- The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes. Marcel Proust
Visit Perpignan, France
The last major town in Languedoc before the Spanish border, it’s easy to see why the flavour of Perpignan is essentially Catalan. There’s a real mix of cultures in this corner of the region: Catalan, Romany and North African all co-exist in this sunny city of palm-lined squares. For the visitor, it’s useful to know that this is not only one of the best places in the region to sample local food and wine but also a city with a relatively busy airport that has several handy air connections overseas. However, it does lack buzz – Barcelona is too close and too big a rival for little Perpignan to hit the big time. It’s also worth noting that over recent years Perpignan has become a stronghold for Jean-Marie Le Pen’s rightwing Front National Party who claim the city’s original white inhabitants have been overrun by foreigners.
A former capital of the Kings of Majorca and the Counts of Roussillon, Perpignan changed hands repeatedly during the medieval period until finally becoming French territory with the Treaty of the Pyrenees of 1659. Always too far from the coast to become a port, the town developed into a cloth-making centre by the early middle ages. In more recent times, Perpignan became home to countless “pieds noirs” or French citizens who fled the uprisings of the 50s and 60s in North Africa. The town is now also home to sizeable communities of people from Morocco and Algeria who moved to France to escape repression in their home countries.
Perpignan’s Top 5:
Palais des Rois de Majorque. The number one sight in Perpignan has been the focus of the town’s success and growth over the centuries. Originally used as a king’s residence during the twelfth to fourteenth centuries, today it’s really only the gardens and the courtyard of this imposing citadel that are worth a visit.
Saint-Jean quarter. For an idea of Perpignan’s prosperous past take a wander through the network of narrow lanes in this district and take in the splendour of the fourteen and fifteenth century mansions and stately homes which make up this atmospheric part of the town.
Cathédrale Saint-Jean. Functioning as Perpignan’s cathedral since 1602, the exterior walls of this imposing structure are particularly noteworthy: layers of stones from the local river bed have been squeezed in-between the brick.
Escargots du Roussillon snail shop. Fancy a nibble? Look no further than this quintessentially French store in Place de la République – it’s the ultimate place to buy fresh snails and herbs to rustle up a tasty starter for any evening meal.
Jardin de Sant-Vicens. These gardens on Rue Sant Vicens are not only full of exotic orange trees and oleanders, but they’re also the place to look for ceramic pots and textiles which are on sale here.