Today's picks

    The island that switches countries every six months

    Next week, France will hand over 3,000 sq m (3,200 sq ft) of its territory to Spain without a single shot being fired. But in six months’ time Spain will voluntarily hand back the land to France. As Chris Bockman reports, it’s been that way for more than 350 years.
    The French Basque beach resort of Hendaye is the last town before the border with Spain. Out of season, its beautiful curved sandy bay seems to be occupied by hundreds of seals. But look more closely and they are, in fact, defiant winter surfers in wetsuits.
    Just beyond a long breakwater is the historic Spanish town of Hondarribia and its sprawling, built-up neighbour Irun. The natural border is the river Bidassoa, which flows into an estuary dividing the two countries.
    As you go upstream from the river mouth, the view changes. Imposing and colourful Basque buildings give way to industrial warehouses on the French side, and unappealing residential tower blocks on the Spanish.
    But what I have come to see is Pheasant Island (in French Ile des Faisans, in Spanish Isla de los Faisanes). It’s not easy to find. When I ask for directions, nobody understands why I want to go there. They tell me there is nothing to see and warn me you can’t visit it – no-one lives there, it’s not a tourist destination like Mont St Michel.
    But there it is – a peaceful, inaccessible island in the middle of the river, with tree cover and neatly trimmed grass, and an old monument which pays tribute to a remarkable historical event that happened here in 1659.
    For three months, the Spanish and French negotiated the end to their long war on the island, as it was considered neutral territory. Wooden bridges were extended from both sides. The armies stood ready as the negotiations began.
    A peace agreement was signed – the Treaty of the Pyrenees. Territory was swapped and the border demarcated. And the deal was sealed with a royal wedding, as the French King Louis XIV married the daughter of the Spanish King Philip IV.