The Savage Frontier

The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination

A sweeping historical travelogue of the contentious border of France and Spain, in the great tradition of Bruce Chatwin and Jan Morris

“The Pyrenees have often been slighted by comparison with the Alps. But in some respects the Pyrenees are the more impressive chain; harsher and more rugged, a nearly impenetrable frontier.” —The New York Times

With the Catalonia crisis making international headlines, the unique cultural and geographic region bordering Spain and France has once again moved to the center of the world’s attention. In The Savage Frontier, acclaimed author and journalist Matthew Carr uncovers the fascinating, multilayered story of the Pyrenees region—at once a forbidding, mountainous frontier zone of stunning beauty, home to a unique culture, and a site of sharp conflict between nations and empires.

Carr follows the routes taken by monks, soldiers, poets, pilgrims, and refugees. He examines the people and events that have shaped the Pyrenees across the centuries, with a cast of characters including Napoleon, Hannibal, and Charlemagne; the eccentric British climber Henry Russell; Francisco Sabaté Llopart, the Catalan anarchist who waged a lone war against the Franco regime across the Pyrenees for years after the civil war; Camino de Santiago pilgrims; and the cellist Pablo Casals, who spent twenty-three years in exile only a few miles from the Spanish border to show his disgust and disapproval of the Spanish regime.

The Savage Frontier is a book that will spark a new awareness and appreciation of one of the most haunting, magical, and dramatic landscapes on earth.


“Matthew Carr has woven an unwaveringly colorful tapestry of a beautiful, dramatic landscape. Its inhabitants past and present—shepherds, smugglers, soldiers, spies, saints, heretics, bandits, freaks—all pass in review in this meticulously researched love letter to the Pyrenees.”
—Stephen O’Shea, author of The Alps: A Human History from Hannibal to Heidi and Beyond
“Matthew Carr has written a rich, deeply researched and absorbing history, full of extraordinary and surprising tales and an impassioned sense of the unique beauty of one of Europe’s lesser-known places.”
—Roger Crowley, author of Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire
“Matthew Carr has climbed mountains of research as well as stone to stake his claim as the premier ‘pyreneist’ of the age.”
—Franz Nicolay, author of The Humorless Ladies of Border Control
“Carr conjures up a magical account of the mountainous divide between Spain and France, with its witches and heretics, its isolated villages, its ancient traditions of independence, and its babel of languages. A beautifully written book that nimbly weaves together his own travels and the history of the Pyrenees.”
—David Abulafia, Professor Emeritus of Mediterranean History, University of Cambridge, and author of The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean

Books by Matthew Carr

Fortress Europe
Dispatches from a Gated Continent

Matthew Carr

The Infernal Machine
A History of Terrorism

Matthew Carr

Sherman’s Ghosts
Soldiers, Civilians, and the American Way of War

Matthew Carr

Blood and Faith
The Purging of Muslim Spain

Matthew Carr

Goodreads Reviews