Four years ago, as Gibraltar became a member of UEFA, I welcomed it as the newest European country. In that post, I’ve tried my hand at predicting the next political entity to become a European country by passing the UEFA membership test. Since then, Kosovo joined UEFA in May 2016, becoming the newest small European country. Scotland almost made it, but the Scottish independence referendum flopped. Maybe in the Brexit fallout Scotland will have another chance. However, since Scotland already is a member of UEFA, I count it as an independent country, so as far as I’m concerned Scottish independence vote would not change much.
The cross at the top of the Canigou is decorated with the Catalan flag. Guess in which country the Canigou is?
Europe would not be what it is without a constant resurrection of ancient political rivalries. And yesterday, Catalonia, another potential newest country on my to-watch list, declared independence. Back in 2013 I guessed Catalonia would not dare make the run for freedom, but the chicken game the Catalan independence movement has been playing with Madrid has apparently forced both sides to call each other’s bluff. Whether Catalonia will indeed gain the ultimate recognition (UEFA membership) remains to be seen. But if I was the PM of Belgium, the next country on my list to split into smaller independent entities, I’d be very, very worried.
I’d like to introduce you to the next “bite-sized” region” – the Pyrenees mountain range. Geopolitically divided between 2.5 countries (Spain, France and Andorra), the Pyrenees actually host several partially overlapping historical small countries and regions – Catalonia, Aragon, Basque country and Gascony.
Romanesque fresco, Vall de Boí, Spain
A mountain monastery in French Catalonia
Wine is sold here by the barrel
Ordesa valley, Spain
Toria village, Spain
These will be your water taps while hiking
Col du Tourmalet – a Tour de France classic
The Atlantic coast, San Sebastian, Spain
Edelweiss – not only in Switzerland
- Why go there?
Stretching between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean sea, the Pyrenees are home to magical valleys, mountain lakes, fortified cities of ancient cults, unique village architecture and even some bears. The best about the Pyrenees is – if the weather doesn’t suit you on one side of the range, most probably its better (hotter/cooler/dryer/wetter) on the other side! The food’s amazing, too, and wine is cheap and sold by the barrel.
- What’s it best for?
If you’re planning a romantic getaway – this is the place to go. Whether your idea of romance is dinner by the candle light in a cafe of a mountain village on a warm summer evening or skinny dipping in a mountain lake – the Pyrenees is the place to be for a couple.
- When is the best time to go?
The mountains and the seas make for pleasant summers. Nevertheless, July and August can be pretty hot here and the popular spots get crowded. Going in June or in September will make sure you have all the Pyrenees you can have mostly for yourself.
- How to get around?
Public transport is… let’s say challenging. Having a car makes travelling the Pyrenees much easier.
- Why is it best to avoid?
I can’t think of a reason. Honestly, I can’t. It’s a region I plan to keep coming back to again and again.
- Where to go if you just have one week?
Catalonia, and not just because of the capital, Barcelona. Its a relatively small region, where you can get a good taste of the Pyrenean life.
Europe is the “old” continent. It’s decaying. Seriously, everywhere in Europe one finds spots of deterioration and decline. Personally, I find these the most inspiring and photogenic locations. To me, nothing is more fascinating than an old building slowly growing back into the ground. Before the High Speed 1 was opened in the UK, you’d go to London by the Eurostar and after crossing the channel all you’d see for two hours was sad sad industrial heritage up to the horizon, in all stages of decomposition. A glorious sight, sadly unavailable nowadays due to tunnels and embankments. Fortunately, in any decently old European town there is a variety of decaying structures available, although they are not as widespread or as accessible as they used to be. Modern-day structures have a lifespan of about 5 days before they start decaying or get out of fashion, so there’s still hope for some good rubble around here in the future. In the meantime, here are some images of the decay and decline of good old Europe.