Argelès-sur-Mer is a summer paradise on the southern coast of France, approaching the border with Spain. Aside from the variety of seaside activities on offer, the town also has a fascinating (albeit morbid) history as a Spanish refugee camp during the Retirada of 1939. From village to château, seaside to canyons, here is a list of activities for both the waterfront vacationers and the cultural and history enthusiasts:
1. Sign-up for a water sport
Surfing, kayaking, paddle boarding and more, Argelès-sur-Mer’s 7 km (4.3 mile) beach is the longest along the Languedoc coast, and provides ample space for a whole range of activities to keep you happy and tanned. Scuba-divers can take a peek at the marine life sheltered under the numerous rocky creeks, while windsurfers can test their skills against the coastal gales. The beach is well-supervised during the busier seasons so you can focus on having fun!
Water Sport Aventure
Address: Poste de Secours n°5, 66700 Argelès-sur-Mer, France
Website: Water Sport Aventure
2. Befriend the birds at Les Aigles de Valmy
If you prefer feathers to fins, Les Aigles de Valmy is a bird park located a mere 5 minutes from the beach. The park is home to eagles, storks, ravens and vultures, amongst a variety of other large bids. These winged creatures put on an impressive performance daily, soaring through the air with the Albères mountains serving as a formidable backdrop to their routines. Get a chance to get up close with more than a hundred birds at Les Aigles de Valmy. For those ready to take their experience to another level, the park even offers falconry training sessions in the morning!
Les Aigles de Valmy
Address: Chemin de Valmy, 66700 Argelès-sur-Mer, France
Website: Les Aigles de Valmy
3. Explore the stretch of Côte Vermeille between Argelès and Collioure
Côte Vermeille, or the Vermilion Coast, is famous for having inspired artists, the likes of Picasso, Matisse, and Derain included, and it is not difficult to see why. Walking along the beautiful Pyrenees-Orientales coast, one passes through verdant forest reserves, vineyards serving the sweetest wine, and quaint fishing ports unsullied by time. Where the craggy shore meets the sea, coves and cliffs offer a breathtaking view of the Mediterranean sea and the surrounding towns.
A full hike along Côte Vermeille can take up to 2 days. From Argelès-sur-Mer however, you can opt for a more manageable 1.5 hour walk to the little town of Collioure. With a waterfront medieval castle, a pink church topped by a lighthouse bell tower, and stone-paved roads linking the main thoroughfares, stepping into Collioure feels just as if you have fallen back in time.
4. Relive your childhood at Luna Park
What is a seaside resort without a carnival, and what is a carnival without an array of dizzying rides and buzzing game stands. Luna Park is Argelès-sur-Mer’s largest amusement centre with more than 40 attractions to choose from. Get a spectacular view of the port from the ferris wheel, drink up the tantalizing mix of sweet and savory smells wafting from every corner, and win yourself a fluffy souvenir from the tricky ring toss. A dazzling display of fireworks round off the perfect evening out by the beach.
Address: Impasse Copernic - Espace de Loisirs, 66700 Argelès-sur-mer, France
Website: Luna Park
5. Mingle with the locals at the village markets
When you need a break from the sun and sand, venture into the market at the old town to soak up some of the village atmosphere. The market on Place de la République happens all year round, every Wednesday and Sunday. Beneath the rows of colorful buildings, you are likely to find equally colorful characters selling locally grown and caught foodstuffs. From wine to cheese, honey to charcuterie, you can almost start a party there and then!
In the summer, the calendar expands to include several more markets. Night markets between the months of July and September are especially popular for visitors looking for handmade crafts, such as jewelry, art deco objects, and household wares.
Weekly Village Market
Address: Place de la République, 66700 Argelès-sur-Mer, France
Website: Weekly Village Market
6. Climb the bell tower of Notre-Dame dels Prat
At the heart of Argelès sits Notre-Dame dels Prat, the parish church of the commune. The Gothic church is dedicated to the Virgin Nostra Senyora dels Prats. While historical records note its existence as far back as 920, it has been almost completely reconstructed since the 14th-century and bears little trace of its original structure.
One of the most prominent landmarks in Argelès Village is the bell tower of Notre-Dame-dels Prat. Rising to a height of 34 m (111 ft), the imposing tower rewards determined ascenders with an unfettered, 360 degree view of the town.
Notre-Dame dels Prat
Address: Republic Street, 66700 Argelès-sur-Mer, France
Website: Notre-Dame dels Prat
7. Plunge into Canyoning Park
Canyoning Park is a purpose-built rock formation that allows visitors to experience a range of heart-pumping activities, all in a safe and guided environment. With its impressive playground of 14 pools, you can abseil under gushing waterfalls, toboggan across unrelenting rapids, cannon-ball from a height of 28 ft (9 m), and zip an exhilarating 328 ft (100 m) line into the final pool! A day by the canyon should of course be accompanied by either a hearty picnic or BBQ, of which both facilities are thoughtfully provided by the park.
Address: 7 impasse Copernic-Espace Loisirs, 66700 Argelès-sur-Mer, France
Website: Canyoning Park
8. Stroll in the gardens of Parc de Valmy
Located about 3 km (1.8 mi) away from the main town, Parc de Valmy is a botanical sanctuary built in the 19th-century that surrounds the dignified Château Valmy. While the castle is privately owned, the park is maintained by the town and open for all to enjoy. From the vantage point of Parc de Valmy, a magnificent view of the Mediterranean coast, the Albères Mountains, and the Rousillon town spreads out below.
Lush foliage offers reprieve from the summer heat as you stroll along the designated trails in the park. If you are up for a more vigorous workout, follow the marked path from the high walls of the Château up to the Tower of Massane. The 13th-century watchtower is testament to Argelès’ long history.
Parc de Valmy
Address: Chemin de Valmy, 66700, Argelès-sur-Mer, France
Website: Parc de Valmy
9. Learn about Argelès-sur-Mer’s dark history
It is hard to imagine, but the beautiful summer town of Argelès-sur-Mer was once the site of a concentration camp. In the Retirada (Retreat) of 1939, brought upon by the fall of Barcelona, a staggering 500,000 Spanish refugees fled to the Eastern Pyrenees area to escape Franco’s regime. Fearing instability following the influx of people, the French government established camps to accommodate and control the crowd.
The Argelès-sur-Mer camp was one of the first camps built in the region. Between 1939 and 1945, the Rousillon camps housed more than 250,000 people, first Spaniards, then with World War II, Jews, Italian anti-fascists, and Germans. Today, the Argelès Memorial Camp serves the critical function of collecting and preserving information from that dark time. For those looking to understand the history of Argelès-sur-Mer in greater detail, this stop is a definite must.
Argelès Memorial Camp
Address: Avenue of the Liberation, 66700 Argelès-sur-Mer, France
Website: Argelès Memorial Camp
Summer adventure in Southern France
At Argelès-sur-Mer, nature, history, and culture come together in the most enthralling of ways. Taste the salty tang of the sea, and watch the gleaming waters lap the sandy beach. Pop into any one of the cafes or boutiques in Argelès village and have a lively conversation about the town’s history with the locals. Climb the stony ramparts, and track the verdant nature paths. At Argelès-sur-Mer, you can be assured of an amazing summer vacation.
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