PERPIGNAN, FRANCE: “We serve the best food and wine”, a woman said as I arrived Deep South of France, in the Catalan territory between the sea and some mighty mountains. In the most Spanish city in France.
After three-days visit I must admit the city of Perpignan belongs to the sunny side of Europe and the old part is authentic and picturesque. But I don´t really agree with the famous Spanish artist Salvador Dali once described the train station as being “Centre of the Universe”. Dali wasn´t correct, not then and not now – the station isn´t even the centre of Perpignan.
But this “unknown” city has airport and perfect location – situated between the sea and the mountains, offering beaches, ski slopes in the Pyrenees and 250 days of sunshine by the Mediterranean and is a centre of its own and the history of Spain and France.
Catalonia. People of Perpignan say they are living in French Catalonia. It´s just 20km away from the border of Catalonia and Spain and its identity is mixed of both countries – well, mostly French. During the Spanish protesting rally in 2017, 10,000 people in Perpignan demonstrated to separate Catalonia from Spain, and still the red- and yellow-striped Catalan flags are many places along with the words “Pays Catalan” – or Catalan land.
Historic we should remember that Perpignan was the capital of the Kingdom of Majorca in the 13th and 14th centuries. Later, this city defended Spain against the French and France against Spain.
Click large photos Perpignan
Art and History. For free you can discover heritage through many historic sites, such as the Saint Jean Baptiste Cathedral in gothic style and astonishing dimensions. Dali is the artist most associated with Perpignan and Picasso donated works to a gallery as well as designing a stunning fountain. Sure, this is a city of art and history and where old walls have a story to tell.
Food. They say all French food is good and besides the seafood and Crème Catalan, there are some typical dishes you shouldn´t miss out during your visit. Such as pork meat and vegetables cooked in a casserole, and pastry flavoured by seasonal fruits. Surprisingly, I found Barraco do Dende, the best Brazilian restaurant I ever visited throughout Europe. Freshly cocktails, excellent and quality food created on high level by young chef Adrian Gaarder and his kitchen staff from where all mains come at reasonable prices. Try the Brazilian specialities Feijoada and the delicacy Vatapa, a seafood stew and a classic dish of Brazilian cuisine. Barraco´s selection of wine is also good value for money.
Wine tasting. Visit to estate Terra Remota at the Spanish side of the border is a short journey. A guided tour ends with tasting of wines, and you will probably feel the elegance and richness of the organic wine. You will be served lovely local products; : Iberian ham, terrine of pâté, semi-cured goat’s cheese, Catalonian sausage Perol, salami, artisan bread, tomatoes, olive oil, fruit and coffe. Don´t forget to buy a bottle of Usted, proably the best bottle red delivered by Terra Remota. Usted has smoky notes of bacon, cherry and truffle and perfect for roasted or grilled meat and aged cheese. Link to Terra Remota
City of Festivals. Perpignan celebrates all the Catalan festivals, such as Sant Jordi, and more or less year-round festivals. On Good Friday you can witness the Sanch Procession with black and red hooded capes and march around the city carrying huge effigies of Jesus and other across their shoulders. Even if you are not religious it is very moving spectacle.
Late August and early September is time for the International Photojournalism Festival with many exhibitions and thousands of visitors.
Don´t speak French? If you like to be in touch with locals and don´t speak French, you have a problem – in general a problem for all of us only speaking English. At the countryside and the mountains there are even less English spoken and you really put your French to the test. But Perpignan has a great beach and beach-clubs only 10km away and plenty of elegant shops in the city centre. All shopkeepers speak at least some English when business in sight.
Surprisingly, Perpignan is not on the list of people´s must-visit destination. Most visitors arrive here from France and Spain, while the rest of Europe don´t really know much about blooming gardens, narrow streets and open squares. Hopefully they recognise that wines produced in this part of France and Spain are spectacularly good – especially served with foi gras and blue cheese. That is Perpignan at its very best.
Make it Happen!
Touch Down: Fly to Perpignan from Stansted and Birmingham with Ryanair or Southampton with Flybe.com or Air France from Paris.
Stay: Hotel de la Loge is a 3-star hotel in the central part of the city. Double costs 183 euro for three nights plus 10 euro for breakfast.
Eat: In Perpignan, Casa Sansa is a reference point for bustling Catalan cooking. Duck, chicken, mussels, mutton and pork are often served as a casserole a la catalane, Spanish-style. Wine: If you cannot go without a red, try the Côtes du Roussillon or Vin de pays des Côtes Catalanes – both are strong, dry varieties that go well with food.
Play: Bars cluster on and around place de la République and on both banks of the canal. Av du Général Leclerc has a dynamic drinking and nightlife scene. Halles Vauban is also hugely popular, with plenty of congenial bars that attract an eclectic crowd.
Mini Guide: The Pyrénées dominate the skyline and the Canigou is best-known peak where skiing is possible. You can also hop aboard Little Yellow Train which takes a highly scenic route through the mountains. Lots of signs to Tourist Office west of the historical centre