Not a lot of towns can boast that they are the centre of the universe, but Perpignan could possibly lay claim to that title! In 1963, surrealist artist Salvador Dali declared that the Perpignan train station was the centre of the universe as he always got his best ideas sitting in its waiting room. He later expanded this hypothesis by declaring that the Iberian peninsula rotated around the station 132 million years ago. In gratitude, the city fathers erected a statue in his memory and on one of the platforms is painted, ‘Perpignan Centre du Monde’.
Whatever its position in the universe, Perpignan has strong Catalan roots having belonged to Spain for long periods of its history. It only became finally French in 1642. It is now the principal city of Roussillon, the southern part of the Languedoc-Roussillon region. Roussillon means ‘red earth’ and you can see how the area earned this name by simply looking out of the window.
Street names in Perpignan are written in French and Catalan, unlike those slightly further north, in Béziers for example, where street names are written in French and Occitan. Catalan and Occitan are almost indistinguishable to non-speakers but the very fact the two languages exist side by side tells us a lot about the differing histories and cultural influences Languedoc and Roussillon have experienced.
Another interesting fact about Perpignan is that it used to be a centre of winecork production. The cork oak thrives in the local climate. An even more ‘outré’ product produced in the town are JOB cigarette papers, made famous by Alphonse Mucha’s turn-of-the-century posters.
For the visitor, Perpignan is the ideal spot for accessing the beach or the mountains. The lovely beach of Argelès-sur-Mer and the picturesque village of Collioure are only 20 minutes away. Meanwhile, the foothills of the Pyrenees are just as close with the Principality of Andorra an hour and a half away up in the mountains. The Spanish border is less than 30 minutes with easy access to the gorgeous coves and clear waters of the Costa Brava.
Eating and drinking are important pastimes in the town, with an eclectic mix of French and Spanish food fused with exotic overtones influenced by the town’s large North African population. In the Place de la République there is even a shop entirely devoted to snails, Les Escargots de Roussillon. This is your big chance to sample this quintessentially French dish.