Perpignan & the Pyrenees Orientales

 

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The interesting and varied region along the Spanish border is rich in history, culture, gastronomy and diverse landscapes; many of these with distinguished Spanish influences. The city of Perpignan nestles at the foot of the Pyrenees, snow-capped until well into the summer months, and guards the ancient routes across the mountains into Spain. Another pearl of this region is the town of Collioure, an ancient port that is home to artists and writers.      

As a holiday destination, the area is second to none. It offers families and couples alike the opportunity to explore rocky coves or glorious sandy beaches, to hike in the mountains, visit the important town of Perpignan, enjoy a typical beach holiday in the resorts of the Vermilion Coast such as Port-Vendres, Canet Plage, St Cyprien and Argelès and taste some of the hundreds of wines produced in the region but, above all, to bask in that hot Mediterranean sun. 

Things to See & Do in Perpignan & the Pyrenees

Beaches and Lakes

Bordering the Mediterranean Sea and the mountains, with close proximity to Spain, you'll find plenty of beaches and swimming spots in this area. Some of the best places to visit are:

  • Argeles-sur-Mer is a bustling holiday town with a beautiful golden coastline that stretches for over 4 miles with three popular sandy beaches to choose from - Le Nord, Le Plage des Pins and Le Racou, which is the smallest of the three. There are plenty of activities here for young and old, with countless bars and restaurants for every budget and a thriving base for sports enthusiasts. Along the coast you'll find rentals for watersports, scuba diving, boat rental, canoeing, beach sports, canyoning, accrobranche, bowling, mini golf, and lots more! There are also a few theme parks, nightclubs and a casino.
  • Canet-en-Roussillon (Canet Plage) is a lovely seaside resort set along the golden sands of the French Mediterranean. Because it is a small town that has a year-round population, it does not suffer from 'out-of-season blues' when everything, including the supermarket, is closed for the winter. Canet is alive and kicking 12 months of the year but the town comes into its own during the summer months when it celebrates its glorious location by the sea but is also flanked by a large lagoon.
  • Lac d'Arques is inland from the coast and a beautiful natural lake with abundant water lilies and in a wooded area. The water here gets quite warm in the summer so it's popular with anybody who can't bear their water freezing. 
  • Les Cascades de Duilhac are a lovely place for a day's sunning, bathing, tanning and exploring. The river Verdouble runs down a narrow defile creating a stepped waterfall that leaps from rockpool to small lake. On a hot summer's day, just sit under the splashing waters and cool off.  The cascades are only a short drive from the famous Cathar Chateau de Peyrepetuse. Spend the morning exploring the castle ruins and the afternoon cooling off in the Cascades - there can't be a better way to spend a day of your southern French holiday!
  • With 12km of beaches Port-Vendres is a great place for a day or week by the sea. Port-Vendres itself is a busy little fishing port with shops, restuarants and bars. With some of the best beaches in this area of the South of France on the doorstep, along with plenty to keep waterports enthusiasts occupied, it's one of our favourite places in this region.
  • St. Cyprien is really a collection of beaches situated between Argelès-sur-Mer and Canet-en-Roussillon. As with many of the beaches along this stretch of coastline, the zones within St. Cyprien have lifeguards to monitor the beaches during high season, are wheelchair accessible, and are a haven for watersports enthusiasts.

 

Cities & Villages

Perpignan was once declared to be "the centure of the universe" by the artist Salvador Dali, who claimed to have some of his best ideas while seated in Perpignan train station. Now a thriving city and home to a well-connected airport, it remains the cultural centre of this region and excellent base, in easy reach of the coast, the mountains and Spain. Other smaller towns and villages to visit include:

