed to the edge of the village, so can’t have a proper nose around. I like to think that the actual Google car was at this point accosted by a band of local residents who barred the way and told them to sling their nosy hooks. More likely, they simply got here and decided it wasn’t worth the trouble driving round the village’s only street. Either that or they were lost. A mystery never to be solved, one suspects. Principally because I’m probably the only one to care.

8. Cezura

Size: 1.69km2 | Belongs to: Palencia | Located in: Cantabria

Another slice of Palencia in Cantabria and another dominated by green. Only this time, we’ve got a smooth tarmac road slicing its way through the village. Clearly the money ran out before they got to Lastrilla. There’s not much going on, but I'm intrigued by the tiled sign on the right which speaks of miel de brezo or heather honey. I never knew that was a thing. You can get yourself a jar for £7.95 from Fortnum & Mason if you’re interested.

9. La Rebollada

Size: 1.21km2 | Belongs to: Palencia | Located in: Burgos

Having gained all that extra land in our first three stops, it’s about time Burgos gave something back. Still, you do have to wonder if most of these places are worth all the extra admin these enclaves must surely entail. I mean, how often do you think those swings get used?

10. Villodrigo

Size: 9.08km2 | Belongs to: Palencia | Located in: Burgos

From above, Villodrigo looks like the perfect setting for the Spanish version of Emmerdale; small enough for everyone to know everyone else's business, big enough so that you don’t get too bored looking at the same few streets. Surrounding it all is a patchwork of cereal fields. At street level it’s more midwest American roadside than rural Yorkshire. But dig a little deeper and the manicured neatness of it all suggests I wasn’t too far off. Maybe it’s more Brookside than Emmerdale though.

11. Aguanares

Size: 1.16km2 | Belongs to: Palencia | Located in: Burgos

I’ll be honest, I’m not sure if I’m in the right place here. Most of these enclaves don’t actually show up on Google - it’s usually a case of taking an existing map and orienteering my way to them using surrounding towns. But just look at Aguanares from above… It’s a thing of beauty, like they handed over landscaping of the enclave to Salvador Dali.

12. Dehesa de San Llorente

Size: 10.95km2 | Belongs to: Valladolid | Located in: León

This one took some finding. I did the equivalent of flagging down a local and asking for directions, only to then be told that I have to drive to a little village called Albires and follow a dirt path into the countryside until I find a few ruined houses. That’s Dehesa de San Llorente. Based on the directions, the above is a best guess at what we’re after. I suspect Castilla y León were not particularly fussed about losing this to Valladolid. And I’d love to know what our friend Ramón Carnicer did here.

13. Roales y Quintanilla | 37.24 km2 | Valladolid

Size: 37.24km2 | Belongs to: Valladolid | Located in: León/Zaragoza

One could make a lot of money in Roales de Campo. If you own the factory that churns out all those (presumably) corrugated tin roofs that is. The prolific silvery squares lend it a bit of a toy town look from up high. In nearby Quintanilla, the ramshackle yin to Roales’ smart yang, I think I’d spend most of my time there trying to find the storks that I assume this nest on the church tower belongs to.

14. Petilla de Aragón

Size: 21.64km2 | Belongs to: Navarre | Located in: Zaragoza

Having swung westwards from the plentiful enclaves of central northern Spain, we now jump east to Petilla de Aragón, a true island of an enclave - it’s 170kms to the nearest of its kind from here. The name is wonderfully confusing. Enclave gold. Many an argument must have started with the line “I’m telling you, Petilla de Aragón is in Navarre… And I’m telling you it’s in Aragón - the clue’s in the name!” Aragón can certainly spare this expanse of forested hills - that's very much its stock-in-trade. That and castles. Then again, Navarre hardly lacks for trees either. Of all the middle-of-nowhere villages we’ve stopped in at, Petilla must have the most spectacular views. This isn’t a bad place to be buried.

15. Valeilles

Size: 3.5km2 | Belongs to: Barcelona | Located in: Lérida

Things start to get sketchier in Catalonia, where the enclaves take on a whole new level of mystery. Poor old Ramón probably tied himself up in knots looking for some of these. As far as I can tell, Valeilles is basically, as the name suggests, a wide forested valley where the hills of Catalonia start to rise up into serious peaks in the Spanish Pyrenees. Frankly if I lived in the stone buildings of that farm down in the middle of it all, I’m not sure I’d care who was in charge of it. I’d say more, but to be honest I got a bit distracted wondering what on earth is going on here. Turns out that’s what a ski resort looks like on Google these days.

