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The route into exile

By Toni Contijoch, Oriol López and Àngel Reguera

This route reproduces that taken by thousands in 1939 when they went into exile in France, crossing the Pyrenees ahead of the advancing Francoist forces. The section concerned follows the same route that Lluís Companys (President of Catalonia), Manuel Azaña (President of the Spanish Republic), and José Antonio Agirre (Basque Lehendakari), all took in their day. Its starting point is the tiny municipality ofLa Vajol and ends on the other side of the border, in Les Illes, where the French Gendarmerie awaited to escort the exiles to internment camps.

adult e infant amb la cama amputada camí de l’exili The journey begins in the car park at the entrance to La Vajol, where a sign indicates the path leading to the Monument to Exile. Just 150 metres along this path, an esplanade opens up. Here, on a rock, we find this monument, which represents an adult and a child with an amputated leg on their way into exile, inspired by a photograph from the time. This is one of very few monuments in the whole of Spain dedicated to those who left the country towards the end of the Civil War.

If we go back, once in the village, we’ll find a small square in which we can see several plaques and other elements, placed here in remembrance of those who went into exile and to commemorate the sojourn of presidents Companys and Agirre here. La Vajol is a small village, but nevertheless worth visiting. The most interesting features include the central village square and the late-Romanesque Church of St. Martí.

To start the route itself, we should leave the village and take the road the GI-505 road (on foot or by car) towards Ceret and the Monument in memory of Lluís Companys. After1.5 km we soon come to the Manrella-Comaulis restaurant, a good place to park for those travelling by car. One hundred metres further ahead, we come to a turn-off to the left, where a sign indicates the path to Coll de Lli hill, which we will reach in half an hour. Following this moderately steep forest trail upwards, we come to the Cu-cut fountain and, further on, to the right, a small farmhouse.

indicació coll de lli At this point there is a crossroad, where we continue straight on towards the village of Les Illes in France. A few meters ahead there is a small esplanade with a wire fence, where signs indicate the French border. In this moment we are at the top of the Coll de Lli hill, where there is a plaque in memory of the three presidents who went into exile through this path.

Our path now leads downwards, along a slope of low-to-medium difficulty. In autumn, the track, which leads through a chestnut wood, is thick with fallen leaves, which makes it difficult to walk. The last stretch of the path runs through private property and we must go through a lateral path following a stream.

TrabucairesAfter a short while we find ourselves in the centre of Les Illes, where the exiles arrived after climbing the Coll de Lli. The first building we reach is the Hostal dels Trabucaires. This hostel is a historic establishment where, according to the local people, President Companys stayed. When he left, the hostel keeper made him an omelette, though he was unable to pay her for it as he had no money. There is a saying around these parts that the Catalans still owe them an omelette.

BBIIThe quickest way back to La Vajol is to retrace our steps along the same path. But an alternative route -which we recomend you- is over the Coll de Manrella hill. This route starts in a cement track just beside a monument to the International Brigades that helped the anti-fascist forces against Franco and to the Spanish republican army. This way is easier than the previous one and offers better views of the Pyrenees mountains.

temple de la pauOn reaching Coll de Manrella hill, where we enter Catalonia once more, we find the pyramid-shaped monument known as the “Temple of Peace”, erected to the memory of Lluís Companys. The monument was erected here precisely, not because President Companys passed through this point, but because it occupies a better site, more open and accessible than the Coll de Lli, which is the route that Companys actually took. The monument is also easily accessible from La Vajol, a few minutes by car from this point.

Exile Memorial Museum

La Jonquera. 43-47 Carrer Major street, [Google Maps]

Museu Memorial de l'ExiliA visit to the Exile Memorial Museum (MUME), inaugurated in 2007, makes a fitting ending or beginning to this route. MUME is in La Jonquera (Alt Empordà county), a border town whose streets witnessed the passing of thousands of people fleeing the country due to Francoist repression. The museum’s permanent exhibition is devoted to the Republican exile of 1939, the events that led up to it and its most immediate effects, showing the suffering and the experience of exile that so many citizens endured over forty years. The exhibition is divided into five sections, each featuring audiovisual materials and recreations, as well as explanatory panels and a large collection of original documents rich in historic interest. The centre also illustrates other processes of exile that have occurred elsewhere in Europe and other continents in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Guided tours

Peatón The Associació Conèixer Història (Knowing History Association) offers guided tours through this route into exile. The walks are accompanied by historians and heritage experts and are aimed at groups of 10 people or more. For further information, please contact us via email: contacte@coneixerhistoria.cat

Practical Information

La Vajol (Catalonia, Spain) and Les Illes (France)

The route takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes

accessos_logoN-II national road to km. 773, or A-7 motorway to Exit 2 (La Jonquera), then take N-II towards Barcelona to the sign indicating the turn-off to Agullana and Maçanet de Cabrenys GI-500. From Agullana, the road to La Vajol becomes the GI-501.

transport_logoThere are no public transport services to La Vajol. The David i Manel bus company runs services to Agullana and Maçanet de Cabrenys, departing from Figueres and La Jonquera. Tel. +34 972 672 853, www.davidimanel.com