  • Castelnou, officially one the most beautiful villages in Frances, is set up in a stunning mountain location, in the foothills of Mount Canigou in the Pyrenees. The village has a rich history, built around a medieval chateau, and is now home to many artists and artisans, many of whom have a shop or a workshop open for viewing.
  • Céret is the capital of the capital of Vallespir and a pretty town at the base of the Albères massif, known for it's crop of cherries (usually the earliest cherries in France to ripen) and the Museum of Modern Art. It is a bustling town with pretty squares, plenty of restaurants, and regular markets. There is a regular programme of events and concerts throughout the high season.
  • Collioure is one of the most well-known villages in this region: a pretty fishing village with a rich cultural history it is home to an old church, a museum, and has a tourist train that takes you on a 45-minute ride up to the heights above. There are  some lovely creeks and beaches to explore - which explains why Collioure is listed included as one of the Frances 21 most beautiful beaches by the The Telegraph! One of the best ways to view this town is on a tour, of which there are many to choose from. There are also many wineries within a short drive and tours available from the town itself.
  • La Joncquera, although actually in Spain, not France, has had a bad reputation the past but has now developed into a thriving commercial centre, with air conditioned shopping malls and discount stores selling familiar brands. If you're planning a trip to the Costa Brava from your base in the Pyrenees-Orientales, it's a good place for a stopover and a snack - or an all-you-can-eat buffet.

 

Events & Festivals

  • The Festival of Donkeys is held in Arles-sur-Tech late June  is a celebration for mules and donkeys where they are paraded through town and then blessed. Mules are a rare sight these days but donkeys seem to be making a comeback, as much as pets as beasts of burden. Anyone who loves these inquisitive, gentle creatures will enjoy this particular fete. Arles-sur-Tech is beyond Céret and its famous museum of modern art when travelling from Perpignan so you could combine the tow for a great day out.
  • Fete de la Saint Jean, held every June 23rd in Perpignan, is a traditional festival in which a torch is carried down from Mount Canigou to the city below. The arrival of the torch is celebrated with many theatrical and musical performances, a stunning light show and fireworks.
  • The Festival of International Photo Journalism is a free exhibition held in Perpignan during September, introduces some of the best photo journalism during the year. A programme of concerts and events runs concurrently.

 

Restaurants and Bars

  • Le Barcarès is a fairly modern resort by French standards (only 400 years old!) and is also home to some our favourite restaurants.
  • Definitely worth a visit is the very original Le Mexi-Can which serves delicious Mexican and French cuisine and is made out of, well obviously, cans!
  • Another top-spot is The 'Lydia' restaurant inside the old ferry that's peacefully laid to rest on the beachside.

 

Places to Visit

  • The tiny principality of Andorra is locked high up in the Pyrenees and is a 2.5 hour drive from Perpignan. It is a popular destination both in winter and summer. Andorra offers excellent hiking in cooler, high-altitude temperatures for the summer months and is a great centre for skiing from December to April. Andorra is a good place to go for tax-free shopping, especially for luxury goods, jewellery and electronics. A good way to view the whole of this little country is to take the tourist coach which departs from Andorra la Vella and takes a morning to complete its circuit. Between Andorra and Perpignan are the French resorts of Les Angles and Font Romeu - also great places for skiing in winter and other outdoor activities during summer months.
  • The Cathar Castles are spread across the region and are a series of fortified castles built in some of the most inaccessible places and famous as the final battlegrounds between the Cathars and The Crusaders. The best known in this region are Puivert, MontsegurQuéribus, Lastours, Peyrepertuse, and Puilaurens.
  • Gorges de la Fou near Arles-sur-Tech constitutes the narrowest gorge in the world! The gorges are the product of millions of years of geological activity and erosion resulting in breathtaking and unusual rock formations. Some 1700 metres long, with a depth of up to 250 metres in places, this fascinating geological site is the most visited spot in the whole of the Pyrénées-Orientales. The pathway is protected by metal netting overhead and you progress along a walkway that extends the whole length of the Gorge, making this a safe tour for all the family. The Gorges de la Fou area easily accessable via Ceret.
  • The Museum of Modern Art in Coillioure is home to original works by many modern and contemporary artists, including Henri Matisse, Claude Viallat, François Martin, Jean Louis Vila and Jean Capdeville , and organises exhibitions throughout the year.
  • There are various tourist trains in operation from this region. From Rivesaltes, 12 minutes from Perpignan centre, you can take the Little Red Train, which runs through some of the most spectacular scenery in the region, into the mountains and onto the village of Axat, which also has an outdoor pool, open during the summer months. Take the train the full distance there and back or stop off part way to explore the Château de Puilaurens (at Lapradelle) or visit the small villages and their famous wine caves in Maury

 

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