16. La Rovira de Abajo

Size: 3.31km2 | Belongs to: Girona | Located in: Barcelona

When you see a label for Pont de Roma it’s only fair to expect a Roman bridge isn’t it? A slightly crumbling humped construction which has remained anchored to the ground as the hands of time have ticked past. A symbol of an age of empires, when great civilisations struck out into the unknown in search of new lands, new frontiers. A testament to the enduring ingenuity and resourcefulness of humankind. So it’s a bit disappointing when you’re instead presented with that smooth tarmac and those metal crash barriers when you arrive. Still, what I love most about this place is how surprised the cows look at the presence of Google’s odd little car.

17. Malagarriga

Size: 1.05km2 | Belongs to: Pinós | Located in: Barcelona

A place which sounds like it should be on the Costa del Sol, but is instead nestled in the Catalan hinterland. Now I don’t wish to be unkind, but I think when they were dishing out the enclaves, Pinós might have been on the loo. What they ended up with was basically a swathe of the C-55 motorway, some trees and a rickety power station.

Luck can be a cruel mistress.

18. Can Vies

Size: 0.35km2 | Belongs to: Tarragona | Located in: Barcelona

There’s about an 80% chance I’ve got this one wrong. But in my defence, I would like to state the following: a) Can Vies is tiny b) the only result for Can Vies on Google is some sort of socialist headquarters in Barcelona c) not a million miles away from here is something called the Mesia Cal Vies, which makes me think they got the spelling wrong. Still, there’s something quite beautiful about the juxtaposition between the neatly ordered fields and the noisy chaos of the evocatively named Autopista de la Mediterrania scything through them.

19. Rincón de Ademuz

Size: 370km2 | Belongs to: Valencia | Located in: Cuenca/Teruel

Rincón de Ademuz

Sweeping down towards Valencia brings us to by far our largest enclave; Rincón de Ademuz. Which is odd, given the rincón is basically a cosy little nook in Spanish. You could spend all day shuffling around the switchback roads and olive groves of this particular nook. Fortunately it only took me a couple of minutes to stumble into this hilltop hermitage. Loving your work Eduardo. I bet Ramón Carnicer didn’t get to come here.

20. Los Barrancos

Size: 1.26km2 | Belongs to: Guadalajara | Located in: Madrid

Proving that no one is immune to having their pocket picked, plucky Guadalajara managed to nick this patch of land from mighty Madrid when they weren’t looking. To be fair, they didn’t get much. I doubt Madrid even noticed its absence.

21. La Dehesa de la Cepeda

Size: 14km2 | Belongs to: Madrid | Located in: Ávila/Segovia

Whilst Los Barrancos was falling out its back pocket, Madrid was busy bending down to scoop up every last inch of the 14 km2 of La Dehesa de la Cepeda. But in the most feintly damning line ever to be written by anyone ever, Wikipedia’s page for Madrid’s bounty reads simply:

Dehesa de la Cepeda is mostly pasture land.

Pasture land that looks like the mould you can’t scrape off your shed door from above.

22. Anchuras de los Montes

Size: 231km2 | Belongs to: Ciudad Real | Located in: Toledo/Badajoz

I don’t know if it says something about the, perhaps quarrelsome, nature of northern Spain that only three of Carnicer’s enclaves are south of Madrid. Maybe it’s a coincidence. Or maybe it’s just too hot to argue down here. Anyway, I’m sure it’s a lovely place, but quite frankly anything down at street level can’t be as interesting as how confused Anchuras’ own Wikipedia page is:

It has a population of 342. According to the 2014 census. Anchuras municipality has a population of 202 inhabitants.

I wonder what happened to those other 140 inhabitants when they were finishing that sentence. Besides, look at all those houses clustered into the town… I can’t help but wonder if they did that particular census in August when most of the town was off enjoying their summer retreats.

23. El Villar

Size: 5.95km2 | Belongs to: Córdoba | Located in: Seville

Waiting patiently for our arrival, all the way down in Andalucía is our very last stop.

Genuine question - is the above the most boring view in the whole of southern Spain? Has anything interesting happened here, ever? It has to be a strong contender surely. I do hope the owners of the smart villas on the other side of the road didn’t buy from a brochure which promised sweeping countryside views. Though as the last drizzles of a dull Wednesday afternoon roll down my window pane, it hardly cheers the soul to have Andalucía’s 30 degree sunny weather flaunted in my face. Still, at least there’s a supermercado Pepsi cola to quench my thirst in Villar.

Talking of which, I could do with something cold and refreshing after all that darting around Spain. I’ll be honest, it probably won’t be Pepsi I’m cracking open.

Keep exploring: Encalves II: Crossing borders

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