Perpignan: Discover The Hidden Treasure Of South France

Perpignan: Discover The Hidden Treasure Of South France
Contributing Writer
| 3 min read

Perpignan is a very picturesque town in the South of France not far from the border with Spain. It has a rich Catalan heritage and nestles between the Mediterranean sea and the Pyrenees. With over 300 days of sunshine a year, the summers are long and hot and the winters bright, as tourists head for the mountains for the ski season. The artist Salvador Dali claimed he once had a dream that Perpignan Station was the centre of the world and indeed the station today bears the title ‘El Centre Del Mon.’

Located in the heart of the Languedoc-Rousillon wine making region, Perpignan is surrounded by vineyards, orchards and gardens. The river Tet makes the area surprisingly lush and green despite the very sunny climate.

Museums and markets for every taste

Perpignan centre

Perpignan is a city steeped in history and culture and its medieval walled centre, with the castle gate still standing, has many beautiful historical buildings, squares and winding streets to explore and enjoy at your leisure. There are markets every day of the week at different locations around the city, and despite the terrible exchange rate with the pound at the moment, everything seemed pretty cheap to me. Some markets have lots of fruit and vegetables and herbs, all grown locally. Some sell bric a brac and antiques and books. There are lots of clothes in nearly all of the markets and the huge flea market (marche aux puces) on a Sunday morning sells just about everything including engines (which can be started for you on request) cheese graters, plant pots, phone accessories, plants and pyjamas. There are lots of fascinating museums in Perpignan. I visited the museum of contemporary art, which was amusing and clever and oh so avant garde in that very French way. They had a video of two security guards in full riot gear doing the tango in a beautiful museum hall. Another exhibit showed a giant chocolate coloured Michelin man claiming ‘One World for All.’ There is also the museum of Natural History of local flora and fauna, a museum of Catalan history, another modern art museum and a museum of dolls, to name just a few of the others.

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Full of fountains and festivals

Fountains at Allees Maillol

Perpignan is set on some pretty canals, lined with bougainvillea and camellias which wind through the main thoroughfare. It also has fountains everywhere in squares and parks and unexpected corners. You get an idea of how important fountains are to Perpignan when you see there are three whole pages in the local tourist guide dedicated to them. Fountains originally were usually functional drinking water for people or animals but increasingly they became more ornamental or were built as a mark of respect for the town. The newest and largest of the fountains is at the park Allees Maillol, where huge metal flowers spout timed jets of water to different heights and patterns. Occasionally, music and coloured lights add an extra dimension to these dancing springs. Every month has a different festival or two attached to it. When I was there, in July, some gigantic carnival characters were processing through the street and skipping monks with horns on their habits were waving enormous banging sparklers which went on for a good half an hour. On Thursday nights in July, the town comes alive with street theatre and musicians and jugglers performing in the open air in one of the most popular festivals, ‘Les Jeudis De Perpignan.’

Wining and dining and dipping in the sea

Seaside at St Cyprien

This area of France has a long winemaking heritage and produces many types of good-value wines. Here, many different grape varieties grow together and most producers make their wines from blending these grapes. Eating out is almost always a pleasure in France as the French have always prided themselves on their cuisine. Most restaurants will have a ‘Plat du Jour’ or dish of the day, and you can often find a three-course meal for under 20 EUR - about 22 USD. If you are on a budget, you cannot fail with a sunny picnic and some French bread, cheese, fruit and wine. The coast here is very attractive. Canet Plage embodies more of the usual seaside fare while St Cyprien is a little more upmarket. Many French families come down to the beach in the evenings when the air and the sea are still very warm. Watching the sun setting the sky aflame behind the Pyrenees is nothing short of spectacular.

It's perfect in Perpignan

Perpignan is a delightful place to visit in the gorgeous South of France. It’s quite a compact city centre and so is easy to navigate around and to sight see. There really aren’t that many tourists here compared to some of the other more expensive coastal areas of France, which is also a plus point. It has beautiful countryside and coastline, vineyards, food and sunshine every day. The city centre is packed with things to see and do and has great boutique shopping. Everything has that French elegance about it, and it also seems a very safe, friendly sort of city. Let’s hope it’s ‘abientot’ and not 'au revoir!’

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Elaine, a writer and traveler, is drawn to vibrant cultures distinct from the United Kingdom, relishing local street markets. She also has a penchant for eco and nature tourism, and her travels...Read more

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